Naive Art: the paintings of Sandra Ormiston

 Derived from an original article: “sandra’s eye view” in Mental Health Care, Dec 1998 Vol 2 Issue 4. Author Rob Kay

Sandra was born in Stirling on March 2nd 1963. Her prolific artistic output draws on a wide range of experiences and interests, especially holidays, social events like weddings and dinners, shopping, clothes and fashion. Her inspiration ranges from the intimate to the formal, and gives evidence of a growing artistic maturity. Her pictures are especially strong in composition, and her use of colour is bold and stylish.

As a child, she was thought to be deaf and autistic, and a learning disability was not suspected until she was nineteen years old. She attended Dawson Park School and then Donaldson’s School for the Deaf in Edinburgh where she learned to sign, to read and write. From the moment she could hold a pencil she wanted to draw. However, she has never attended formal art classes.

Sandra appears to have inherited her talent from her father, who attended Glasgow School of Art and went on to work as an industrial designer. She is the oldest of three children. Her brother and sister are both talented amateur artists.

Sandra was admitted to the Royal Scottish National Hospital, Larbert in 1983  where she lived for over ten years.

In July 1994 she left the hospital and now lives at Alanmor, a residential home for people with learning disabilities in Falkirk managed by  NHS Forth valley, where she has her own room and contributes to the household in many ways.


Sandra has difficulty communicating in a conventional way - she cannot speak but has a very expressive range of expressions and gestures. She uses Makaton and BSL very unconventionally and enjoys making up new signs.

She attends Oswald Avenue Day Centre in Grangemouth three days a week. where she enjoys pottery and ceramics as well as pursuing her painting.

Sandra prefers using pencils, felt pens, and crayons to paint. Much of her work combines these media. It is not unusual for Sandra to work on a picture for several weeks, sometimes crushing and then rescuing the work repeatedly.

One curious feature of the work is that Sandra often fills the back of the paper with written text which describes the events or scene described. The exact purpose of this writing is unclear.

The text reveals an unorthodox imagination which is highly visual in imagery. The words are not usually separated by spaces or line endings in the conventional sense, and use lower case throughout. Sandra very occasionally utilises punctuation - mainly full stops and exclamation marks. Events and stories are described primarily in terms of visual memories.

Sandra draws from memory, not from life. The level of detail is often very exact, but the objects and people are highly structured and symmetrical. Her list of colours in street shopping is precise: “light brown blue red-orange rouge light blue”

Sandra has received some local and national recognition. One of her drawings was the winning entry in a competition organised by Falkirk Social Services in 1997 to design a Christmas card. Sandra was also the subject of an illustrated article “sandra’s eye view” in Mental Health Care, Dec 1998 Vol 2 Issue 4.

The staff at Alanmor residential home gave invaluable assistance in collecting information about Sandra’s life and obtaining her and her families help and support in writing this article.


© Rob Kay 2007