Rachel and Residency in Peru

Rachel Burney set out on her travels in January 2018 to begin a month long residency in Peru where she is now exhibiting her artwork and making arts and crafts with disabled children. 

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Rachel's  LLama story

In early March 2017 Rachel a local artist and participant of Space Artworks came into the gallery in Morningside for a chat. We talked about working together on a new art project. I suggested that we could involve Kiran's Trust who could perhaps offer some financial support and guidance. Because of Rachel's love of South America and in particular LLamas she decided to create a family of Llama sculptures from reclaimed and recyled materials. Kiran's Trust enthusiastic offered a grant to support a series of workshops which began in late march. Rachel and I met every Friday to construct the series of sculptures.  Space Artworks has previously participated in the Scottish  Arts and mental Health Film Festival I suggested to Rachel that she could enter her completed artwork into the large October exhibition in Summerhall which would fit in with the 2017 theme, RECLAIM. Rachel went ahead and applied, and in October after spending 6 months work, her amazing sculptures were complete. She exhibited all six LLama family members in the exhibition and to great success. She sold 2 of the pieces and they attracted a lot of attention and positive comments. Rachel publicised the exhibition through social media. Abel Torres a contact of Rachel's living and working in Peru immediately got in contact with her. Impressed by her work he immediately offered her a month long residency in a the centre Cuzco, Peru he runs which supports children with disabilities to access physiotherapy and creative activities. Rachel then organised all travel arrangements. She experienced an a few setbacks however everything came together and she set off on 17th January. When the residency comes to and end she will travel on to Bolivia to carry out further research for future project and will returning in March.  Well done Rachel. (See images below)

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Llamas in progress


Llama on display at Summerhall  Exhibition in October 2017 


2016 is the second year Space Artworks has taken part in the Out of Sigh Out of Mind exhibition series, held in various venues across Edinburgh, and part of the wider annual Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Our exhibition this year 'Space and Time' features work from Edina Donald, Michael Boyd, Rosy Long and The Hive in the upstairs gallery, with Michael Dawson's pieces in the lower gallery - the first time we have shown his work. Looking at Dawson's art, one can be overwhelmed by the intricate layering of meaning and imagery. Letting the allusions and unconscious connections wash over you is part of the enjoyment of such art, but it can also be intriguing to delve into some of the processes and intention behind these effects. Here we share some of what Michael has to say about his work.

An expressionist artist, who produces vibrant multilayered works in a variety of mediums, Michael Dawson's work comes from a place of what could be called considered spontaneity. His aim to convey a 'universal experience' through his own life, that is his personal emotional responses to what he sees and hears around him, requires loose planning, if any. Rather than working with a 'set agenda, theme or subject matter', his preference is to allow his experiences of life to make their way on to the canvas as the mood takes him, more a 'stream of consciousness'  than predetermined act of creation.

'I mostly just start with a mark, word/phrase (https://twitter.com/busytinsnips) or small drawing/illustration and see where it takes me.

I just filter things from my life – memories, experiences from an internal and external world that I inhabit. There is often no linear or narrative approach, (I am a big image blender!), but a cascade of colour, image and word.

I am a simple conduit! I like the beginning of Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood – “I am a camera with its shutter open"

Even when the finished work is quite literal, the next will be in stark contrast.'

Yet, simultaneously, to make a piece 'right' consideration is required. Michael states that:

'The works are often layered over time, it’s a process of adding and subtracting – I sometimes lay a colour/image or phrase down and then cover it or partially conceal it.

I can return to add or subtract sometimes years after I thought the piece was finished. Mostly they all evolve over time, [only] a few are done rapidly.'

By working on multiple pieces at once, returning to them with new thoughts and images over a period of months or years, a balance of spontaneity and consideration is thus struck.

'I often work on at least 4 or 5 simultaneously. These can vary in size from A6 to one-meter square and often larger. As my work is usually very varied so this way of working is good because I can flip from theme to idea as different works evolve and morph.

