"The basis of the course is to teach people to design creatively"
Jane Veitch has always been interested in art. She did A-level at school, but chickened out of going to art college because she did not have the confidence. Instead she went to Edinburgh University and took a degree in the history of art.
"Always after that I kept feeling I should have been brave enough, I should have done practical art," she says. "When I eventually discovered the OCA I thought, 'It's now or never. Here is a chance to get myself educated in that direction without having to build up a portfolio'."
Jane married while she was still at university, and has been a full-time mother to three children, now aged 18, 16 and 11. She decided to join the art and design course, which offers a broad foundation in everything from painting and sculpture to graphics and textiles, six years ago after reading an article in a national newspaper. She has never looked back.
"I really enjoyed the foundation course, but was pleased to get to the painting. I think I already knew I wanted to do painting. I have now done all the painting courses (there are four levels), and over the past couple of years I have just repeated the advanced course."
Her enthusiasm for the course is obvious and seems to be due largely to her tutor, Bill Varley, whose work for the OCA is a sideline to his regular job as director of foundation studies of the fine art course at Newcastle University. A group of about 30 OCA students gathers every two or three weeks to receive criticism and discuss their work. Such is the popularity of the course, says Jane, that nobody wants to leave it.
Nevertheless, after six years, she feels she is no longer a mere student. "I do regard myself as a painter. Last year I had a joint exhibition in Hexham, my local town, with three other people, all of whom have been with the OCA. I joined the Tynedale Artists' Network, which has various things going for it. Last year they did an open studios event, inviting people to look round artists' studios. We now hope to make it an annual event.
"It's made a huge difference to me. It has given me the chance to do what I really want to do and given me confidence. With the OCA, it's up to you how seriously you take it, but you can take it very seriously. I also think I have been extremely lucky with having Bill Varley as my tutor."
* An exhibition of artists' work, which includes paintings by Jane Veitch, is on display at Prudhoe Castle, Northumberland. It runs until May 12.