Drawing The Best Out in Rhiwbina: The Art Workshop

paint brushes

The Art Workshop front view

Drawing out the best in Rhiwbina
The Art Workshop

Starting a business can be a daunting prospect but in just over a year two enterprising mothers have turned a disused shop unit in Rhiwbina, North Cardiff, into a thriving educational centre teaching fine art to the public.

A love of Art and a drive to run their own business were the two elements that enabled Genevieve Loxton and Martha Lowry to take the plunge and open their studio, The Art Workshop in Rhiwbina’s Lon Fach, a picturesque lane just off the main shopping area of Heol y Deri.

“We just wanted to give anyone the chance to learn about Art,” explained Genevieve. “It’s a subject that so many people are fascinated by. Art holds a lot of mysteries, whether it’s the technical side, how paint and other materials work, or the more creative side, the ideas, inspiration and meanings.”

“Picasso said the purpose of Art is “washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” and I think that rings true for a lot of us. People who come to us want to expand their horizons and learn something new, and they tell us they like getting involved in something creative that transports them out of the daily routine.”

The Workshop offers classes in various kinds of painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture, with a team of tutors who work to create a supportive and productive environment. It’s one of the few centres in the area able to teach Oil painting, and is regularly adding new courses for adults and children.

When Genevieve and Martha first opened in January 2013 they had just a couple of students. “The first to sign up was a lady called Janet, who called in before we’d even opened and paid for a full course on the spot. She was determined to resume drawing, which she’d given up years before. She later told us she was 90, but we never would have guessed her age!” said Martha.

It was an exciting but nerve-wracking first month, the pair set up the business in the hope that it would work but they admit they weren’t really sure how many people would come. But then word started to spread and they were able to add more classes to the week. In its first full year over a hundred people attended courses and the Workshop’s student body continues to grow with nine classes a week and people of all ages and abilities. “And Janet still comes every Thursday for drawing, and produces some of the weeks’ most accomplished work, she is very special to us.” said Martha.

The Workshop operates in a building full of character, a former coach house with open beams and original windows. “The beamed ceiling reminded us of a 17th century artist’s workshop, a little like Rembrandts house and studio in Amsterdam.” said Genevieve.

The workshop had been empty for a while but they could see its potential and they liked the idea of working close to home and family, in a village like Rhiwbina with so much personality, and on the edge of the historic Garden Village. “We wanted people to feel at home so they could gain confidence to try new things. We make it warm and friendly in here, not arty and aloof, everyone is offered a cup of tea or coffee when they come, and students often bring biscuits and cake to share, the classes are fun as well as educational.” explained Genevieve.

Both working artists, Genevieve and Martha trained for four years on the degree course at Cardiff School of Art and Design, and graduated with first class honours. Genevieve specialised in painting, and Martha in Sculpture and 3D design.

“We both came to the degree course later in life as mature students. The Cardiff degree was an inspiration, it taught us so much: about how to learn, and about how to solve artistic problems especially by studying the work and lives of other artists.”

The pair realised how lucky they were to have been able complete their studies before the UK-wide rise in fees at Universities. A four year course is out of reach for many people with family commitments, mortgages and all the expenses of normal life. And now with undergraduate fees starting at £9,000 a year, even fewer mature students are able to take that path. This led to the idea for the Workshop.

“We wanted to give everyone an opportunity to learn about Art, but without the burden of committing to an expensive degree. We offer courses that include Art History, discussion of themes and ideas, as well as practical training in a variety of Art disciplines. We think that we add a lot of value to our courses and we put a lot of work into their design so people develop their skills and their thinking through learning with us.”

The Workshop appeals to all sorts of people from different backgrounds, professionals, the self-employed, health workers, engineers, architects, teachers, local government workers, and its students range from complete beginners to graphic designers and professional artists. “They all bring their different perspectives and that experience adds a lot to each group’s understanding. It makes for some really interesting discussions in class.” added Genevieve. “The work they produce in class is often of a really high standard, but we aim to make sure everyone produces something they can be satisfied with, whatever their level, and help them to stretch their ideas and adapt to new techniques.”

After many requests from parents, the Workshop started additional classes for children in the popular After School Art Academy, which runs mid-week for 6 to 11 year olds. This then led to another strand of the business. “Some of the children then asked to have their birthday parties with us, so at weekends we have started providing “Arty Parties”, with balloons, banners and music, and lots of fun art.” said Martha, who devises the After School Academy courses.

The Workshop has also collaborated with other organisations to help expand their course content. The National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Cardiff came on board to provide a host of animal specimens from mammals to reptiles for a course on drawing animals. “They even let us use a stuffed crocodile, which went down really well especially in the children’s classes!” said Martha. Cardiff University School of Medicine were also happy to help and lent the Workshop a real skeleton for anatomy classes, vital in helping students understand how to draw the human figure.

Being part of the Rhiwbina community is central to everyone involved with The Art Workshop. They agreed to take on the challenge of the first Lantern Parade at the Rhiwbina Christmas Festival where Martha and Genevieve spent their evenings hand-making hundreds of paper lanterns for children to carry on the route, and Martha designed giant animal lanterns that featured in the local papers. In the busy summer festival Martha and Genevieve persuaded the crowds to sit down at outside tables and draw their own faces, which led to a giant display of postcard-sized self portraits. The Workshop also hosts regular exhibitions, usually showcasing students work.

“We love being in Rhiwbina, it’s now a vibrant village with great shops and cafes and we have found that it’s full of interesting people who have a genuine desire to learn about art, we want to make sure they have the chance to do so.” said Genevieve.

You can sign up for drawing, painting and sculpture classes at any time, each course follows the school term calendar and students pay by the term. Private tutoring and sketchbook development for those studying GCSE, A level and for Foundation entry is also available by arrangement.

For more information you can contact the Art Workshop on 07561 507638, email theartworkshop@live.co.uk, and see more information their website www.theartworkshop.co.uk. They are on Facebook , and Twitter @theartworkshop2. You can pop in to see them at 3 Lon Fach, Rhiwbina, down the lane by Morgan Lloyd Williams estate agents and near to the Wendy House. Classes run most days, and the Art Workshop also sells a range of good quality Artist’s materials.

Photo of Genevieve and Martha by Sarah Barnes photography

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