I also carry a small ideas/sketchbook with me to jot down raw feelings, ideas and words that find a home on paper and canvas.'

This technique of spontaneous 'image blending' and considered addition and subtraction over time helps explain the vibrancy and balance of Michael's work. Going behind the scenes a little more, we were curious to hear more about the physical side of creation, and asked about the materials he most liked to use:

'I absolutely love the basic, low tech’ Chinagraph pencil. The texture it creates on paper is simply ravishing!

It is also known as a grease pencil and is a writing implement made of hardened coloured wax.

It is useful for marking on hard, glossy non-porous surfaces such as porcelain, glass, rock, polished stone, plastic, ceramics and other glazed, lacquered or polished surfaces, as well as the glossy paper that is used for photographic printing, x-rays, and for marking edits on analogue audio tape and film.

It is also used to label theatrical lighting gels. It is often used as a construction or handyman's marking tool as it rarely scratches the surface it is used on. It may be used to mark a wet surface.  Due to its ability to write on glass, it is often used in chemistry labs to mark glassware.

Its versatility is astonishing – every home should have one!

I also love Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylic – very creamy and lush'

Michael's enthusiasm for the 'basic low tech' Chinagraph speaks to his love of the physicality of making art. Combined with his perceptive world view, wide ranging lens of interest and stream of consciousness technique, this passion results in some incredible pieces of art. We at Space Artworks are delighted to be exhibiting his work for the entire month of October, and look forward to hearing some visitors' responses!








Every summer Space Artworks hosts our annual 100 Small Works exhibition, with pieces created by our artists, members of the community and affiliated groups. This year the exhibition runs until the end of September - if you haven't been yet, there is still time!

To a Mouse - Helen Mcleod

To a Mouse - Helen Mcleod

One of the groups we got some fantastic work from this year was Scottish War Blinded. They had some great responses to the theme of Scottish Literature and Tales and recently paid the exhibition a visit. Art Instructor David Grigor has this to say about the experience:

'The members of the Scottish War Blinded who are regular in the art room are delighted to contribute to the small artworks exhibition. When they realised how small their painting had to be they thought I was joking, but with guidance they decided on a story or poem and their pictures emerged. They had a good chuckle at the choice of some poems as examples which set the imagination going and were happy to have the challenge of making possibly the smallest painting they can remember.'

Members of the Scottish War Blinded visiting the exhibition

Members of the Scottish War Blinded visiting the exhibition

Check out some of the works contributed by the group below!

Works Shown: Sprouts - Pat Alan. To a Mouse - Helen Mcleod. Glen, a Sheep Dog - Harry Hogg.



For the month of May we are delighted to be exhibiting the landscapes and seascapes of Alastair Laing. Originally a calligrapher and graphic designer, Alastair only began to paint towards the end of his professional career. Since then he has developed a unique and recognisable style of work, featuring simple frameworks, strong horizontal and vertical axis and calligraphic shapes.

Our conversation gave him the opportunity to reflect upon the form and content of his work. In this post we share his fascinating insights:



You have previously worked as a calligrapher and graphic designer. What motivated you to move your focus to painting and fine art?

I am inspired by the many ways Nature offers ever-changing scenes over the seasons and within the day, learning to love and enjoy the visual world and responding to how different seasons change the dynamics of the same view, and the power of unexpected light and colour combinations in the sky, ever changing and often breath-taking in quality, and how these allow you to play with different colour values, patterns, textures, shapes and arrangements.

Is painting something you have always been interested in, or did the interest develop later in life?

I have always been interested in the development of painting as a form of self-expression or story-telling, and enjoyed immensely the opportunity to help others 'see' and respond, rather than just look, as they worked through their paintings. The opportunity to work through the creative process of painting only arose for me towards the end of my professional career, as I prepared for retirement.

You have mentioned Paul Klee and the Vienna Secession as key inspirations for your work. Is there any particular way these surface in your work?

