Pencil Sketches

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s I worked in a variety of rehabilitation units and institutions. At Pine-Tree Place, a unit attached to Rochford Hospital in Essex, I ran art groups for people with learning/ physical disabilities. Art was used, in the main, as a vehicle of expression for people with limited verbal skills with a strong emphasis on free expression, making choices and building confidence and self-esteem.

At a hospital in East London, the majority of people I worked with had lived there for most of their lives and were institutionalised. The hospital, built in the 1800’s, was a Victorian, long-stay  institution originally built as an orphanage and women’s workhouse.

The experience of working with people whose lives had been spent largely confined behind walls was a profoundly disturbing one. Even more disturbing was my discovery of a ward containing only elderly women. Some of these women, although institutionalised, were capable and intelligent. I gradually came to learn about the various reasons for their incarceration decades ago- epilepsy, physical disability, slight learning difficulties, giving birth to an illegitimate child, physical abuse from a husband and /or abandonment. Common terms and labels I saw on old hospital admission documents were ‘ineducable’, ‘imbecile’, ‘moral defective’, and ‘cretin’.

During my time at the hospital in East London, teaching in the Social Education Centre, I completed a series of pencil portrait sketches of most of the resident population, many of whom I worked with and knew well. The series consists of about four hundred portraits and is a record of the final generation of people who lived in this particular institution before it closed in the mid 1990’s.
The portraits depict the residents engaging in their everyday routines for example, eating, drinking, smoking, sitting, snoozing, waiting, drawing, listening to music, dancing and arguing. 

Woman Drinking pencil sketch

Woman Drinking

Volunteer pencil sketch


Man pencil sketch


Woman Biting Her Nails pencil sketch

Woman Biting Her Nails

Man Squatting pencil sketch

Man Squatting

Man Squatting and Drinking pencil sketch

Man Squatting and Drinking

Man, Music Group pencil sketch

Man, Music Group

Man Holding His Lunchbag pencil sketch

Man Holding His Lunchbag

Marie posing for me in the Blue Room pencil sketch

Woman Posing for me in the Blue Room

Old Woman Strapped in Wheelchair pencil sketch

Old Woman Strapped in Wheelchair

Old Woman in Industrial Room pencil sketch

Old Woman in Industrial Room

Old Woman with Bags and Colouring Book pencil sketch

Old Woman with Bags and Colouring Book

Man Waiting in the Kitchen pencil sketch

Man Waiting in the Kitchen

Woman Drawing pencil sketch

Woman Drawing

Woman Holding Balls of Screwed Up Paper pencil sketch

Woman Holding Balls of Screwed Up Paper

Woman Chewing Her Cardigan pencil sketch

Woman Chewing Her Cardigan

Woman Holding Magazines pencil sketch

Woman Holding Magazines

Woman in Wheelchair pencil sketch

Woman in Wheelchair

Woman in Woolly Hat pencil sketch

Woman in Woolly Hat

Woman pencil sketch


Woman pencil sketch


Woman pencil sketch


Woman pencil sketch


Woman Reclining pencil sketch

Woman Reclining

Woman Rolling Wool pencil sketch

Woman Rolling Wool

Woman in Social Club pencil sketch

Woman in Social Club

Woman Touching Her Foot pencil sketch

Woman Touching Her Foot

Young Man pencil sketch

Young Man

Blind Woman, Music Group pencil sketch

Blind Woman, Music Group

Blind Woman pencil sketch

Blind Woman

Man pencil sketch


Old Lady, Hospital Ward pencil sketch

Old Lady, Hospital Ward

Young  Woman, Social Club pencil sketch

Young Woman, Social Club

Seated Woman pencil sketch

Seated Woman

Woman Holding Balloons pencil sketch

Woman Holding Balloons