Edinburgh Sketcher’s view of Western General

The Royal Victoria Building
The Royal Victoria Building
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HOSPITALS can be the loneliest of places, despite being full of people.

Staff are never far away – changing drips, delivering food, administering medicine – but how often do they have the time to stop and really chat to their patients?

From the common room on ward 72

From the common room on ward 72

It’s something which struck the Edinburgh Sketcher, AKA Mark Kirkham, when he spent a week on Ward 72 at the Western General’s Royal Victoria Building.

Mark, who has become renowned for his daily sketches of life around Edinburgh, was asked to observe and draw the patients and staff on the ward – which specialises in caring for the elderly – as part of a unique art project commissioned by arts and disability organisation Artlink.

“This was an idea that came from Artlink to get some pieces on the ward so it’s not as daunting, and to get a bit of a story about the patients in there, who usually don’t get the chance to tell their story,” explains 38-year-old Mark. “Communication was the main drive.

“I drifted in and out, sketched from the corners of the room and tried to stay out of the way of the busy staff. In the patients’ rooms it was a different experience, I was in their personal space and was welcomed in and given time and an insight into their lives.

“Through our chats and my drawing we connected and shared stories, both the highs and obvious lows which bring people into hospital.

“Some people didn’t want to chat, and some didn’t want me to draw them wearing their pyjamas. But others were really chatty.

“It was nice for people to have someone to ask them about their lives. I got a lot out of it, too – I felt like I had done something worthwhile. I know how long days can be when in hospital and to have a friendly visit, which some of these patients aren’t lucky enough to have daily, it can be a great lift emotionally – which hopefully leads to a lift physically, too.”

Mark focused on three patients in particular, whom he got to know quite well, which allowed him to produce sketches revealing a little bit about their backgrounds.

One was a 90-year-old woman from North Berwick who was in hospital after breaking her hip, and was looking forward to getting back home so she could see her friends again.

Another was a Hearts-mad lady, so Mark drew Tynecastle Stadium behind his sketch of her. And the “chattiest of them all” was a 90-year-old lady who was a Land Girl during the Second World War, spending her time on a farm in Dalkeith.

“There were three patients that I focused on and took to the next stage and added in little sketches and stories about their life,” explains Mark. “There was one old guy who didn’t want me to draw him, but said I could as long as I didn’t draw his face. He was in his 90s and had his Blackberry and was complaining because there wasn’t any wi-fi!

“I think making a series or a book of people like them would be really interesting, a way of recording what these people have to say.

“I’d like to do something like that again though I would need funding to be able to do it.”

The North Berwick patient is now back home after her stint in hospital and is happy with Mark’s sketch of her, which features a view of the Bass Rock from the beach.

She says: “I really enjoyed meeting Mark, he came across as a very intelligent and interesting young man who obviously loves to draw. I liked his drawings and the amount of detail he has put, he’s captured North Berwick beautifully. I’ve showed it to some friends and they really like it, too.

“I ended up being in hospital for three months and it was lovely to chat to Mark about other things and for someone from outside to come in to the ward.”

Kirsten Smith, senior charge nurse who helped Mark feel welcome in the hospital, adds: “It was great having Mark on the wards, it was a positive experience for staff and patients. The patients were happy to talk about something else other than their illness and other routine matters for a while. Mark, through his sketches, has captured the person not the patient, you really see a person that is valued and respected and their story.”

The residency on Ward 72 wasn’t the first time Mark based his sketches on insights from inside a hospital.

When his twins, James and Zoe, were born in 2011, it was discovered James had blood clotting condition Haemophilia A, meaning he spent a lot of time in hospital.

“I was by his side all the time, so I just started sketching him and his surroundings,” remembers Mark. “The drawings just sort of happened, it wasn’t really a project that I had decided to do.

“I remember walking around, waiting for results and feeling helpless, and that was when I found out about Artlink. Having a gallery there was a little way to take your mind off everything for a couple of minutes and give you a distraction.”

He adds: “The experiences were surprisingly similar. Ward 72 is one of the newer wards, and it’s wide and spacey and quite big, and the rooms are all single rooms. But the down side to that is that they don’t have the interaction with each other. It’s quite solitary.”

Mark’s exhibition – A Week On Ward 72 – will be on display at the Western General until November.