The stylised work of Art Nouveau, perhaps subconsciously through my daily encounter with the architecture of GSA when studying there, has always fascinated me, as has the ‘design of a possible world’, capturing nature in terms of primal images, attempted by Klee. So simple frameworks, strong horizontal and vertical axis and calligraphic shapes appear in unexpected ways in my work. 

Your paintings focus on Scottish landscapes, with a particular emphasis on moments of human intervention or influence on natural environments – boats, monuments and buildings. Can you identify any reasons for your interest in these intersections between man and nature?

The journey to work from Haddington to North Berwick I travelled over forty years ago took a turn to the left towards Fenton Barns as you leave the charming village of Drem. At that fork, with Berwick Law in the distance, was a field used for show jumping practice. I was fascinated by the contrast of the coloured poles and planks used as jumps and the verdant hedges, fields and landscape - the intrusion of man-made pattern into a rich pastoral setting.

Look down on a clear day from the airplane and watch the landscape like a patchwork quilt, or the fascinating patterns as the paddy-fields trace the contours of the hill-sides. Sometimes human intervention can ruin the landscape, for example the growing number of single, isolated, wind turbines - but sometimes, as with the paddy-fields it can enhance the landscape.

Do you identify particular locations you wish to recreate as art and visit them to photograph or sketch? Or is your preference to work purely from memory?

I use a combination of both - mostly memory but backed up with references and research from photographs. Plus a huge amount of imagination!!

Do the places you chose to represent in your works ever have any personal significance? Imagined or real narratives? Particular theoretical underpinnings?

Taking the road from Balfron to Stirling, passing through Arnprior and Gargunnock along the Carse, you are faced with the edifice of Stirling Castle. The fortress built on the top of a massive naturally forming crag with steep cliffs on three sides dominates the landscape, as does its neighbouring Wallace Monument. Both are cultural and historical icons, as is Edinburgh Castle and the Bass Rock. These four landmarks have been significant visual signposts on journeys from the houses I have lived in, and each have been etched in my memory.

You use a variety of mediums in your work. Are there any you particularly favour? Or find particularly challenging to work with?

I enjoy using water-based paints - they are easy use, dry quickly, too quickly at times, odourless and easy to clean up. Their opaqueness can be frustrating - but I enjoy building up layers of glaze, and see what happens. I like a challenge and every painting produces its own. But after ten years working on prepared boards with a flat surface which first have washes of acrylic inks, or layers of tissue paper, I am experimenting with gesso primer to create a textured surface before underpainting.

Your works often explore the tensions between spontaneity and risk, and a more controlled approach. Does the medium you use affect how spontaneous or planned out the works themselves end up being? What is your current preferred way of working – planned, spontaneous, or some mix of the two?

I greatly admire my artist friends who have the skill, confidence and extrovert personality to paint spontaneously, and GSA has a renowned reputation for producing painterly painters. I am more comfortable working in a more planned way - perhaps developed through design practice. That doesn’t mean I have every stage of the process pre-ordained. I have no fixed idea of how a painting will end up, and try to keep an eye open for ‘happy accidents’ as they occur. I enjoy trying colour combinations, or arranging the limited range of abstract calligraphic shapes, and am entering a new period of working onto created textures.

Alastair's work will be exhibited in Space Artworks, 410 Morningside Road, from May 4th- May 31st. The gallery is open Tuesday 11am-5pm, Wednesday 11am-5pm, Thursday 1pm-5pm, Friday 11am-5pm and Saturday 11am-5pm.











Here at Space Artworks we are delighted to be exhibiting the work of Edinburgh based artist Samuel Robin Spark from the 6th to the 29th of April. Before setting up the exhibition we were given the opportunity to visit Robin in his home and discuss the forthcoming show. The conversation was long and involved, ranging inspiringly across a breadth of topics. In this post we present some of the highlights of our discussion.

