Former Big Issue vendor brings sunshine to Glasgow with colourful solo art exhibition

A much-loved former Big Issue vendor will bring another ray of sunshine to her home city of Glasgow this week when she opens a solo art show in a city centre gallery.

Jo with some of her art. Photo: Alison Gilchrist

Jo Adamson had many regular customers when she sold The Big Issue outside Central Station and on Byres Road in Glasgow.

She was always known for her creativity – singing as she sold the paper – but now she is inspiring her former colleagues by starting her own visual art business, despite being partially sighted.

Jo sells her work through her Etsy store, Jo Sunshine Art, where her subjects range from Scottish football and snooker to cats and Motörhead.

“All I want is for my pictures to get out there and for people to have them hanging up that will enjoy them. I don’t do depressing pictures. I just do cheerful ones,” said Jo, speaking to INSP as she supervised the hanging of her exhibition in CASS Art on Queen Street.

“This exhibition is fabulous, it has given me an opportunity to get my name known and get my work out there.”

Jo initially doubted whether she would be able to continue drawing after leaving The Big Issue, as her sight continued to worsen.

“Since I left The Big Issue I didn’t think I could draw anymore because I’m almost blind. I only have a misty blur in this eye, that’s all I’ve got,” she explained.

“It’s so misty I can’t even recognise people. I can’t read bus numbers, nothing. But I got my crayons and at first I said ‘I can’t do this,’ but I thought I should keep trying and keep doing it anyway.”

Drawing is an enormously important part of Jo’s life, she said. “I spend about £50 a fortnight on materials and it’s amazing how it all adds up, but I wouldn’t do without it. It gives me a real life, and keeps me very busy.”

Jo's colourful art. Photo: Alison Gilchrist

Jo’s pictures are bright and colourful, drawn on large expanses of coloured paper. This simple yet ingenious method means she can still enjoy drawing.

“The wax shines at me a wee bit and that’s how I do it. I’m close up and I concentrate on what I’m doing. So I draw it, outline it, colour it in, and outline it again,” she said.

“Some of them are rubbish – I know that – but I do my best and it’s amazing how they turn out sometimes. I’m quite proud of what I have done.”

Since she cannot see her own creations, Jo relies on other people to describe the pictures back to her.

“I don’t really see them properly, even. Other people do and they go, wow!” she smiled.

Jo also accepts commissions. In the Big Issue’s Glasgow distribution office, they proudly display a one such picture. ‘Make My Day (Big Issue)’ portrays a vendor selling the magazine.

A large picture of Glasgow’s famous Trongate, one of the oldest streets in Glasgow, will feature in the exhibition. The area holds special memories for Jo.

“That’s just from my mind because to get to the Big Issue office I passed it every day,” she explained. “It’s a very strong image in my mind. I have photographed it and tried to draw it but it’s not so easy, yet I can draw it from memory because it is one of those iconic places for me.”

Trongate, by Jo. Photo: Alison Gilchrist

Jo’s work will be on show at CASS Art on Queen Street in Glasgow from 19 March for two weeks, with pictures on sale with a top price of £20. You can view Jo’s art on her Facebook and Twitter pages, and buy her work on her Etsy shop.