Describe and draw

The Wallace Collection has had a regular programme of accessible events for blind and partially sighted visitors since 2004. Sessions take the form of audio-described talks, tours, object handling sessions and are followed by a creative activity. In early 2017 one of our participants mentioned that they had found it difficult to find a practical life drawing class that supported their access needs and so we decided to develop a pilot session together.

The workshop itself was co-designed and developed with several of our blind and partially sighted visitors, a freelance artist educator and a trained audio-describer. We wanted to make sure that we provided a workshop where everyone felt supported and able to express themselves creatively in a way that felt comfortable to them.

We then advertised through the Wallace website and social media channels. We were also featured on BBC Radio 4 programme In Touch and the RNIB website. This meant that we were able to reach a wide audience and we have found that many of the participants that now attend the Describe and Draw workshops were new to the Wallace Collection and the learning programme.

In June 2017 we ran our first workshop and since then we have delivered a further five with four more planned for this year. The feedback has been very positive, and each class has been oversubscribed. We have secured further funding and are delighted that Describe and Draw is now embedded as part of the core offer on our access programme.

Image shows four small sculpted figures made with grey and white modelling clay and wire. They are abstract, simplified female forms. In the background on the table are various works on paper.

Workshops currently run on a Saturday from 10.30–1.30pm and take place in our education spaces supported by Wallace education team members, freelancers and volunteers. We begin by exploring one or two works in the gallery together with an audio-describer and then return to the studio for a guided life drawing session with an artist educator. The model’s poses are audio-described by the freelance team as well as the models themselves and participants are free to take up whatever position feels comfortable to them, be that on the floor, at a desk or behind an easel. Participants can choose from traditional life drawing materials to more tactile media if they wish to make more sculptural, 3D responses. Everyone is welcome, no experience is necessary, and we provide all materials and refreshments.

Image shows an art work of a reclining female figure using charcoal, bright yellow chalk and masking tape on white paper

All workshops are carefully evaluated so that we can tailor the format and content to the needs of the participants and respond quickly to feedback, making adaptations so that everyone feels that their access needs are met and can enjoy the creative experience. We want to continue to improve and therefore participant feedback is vital. We have a reflective discussion and the end of each workshop and encourage participants to maintain dialogue with us and share their thoughts and feedback either by email or over the phone following the sessions.

The Describe and Draw workshops prove that sight loss is not a barrier to creativity and that ‘visual’ art isn’t something limited to those of us who can see.

Image shows several figures made from terracotta that have been placed on a large sheet of white paper. The relief sculptures are flowing and abstract. They are numbered to show which model pose the artist is responding to.

Participant feedback

I loved expressing myself again and having a really amazing opportunity to be creative. It meant a lot to me and served as a springboard to do more creative activities independently outside the session.

Really multi-sensory and empathetic style of class, tutor, museum staff and model. Flexibility to improvise and positive feedback was given.

I think the facilities, materials and support we receive is top notch and I enjoy the sketching most of all, especially the longer poses.

It was great that the environment and tone were inclusive in a really natural way. It was great that potential issues had been thought about but weren’t laboured on the day.

We are grateful to the Lord Leonard and Lady Estelle Wolfson Foundation for their generous support of the Access Programme at the Wallace Collection.

Sarah Fairbairn
Senior Education Officer: Access and Hospital Outreach Programmes
The Wallace Collection
All images courtesy of The Wallace Collection