Samuel Robin Spark, in his Edinburgh home

Samuel Robin Spark, in his Edinburgh home

Samuel Robin Spark was born in 1938 in Zimbabwe and moved to Edinburgh at the age of seven. Despite being creatively inclined from an early age, he did not become an artist until later in life, enrolling in the Edinburgh College of Art in 1983 with the help and encouragement of his friend Udi Merioz.

Since graduation, Spark’s work has been exhibited worldwide, with pieces travelling as far as Israel, America and Argentina. The idea of exhibiting in Space Artworks was formed when visiting the exhibition of fellow artist and colleague Fraser Wood. An avid collector of art, he chose to buy a piece and on delivery fell into conversation with Sarah about the possibility of holding an exhibition of his own at the gallery. Sarah was stunned to realise the vast quantity of work Robin has completed in his late-starting artistic life. The exhibition that results features selected highlights of this extensive body of work.

Despite having exhibited so widely, this exhibit is in Robin’s own words ‘a new venture for me’. Unlike previous shows, ‘Samuel Robin Spark: A Choice Selection of His Work’ concentrates primarily on Robin’s purely abstract pieces. Past works have attempted to abstract concrete real life objects and memories, but the pieces exhibited here are not intended to provoke any specific reaction or tie into definitive themes. Sometimes, Spark believes, it is better to simply experience one’s personal emotions and reactions to a piece, free of any attempts at direction:

‘[The work is] purely abstract.  I like to think of it as shapes, colours and proportion, of shapes and colours juxtaposing and that it should give various feelings. It’s like meditating – people will have a look at it…It’s not always a good idea to look at a painting, an abstract and try to relate it to human experiences in the real world.’

The varied and spontaneous reactions Robin hopes to provoke reflects his own process of painting these works. The pieces are never planned out, and rarely amended or edited. Even colours and shapes are not decided ahead of time. This way of working takes effort both physical and psychological, but produces spectacular results.

‘I am more spontaneous. I think, you know how they say, “let your fingers do the walking”. One colour or one work leads to another and then you think, is that right? I tend not to change things, I’ve seen artists change things a lot, I tend not to change it but to go on. But it’s quite a laborious effort, it’s not all that easy at all’

Many of his works, including some featured in the show, are made in the ‘impasto’ style, a labour intensive way of working that involves applying thick paint then using fingers and a scalpel to move it around, creating an almost sculptural, relief-like effect.

Storm II (detail)

Storm II (detail)

These abstract pieces in this exhibition can seem removed from Robin’s earlier figurative work. Yet links can be made between the pieces. Once realised these point to the later paintings developing out of ways of working explored in the earlier pictures. Robin himself notes that ‘even when I was doing figurative work it was never photographic realism, though I admire that as well. That wasn’t me. There was always a lot of expressiveness in the work’. Stylistically this expressiveness can be seen to have matured first into the abstraction of objects and ideas, and then into the pure abstracts seen in Space Artworks.

Thematically the pieces may seem more distinct, with some earlier works quite clearly Jewish in theme for example Sucot Tubernacle. However, spontaneous methods of working are at play here too.  Whilst Robin admires the theoretically dense and intricately planned out work of Jewish artists such as R. B. Kitaj, whose piece If Not, Not he discusses in some detail on his website, his own Jewish work is not planned out in this manner.

Succot Tubernacle: Samuel Robin Spark

Succot Tubernacle: Samuel Robin Spark

This does not mean it has not been thoroughly researched. Rather, Spark prefers to imbue himself in Jewish history, literature and painting prior and separate to the creative process, allowing it to come out in an unconscious, unplanned and organic manner whilst painting. Themes, Robin says are not planned out. Instead, ‘I just have a slight vision and it alters as time goes on’. This way of working can be seen to have reached a pinnacle in the later abstract pieces, where all plans are abandoned and spontaneous vision the only guiding voice.

