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Reviews / Ron Sandford: world-class Shetland art

Lobster creel and mackerel in yellow fish box. Lobster Creel and Fish Box. Pen and ink with watercolour.

The latest exhibition at Vaila Fine Art, in Lerwick, a selection of drawings and prints by Yell resident Ron Sandford is a ‘must see’, writes Paul Bloomer.

Drawing is Ron’s occupation and he has been drawing everyday with absolute serious intent for at least 50 years. The son of a Greenock engineer who always had a pencil behind his ear, Ron studied at Glasgow School of Art before moving to London to teach at the Central School of Art and the Royal College of Art.

Ron Sanford.

Ron describes his role in these two eminent art educational institutions as the man who people would turn to when they had a problem with drawing.

A growing demand for Ron’s work by leading architects such as Norman Foster gave Ron a series of complex and prestigious commissions such as a six-year project documenting the building of the Broadgate Centre in London and the famous millennium bridge over the Thames.

This was in the days before computer aided design and using pencil and pen Ron produced impressive, monumental and highly detailed architectural drawings of whole city vistas that are mind blowing in their complexity.

This became Ron’s main source of income and led him to Hong Kong where he did drawings for various architectural projects.

All this time Ron never stopped drawing for himself and he draws literally everywhere he goes, initially in small sketchbooks or slips of paper, some of which are transferred to a larger sketchbook from which some are worked up on larger pieces of paper either immediately or over a period of years as the mood takes him.


In 2002 Ron moved to a secluded house in Yell with his wife the illustrator Meilo So, and free from the shackles of commissions and teaching he has been able to completely immerse himself into drawing the landscape, people and culture of Shetland.

Ron draws anything and everything and his work is a fusion between architectural precision and the free spirit of mark making that he has absorbed from the great tradition of Asian art.

Everything is drawn from direct observation and as such his work is bursting with the resonance of his rich inner world as opposed to the lifeless surface shell of work that is copied from photographs.

Observation and likeness meet free invention and playfulness in drawings that are a joy to behold.

His studios and house are literally bursting with work, every inch of wall is crammed with drawings, every table top is about a foot thick with stacks of amazing drawings, you can hardly walk though the corridor there are so many drawings, there are plan chests full of drawings and piles of sketchbooks, each page a revelation.

This is the creative environment that Ron thrives in and the one that owner of Vaila Fine Art, Dorota Rychlik, was tasked with assembling this exhibition.

The drawings and prints on display in the gallery are mainly Shetland inspired pieces that have been framed and mounted to conservation standard and are for sale.

Drawing is at the centre of Ron’s world and he is a master artist at the top of his game.

When asked what key advice he has to offer it is quite simply and profoundly “learn to draw and art and design will follow”.

This is a must see exhibition: for those who wish to be inspired and learn to draw there is no better teacher in Shetland, as well as for those who want to buy world-class Shetland inspired art at affordable prices.

The show opened on Saturday (18 July) and will be ongoing until January’s Up Helly Aa. Vaila Fine Art is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 11am and 5pm.