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Blog - Learning Disabled Art Studios

Four buildings across Edinburgh with a wealth of talent happening behind their doors


Tanya and myself managed to squeeze in an afternoon visit to Garvald in Edinburgh on our trip to Scotland. We were greeted at the converted Edwardian school by the Art Studio facilitator and Exhibitions Coordinator Morven MacCrae. Garvald has been going in some form for over fifty years and now has four sites across Edinburgh, where over 240 artists travel between twenty different workshop spaces on a weekly basis. The workshops include a room full of looms for weaving, a pottery and glass room with all the relevant equipment and they can also get involved in baking or be in the kitchens making lunch for everyone daily.

The weaving room fulls of looms and many colours of cotton

We visited just one of the four centre’s in Edinburgh, with Tanya saying,

“Each room was like entering Aladdin’s Cave with so many treasures around every corner and artist facilitators who are completely tuned in to supporting the artist’s in a professional way. To be surrounded by such quality in the tools, equipment and materials in the beautifully set out studios gave me studio envy! Something I am definitely going to aim for back at ArtStudio01.”

David with one of his colourful canvas’

The organisation runs on the Austrian Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy and the principles of social therapy. This approach brings together all the factors that are important for any person in their daily life. A work-like environment provides meaning, structure and stability. The physical environment is even more important for learning disabled people, with the facilities being calm and creative spaces.

Many of the staff at Garvald have been there for years, including Morven for 14 years, and so the organisation retains staff well. Individual projects are worked on, and in some workshop spaces, a technique will be shown and the artists then create something using that technique that may be similar to others works but will be their own take on it.

Every three-four years they have exhibition for everyone that attends Garvald and in-between this there are smaller exhibitions focused on just painting or just ceramics. The staff are often looking for external opportunities for the artists too, and painter NILS was recently involved in the ‘Hidden Doors’ festival – where art was to be made in disused spaces in Edinburgh. NILS liked working big and being surrounded by other contemporary artists making large works too.

Kwok showing us one of his drawings in process of a boat

One artist we met, Kwok, is visually impaired. He spent time explaining his technique of using biros to create an image where he indents the paper using the biro. He then applies colour by feeling the lines on his drawing and asking Morven to pass him the colours he wishes. This was a fascinating process one that he has developed himself over time and watching him draw was both insightful and mesmerising. We also spent time with two other artists’ as Tanya will tell you.

“It was a great moment when I shared my new practice of iPhone drawing with David, Kwok, and David, which I have begun to use to capture landscapes. The three artists all did a quick iPhone sketch, which echoed the works they were working on within the studio. David also showed us his sketchbook colour theory work, which we might explore back at ArtStudio01. Whist the other David showed us his still life teapots and bold bright canvases, which reminded us all of ArtStudio01 Alison Picknell’s work.”

David showing us his colour theory work

Garvald are aware they need to do more to raise their reputation, but as with Project Ability, they believe that Instagram has started to raise their profile and get them more recognised. ArtStudio01 are slowly doing this on all their social media and it’s beginning to open doors to expand thier audiences.

These blogs are co-written by the producer for this research project, Jennifer Gilbert, and Director of ArtStudio01, Tanya Raabe-Webber, sharing what they have learnt during their studio visits.

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