Jewish culture has been important to Spark throughout his life and informed his vision as an artist since his time at art school. When in conversation we discussed the many authors and artists that have enhanced Spark’s life, a list ranging from authors such as Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer to the artist Marc Chagall. Attending the Edinburgh College of Art slightly later than most helped Robin realise his artistic vision with an intensity and purity that may have evaded a younger artist. We were curious to hear what effects being a mature student might have had on Robin’s progression as an artist, and asked if he thought this had made a difference:

‘I think it might have. When I went to art college I found a lot of people were technically very much better than I was but then I thought, well, they’re not Jews, they’re not interested in Judaism. I’ll bring my own particular brand out. And it worked. But I might not have done that if I had been younger, I might have tried to follow the crowd and done the same as they did.’

As an older artist, Spark was imbued with a level of self-knowledge and confidence, which allowed him to see past other student’s works, and focus on his own ideas and passions.

‘I had a vision to want to do and I knew that technically I couldn’t beat them but expressively, and visions, I had, that I could make my own mark.’

Other aspects of Spark’s early life have also played a part in the construction of his unique vision. Many of his works, particularly the abstracts shown in this exhibition, feature vibrant and exuberant colours and shapes. When reflecting on his early life in Zimbabwe, Spark noted the influence African patterns and colours have had on his painting:

‘I like to harken back to Africa. Some of the work is of Africa. I left at seven years of age.’

Robin’s maternal grandmother also had a strong interest in colour and shape, whilst his grandfather was an engineer skilled in drawing. Even when no longer living in Africa then, Spark still had a wealth of creative influence, which can be seen as important to his eventual artistic self-discovery.

Spark’s progression as an artist has also been shaped meaningfully by the human connections and friendships he has made over a lifetime. His fascination with and affection towards people and their stories is apparent in the deep humanity of his work as much as his general conversational style. Much of our discussion ended up being an equal exchange of stories and ideas – with him playing the part of the interviewer as much as we did! It quickly became apparent why he has made such an impression on so many individuals, with cherished friendships playing an important part in his life and career as an artist. Udi Merioz, Archie Stewart and Yosl Bergner are just some of the figures Robin reflected on as crucial to his personal and artistic development. Without the encouragement of friends such as these we might never have had the fortune of enjoying the work of Samuel Robin Spark. The importance of friendship to his work seems entirely fitting for an artist of such kindness and generosity. We look forward to experiencing and sharing his art in the Space Artworks gallery.

To find out more about Samuel Robin Spark, and read some of his fascinating articles on Jewish art and culture, visit his website

- Zoe Hay, April 2016


Works in progress and sketches can be just as fascinating to look at as final exhibited pieces – sometimes even more so! In this occasional series we see what the Space Artwork’s artists get up to behind the scenes, kicking off with Edina Donald’s most recent sketches.

Sketches, paintings, craft… Edina Donald is always creating. Her subject matter may vary wildly, encompassing popular culture, history and nature, but the work produced is always of a dedicatedly high standard. This week’s sketches, a collection inspired by the television programme “Spitting Image”, perfectly encapsulates both the topical variety of her influence and the exceptional quality of her work – always beautifully finished, even when just for fun!

Scroll down to see all images


For the 100 Small Works exhibition, Space Artworks partners with a number of outside organisations, all involved in creative and community work in and around Edinburgh and the Lothians. The Dean Art Club has now provided work for the exhibition for two years in a row, and we hope to see their creations again in the future! Here Eileen explains a bit more about how the club works:

The Dean Art Club originally started as an afternoon club for over 50's. Around seventeen years ago it changed to a Tuesday evening session between 7 and 9 pm, and remains so today.  We have a small group of people from all backgrounds and age groups. They are an enthusiastic group who all help each other with constructive criticism. We also have a resident amateur artists who can give us help with those who are starting out . Our group takes part in various exhibitions including the 100 small artworks at Space Artworks and others in West Lothian and beyond . We use all mediums, so you can try your hand at a variety of methods. On the whole it is a nice friendly atmosphere where like-minded people can get together to do something they all enjoy. It provides a place for busy people to come together and relax - believe me, it is the quickest two hours of the week!

