Monday, 16 September 2013

Art Workshops at Sunnyside Court

Outreach Manager for Art in Healthcare, Amelia Calvert, discusses a recent success of the outreach programme in a sheltered housing complex. 

 July and August saw the start of Art in Healthcare’s 2013/14 outreach programme, building on what went before with ‘Art from Art’ (see blog entry, This involved a five-week long series of art workshops at the sheltered housing complex, Sunnyside Court, part of Hanover Housing Association, in Morningside, culminating in an exhibition in the complex of all the artworks that had been created during the programme.
Some of the residents and artist, Emily Learmont (third from right) at the final exhibition
While the exhibition itself was clearly a hub of merriment, excitement and proud artists showing their works, it was the workshops themselves with the quiet, contented and diligent concentration of every participant that was the most memorable about this programme.
The workshops were facilitated by artist, Emily Learmont, who had run art workshops for AiH in the past, along with the help of a couple of AiH volunteers. Emily commented at the end that it was “a memorable experience” and that everyone was “hugging me goodbye!” Clearly she had had a great effect on the group with her gentle teaching manner and skill at art.

The programme came about after Edinburgh Decorative Fine Arts Society generously donated £5,000 to AiH earlier in 2013, part of which AiH decided to spend specifically on an art workshop programme in a sheltered housing complex around Edinburgh – a new venture having previously focused on workshops in Hospitals, Care Homes and care-related charities. We heard about Sunnyside Court where at least 9 residents were very interested in doing art workshop and the sheltered housing manager, Mary Riseborough, helped to develop the link and start the programme.

Mary herself took part in one of the workshops and was heard to comment, “I could just feel the happy atmosphere…[I was] totally engrossed”. At the end of the programme, she added, “The way in which they have encouraged one another has been inspirational…[and] the community spirit has been great”.

Indeed, participants seemed to highly value the experience and when asked about what they enjoyed, comments collected via feedback forms reported: “Everything…having fun”; “chance to express myself in art form”; “I didn’t think I could do it!”; “the company – really good. Keeps me going”; “doing things I’ve never done before…working with other people…very pleased with what I did”; “togetherness”; “I found it all encouraging and exciting, very stimulating and I learned a great deal about art creation”.

When asked about what went well, comments from participants included: “The group support and friendships which encouraged both the painting and creating of work and the desire not to finish the experience”; “Everyone felt they achieved something they would not have believed when they started”.

Clearly the art workshops were about more than just creativity for the participants but about the coming together with others to create, and the opportunity for them to try something new with the support of people around them.

What happens next, now that the AiH workshop series and exhibition are past? From early on in the series, the group clearly wanted to make art workshops a regular feature in the lounge of Sunnyside Court and not just as an informal get-together amongst themselves but with the added value of a visiting artist to impart knowledge, teach them new skills and further engage them in the world of visual arts. So the group are planning to apply for funding themselves, which would enable them to effectively buy a series of workshops for a longer period of time at Sunnyside Court.

Meanwhile, AiH intends to do more workshops in sheltered housing in due course, dependent on our funding, so watch this space…

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Artist Uncovered: Emily Learmont (nee Bakker)

Martine F Pugh meets the artist and supporter of Art in Healthcare.

Emily Learmont pours tea into delicate blue and white china and shows me through to her studio-cum-sitting room. She explains in a soft and clear voice that she comes from an artistic family and that she always loved drawing as a child, not on scraps of paper but on the blank side of redundant architectural drawings her father brought home from work. 

After school, she chose to study at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) which in the late 1980's was buzzing with excitement.

Glasgow Street Scene  oil, 185 x 154cm
AiH collection

The GSA figurative tradition suited her interest in people. Her paintings of that period in the Art in Healthcare (AiH) collection are expressive street scenes that show her keen sense of observation rendered with the flat perspective characteristic of Chinese, Japanese or Persian arts that still fascinate her today.

The Rainy Day   oil,  124 x 154cm
AiH collection

Her inclination towards the fine arts was honed further still when Emily secured a postgraduate place at the Royal Academy (RA) School in London. She thoroughly enjoyed her time in the small department tucked away behind the grand RA buildings, sneaking out regularly to the galleries for her breaks still wearing her painting clothes, to feast her eyes on “beautiful things”. 

When she returned to Edinburgh in 2000, she was commissioned by AiH to work with children in hospitals to find out what they would like to see on the walls around them. Holidays and sunny beaches were at the top of their wish list prompting her to produce a series of joyful paintings. 

Beachcomber’s Mermaid   oil, 65 x 79cm
AiH collection

The Art in Healthcare collection has no less than thirteen of her paintings of which four are wonderful swimming pool scenes that convey a feeling of weightlessness and escapism. This series coincided with a period of ill-health which led her to spend much time relaxing and exercising in the pool. 

Drumsheugh Swimming Pool   oil,  184 x 152cm
AiH collection

This experience heightened Emily’s understanding of the need of healthcare patients and her appreciation of the work AiH do. 

“I really like the fact that my paintings are in AiH. I think art is such a good thing to have in a healthcare setting and doing art as well is a brilliant thing to do. I am pleased to have made that connection, that my work is going to be in hospital and hopefully that it’s going to cheer somebody up, that’s really important to me.”

When she found large oil canvasses too strenuous physically, she switched to watercolours and produced a series of illustrative paintings of angels and archangels for the Edinburgh-based Scottish Storytelling Centre Christmas 2009 exhibition. She found this new direction therapeutic.

Archangel   watercolour,  70 x 50 cm
image courtesy of the artist

When she recovered her full health, she started painting with oils again but her technique had changed, smooth layers and glazes had replaced the thick impasto. This radical shift is perfectly suited to her new subject matter, angels, dragons, the creatures and landscapes of her imagination that she conjures up in great details with linear and precise brush strokes. 

Emily Learmont’s painterly practice today is in harmony with her other pursuits. It absorbs her research for gallery talks on Scottish and Renaissance masters, George Jameson, John Duncan and Botticelli being particular favourites, and her current involvement with patients in healthcare settings. 
Her style may have changed since her earlier paintings, but her rationale is still about transcendence of the mundane which she now conveys with fantastic realism.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With thanks to Emily Learmont.


The Glasgow School of Art
The Royal Academy Schools
Scottish Storytelling Centre