A JimmyB sketch outing

June 14, 2021 | 3 Comments

On Friday I went into town in order to sketch a few James Barnet buildings. Since coming home I’ve started reading two books all about his work. The more I research, the more I’m realising his significance and the more I’m becoming a fan! His most important building is the Sydney General Post Office (GPO) in Martin Place so that is where I started.

But first I had a coffee at RegimentCBD and struggled to sketch in the very limited space of the tiny table and bench. It was also a cool morning (after the coldest day in 30 years the day before!) and I was sitting outside so that I could have a view of the GPO.

I did a quick line drawing of it – thinking about different planes in space (something we’re exploring in the Edges course at the moment!)

Then I found a spot in the sun where I could sketch a corner of the building. This was a fun view and much more complex than any JimmyB I sketched on my recent road trip

In my research, I’ve discovered that the top 2 storeys of the GPO were added to the building later, so I only dotted an outline of that part. And instead, I drew the original balustrade so that I could get a feeling for what the building was like according to JimmyB’s design.

There was an old photo inside the GPO arcade showing this.

Next up was the Old Police Station on George St, in The Rocks area. This is one of my favourite Sydney buildings to sketch and I used to teach workshops in the back rooms that were originally prison cells. It was fun to sketch it again with more knowledge of the architect. It was a little after 11am when I arrived and the sun was no longer on the facade, so I did a fun experimental version.

There is a plaque on the pavement explaining that it’s a JimmyB building.

Next, I visited Customs House.  I wasn’t necessarily intending to sketch it but there were lots of tables and chairs in front of it not associated with a cafe.

So I couldn’t resist sketching one half of the Customs House. This is another JimmyB that was extended and I wasn’t sure of what part of the old building was added on, so I drew all floors including the modern addition on the rooftop.

And then I wandered back up to Town Hall, stopping to look at the Lands Department Building…

… another JimmyB. I will sketch it during a future outing.

It was a super productive and inspiring visit to the City. I have a lot of new thoughts about how JimmyB’s buildings fit into the design of Sydney and look forward to exploring these further and working out ways to sketch them. This map shows how the buildings relate to each other (and the other things I did that day!)

Last time I went into the City (see here) I didn’t know what to sketch. But with my new interest in James Barnet, my sketching outings have a real focus and that is very exciting and motivating.

Here are all the full spreads from my morning in town!


  • Janet Turner says:

    Hi Liz, thank you for sharing your (re)discovery of Architect James Barnet – your stories and sketches are so enjoyable, and I’m enjoying finding a family connection with Barnett, as my great-grandfather was a stone mason who worked on the construction of the GPO. Walking through Martin Place and pausing to look at the GPO will now have added layers of significance!
    And now you have brought Barnett to the fore he’s popping up elsewhere – the Winter edition of Open Book ( the State Library of NSW’s magazine) has, on page 15, an article “Take 5 Lighthouses” featuring ‘the state’s southernmost lighthouse’, at Green Cape, and designed by Barnet. Wow!
    What next? Will you move on to exploring the architecture of Edmund Blackett?
    Looking forward to more Burnet related posts. Thank you again.

    • Liz Steel says:

      HI Janet! that’s very cool to be related to the stone mason. Yes, I’m interested in Blackett as well… but not sure I will ever move on from JimmyB!!!

  • Carolyn Arnold says:

    Hi Liz, I just came across your blog and I am also a James Barnet fangirl. I started on my journey with lighthouses and have a bucket list to visit as many in Australia as we can. When doing research on his lighthouses I found out so much more about him that I now include his other buildings on my bucket list. I have a FB page called ArkeebolosTravels if you want to scroll through and see our travels. We are actually flying by helicopter in June to South Solitary Island to see a lighthouse that James designed.



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