We only charge £2.00 per week for the use of the art materials and the first week is always free. We usually receive an annual grant from West Lothian Council which helps subsidise the club and allows us to keep the fees down to a minimum. We want to be able to offer a relaxing environment and creative experience to all walks of life. 



Rosy Long is a visually impaired artist who lives in Aberdeenshire. She specializes in drawing and painting, her work is inspired by cats and by the picturesque rural surrounding in which she lives; it has developed over time into a love of 3D and bas-relief combined with an enjoyment in visual storytelling. Mixed media are used in all her work often in ceramic paper clay or papier mache. 

Rosy represents Space Artworks gallery at the Out of Sight, Out of Mind exhibition- one of the venues of Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival 2015 (SMHAFF)- that takes place in Summerhall, Edinburgh. We asked Rosy to talk about her inspiration, the artistic process and meaning of the three works "Pink Elephants", "Alone" and "Queens" featured in Summerhall. 

Pink Elephants

Pink Elephants

"Pink Elephants": The composition of this work just happened. I was working with papier mache over the bottles and thought it needed a bit of lift..fun and that's how the elephants came in. At first glance this seems a fun work, but when I think again, drik has played a sad role in my life during my childhood and yet I always enjoyed a few drinks, I realised it takes quite an effort to stop myself from doing that. See, I am blessed with a happy marriage and family and I enjoy so many other things in life!  



This work is inspired by my previous Alice in Wonderland exhibition. I've always been attracted to the White Queens, Queen of Hearts and Red flying queen. I sat down and wrote a poem of that and realised that all these different queens, there are all different sides of me. 



"This is where I ultimately find myself. It is not frightening but rather beautiful". 

Her passion is color! 

I love color, partly has to do with my eyes, I sleep at night with the thought of how colors working together and when I get up, it's all about colors working together. I grew up in the West Coast of Scotland with pure bright color and always stayed with me, this is how I express myself.

..and cats!

The cats came back with my children;, I grew up with cats, but didn't have one since I was a teenager; after I met my husband and we got a persian kitten and start loving them again. 

In the question of what materials and techniques she uses to create this beautiful and skillful pieces she says: "All the larger papier mache shapes are build from old cardboard with corrugated cardboard gussets. The whole work is painted with wood glue to strengthen it and then primed before it is painted on the collage. The background is acrylic mirror painted with glass paints of Sharpies". 

The Out of Sight, Out of Mind exhibition runs until 31 October 2015. 




The Hive is an activity centre and coffee bar for in-patients of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital with a full timetable of activities and events. To find out more about some of the artworks members of The Hive have created for this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Fesitval (SMHAFF) we spoke to Abi Kilbride, one of three activity workers responsible for keeping The Hive going.

Abi’s responsibilities include running groups on mindfulness, knitting, addiction support, music and of course artwork. Her activities help get people engaged and socialising, providing both a creative outlet and a place to interact with others. Members have created a series of artworks for SMHAFF, inspired by the theme of the exhibition this year – passion. Scroll down past the slideshow to read more about the artists and their works:

Work one is named “Angel in Disguise”. This was created in an open art session – the perfect environment to freely create and have positive experiences. The artist has had difficulty with a short attention span, which can make the completing an artwork somewhat challenging. Finishing “Angel in Disguise” was therefore a real accomplishment, and gave her a great sense of achievement. Even without knowledge of these difficulties the piece itself is impressive, conveying emotional complexity through a visually pleasing array of colours.

The second and third works are collages, both completed by the same artist. He likes to work with what he is enthused by and passionate about, which makes his creations ideal for SMHAFF’s theme. Working with printed images is particularly interesting to him, as is creating mixed media pieces. The main subject matter of “Bobby” is clear to any resident of Edinburgh, but the work also features a more subtle nod to another “passion” - green to symbolise his love of the football team Celtic. “Through the Year” uses images of nature to represent different seasons, speaking to a love many will be able to identify with - the changing rhythms of the natural world.

The cartoon inspired painting “Little Birdy” meanwhile, plays on the love hate relationship between Sylvester and Tweety Pie - a less conventional type of passion perhaps! Betty Boop’s infamous red dress also pops up in the work “Betty Bird”. These pieces are created by an artist who makes full use of The Hive’s facilities. As well as creating works inspired by classic cartoons he also likes enjoys sculpture, regularly creating beautiful clay pieces.

The last work featured “City in Mist” is by an artist who prefers to work with stencils – another piece which illustrates the breadth of work created at The Hive. Her inspiration comes from modern urban environments and the city, yet another creative interpretation of the theme “passion”. Whilst the form and content of her work provide an updated twist on traditions of landscape painting and the passion inspired by the sublime, the skyline stencil itself is softened by the colour choice and delicate application of paint, provoking memories of more classical landscapes even as it subverts them.

The Hive have provided Space Artworks with a fantastic and fascinating collection of works for this years SMHAFF exhibition "Life With Art...". The works featured in this article will be shown in our gallery from the 10th to 31st of October. Space Artworks will also have works featured in Summerhall’s exhibition for the festival. For more information please see here 

To read more about Space Artworks and SMHAFF see our What's On page.


Here at Space Artworks we are always interested in the individual behind the art. Every artist has a story and sometimes what leads them to create can be as fascinating as the work itself! In this post, Agnes Johnstone explains how she came to be making art:

It was easy to hide in crowd.Textile thread and freestyle machine embroidery. Agnes Johnstone 2014.

It was easy to hide in crowd.Textile thread and freestyle machine embroidery. Agnes Johnstone 2014.

My journey into art making was accidental.  Throughout school I was told by art teachers that I was rubbish at art so apart from visiting art exhibitions in later life, which I loved, from a hands on point of view I lived in an art free zone for about 40 years after leaving school.

Following treatment for ovarian cancer almost 20 years ago I was advised by various doctors to take up a hobby doing something I loved and which I could immerse myself in.  After lots of soul searching I decided to defy the critics and take up art classes.  Classes for portfolio preparation were held at Drummond Community School two nights a week for three hours each time and I went purely to have fun.

From the first class I was hooked and knew not only would I have fun I would, at last, have art. It turned out I was not rubbish at art after all.  After the course I was enthusiastically encouraged to put forward a portfolio of work for a place at Telford College.

Still not believing in myself I did this and was given a place on their 1-year Foundation Course. Although at 52 I was the oldest student in the three classes of that year with most students being 17-19 I fitted right in.  I discovered that art is for everyone regardless of age.

When the first year was completed we were encouraged to apply for HND Courses.  I was now desperate to continue my studies so it was a great relief to be offered a place on their 2-year HND Public Art Course.

I particularly chose this course since it offered the most opportunity for limitless boundaries.  I was also lucky in that I was poor.  This proved not to be a disadvantage because it forced me to become more creative in my use of materials and not just go to the college shop.  My work was different from the rest of the class.  We had great tutors who stretched us in our efforts and told us to forget about what might be right or wrong.  Apparently there was no right or wrong in art although this would prove subjective in later years.  All of this filled me with confidence in my abilities both with my life choices and those being made for my art work.

At the end of the HND Course I applied for a place at Edinburgh College of Art’s part-time  Combined Studies Degree Course (alas no more) and was accepted.  My journey into art then continued at a much higher and intense level.  I have always believed that without the portfolio class and the three years at Telford I would not have been ready to get the most from ECA’s first class tuition and fierce constructive criticism. 

So after seven glorious years at ECA I obtained my degree in 2011 at the age of 63 (I believe the oldest person to obtain this degree was 83).  I felt I was ready to face the world as a completely new person and as an artist who believes in themselves.

Apart from the usual art materials over the years I have used many materials including old books, rusty metal, cut up photographs, logs, pieces of branches and leaves, copper pipe, bronze, pulped paper, sea glass and beach found objects, plastic and textiles although over these last five years I have used mainly paper, thread and beach found animal bone. 

I am now well into the habit of using everyday household articles and recycled objects to produce and develop my work thus continuing to increase my development work and creative output.  Proportion and colour are important to me but I also listen to what the materials are saying during my working process as this can lead to new processes and developments and indeed this is how the work you currently have at the gallery was developed. 

Having spent eleven years in informal and formal training I have used many techniques from the disciplines of drawing, painting, sculpture, jewellery, tapestry, textiles, printmaking and stained glass making to produce my work but find mainly textile related processes and products inform my practise. To highlight one process as the most fabulous and exhilarating I would most definitely choose the making of a cuttlefish bronze at ECA.

This involved the sawing in half of a cuttlefish of the type bought for budgies and canaries in pet shops and then carving this into a mould to produce a 3D bronze sculpture.  A small channel is left at the top of each piece and the two pieces of the mould tied together.  This part was very interesting since none of us including the tutor had tried this method before but then the tremendously exciting part.  About 8 of us trouped over to the forge which had already been fired up and buried our moulds in sand (I think) using our hands with the channel uppermost and then molten bronze which the tutor and his helper prepared was poured into the moulds.  Although we only watched this part of the process because we had no forge training it was the most exciting technique I have ever used.  We all felt part of the bronze forging process because we had buried our moulds with our own hands and the work was done in a small forge which felt like we were packed together, terrified and excited at the same time, on the very brink of a volcano.  This was a very elemental technique but not one to continue at home.   

Themes for my work originally stemmed from nature which still informs my work but over the last five years my concept has been led by the pattern shapes we use to cover and present our bodies.  Using mainly paper and thread I explore the possibilities of the shapes themselves to produce skin-like (our first clothes) sculptural objects.  Some of these are removed from the clothes form they could have been and some are not.  This echoes the way some people are successful in altering their body form and persona by the use of clothing and some are not or do not bother.

I find inspiration to create usually arrives in two forms:

Intentional and current inspiration comes through continuing development of my main concept as just described.

Unintentional inspiration arrives from the need just to fiddle and rearrange things and this normally occurs when I am unable to work due to pressure of everyday life.  I try to draw wee bits, write something down or take a photograph to work on should an opportunity arrive.  I find everything around can provide input and inspiration into a piece under this category, say for example, a shop window display.  It is the focussing in on what is really important that develops and informs my working process.

Three years ago my partner, of almost 35 years, Derek had a stroke.  This has left him with aphasia and cognitive problems and although I was unable to work for almost two years we continued to go to art exhibitions when.  During this last year or so I have been able to feel my way back into art work.   Derek helps me in various ways with my work.  I know very little about computers and I am not strong or have lots of energy but although he gets tired quickly and can forget things from minute to minute he remains physically strong within certain limits and with patience on both our parts can sometimes solve the black art of technology for me.

Making art gives me energy and purpose and I firmly believe that without art and its continuing force in my life our life would have been much harder over these years after Derek’s stroke.  Art is not a hobby for me, more a way of life which continues to add to our life together.  I am very glad I stood up to the critics all those years ago although it did take a very long time and a very big kick in the nether regions to do something about it!



Yayoi Kusama challenges her mental illness into creating art

BBC's short film on the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who is well-known for her repeating dot patterns, her art encompasses an astonishing variety of media, including painting, sculpture.  film, performance and immersive installation.  Kusama has exhibited her work in the three major capitals of contemporary arts: New York (MoMA), Tokyo (OTA FINE ARTS) and London (Tate Modern). 

She has been living voluntarily in a psychiatric institution since 1977, after being diagnose with anxiety disorder. The hospital allowed her to create a studio inside the building where she worked on a daily basis.