A NEW Southend art space is encouraging residents to go along and flex their creative muscles, no matter what their ability is.

The Little Known Studio has grown from its former fledging incarnation, to a large space with an aim to 'help others learn' and 'involve the community'.

It's run by Andy Downes, a well-known artist locally, who has exhibited in many art trails and galleries in and around Southend.

Residents or visitors to Leigh may remember the former Little Known Studio nestled between the independent shops in Leigh Road.

It was so tiny there wasn't room for more than a small handful of people to be inside at once but that didn't stop new artists clamouring to exhibit there.

Since the opening of the bigger studio in Grainger Road, Southend, Andy is developing a programme of workshops, life drawing classes, events and more, with the emphasis on bringing the creative community together under one roof.

Users of the studio include members of Project 49 - a resource run by Southend Care for adults with learning disabilities - to a London art collective who are getting ready for a summer studio takeover.

Andy said: "I'd always wanted to draw and paint. I wanted to make it a career when I was at school but had no understanding of how I could make it pay or earn me a living. My father advised me to get a real job with a monthly salary.

"So I always held a sketchbook to hand but never took it seriously - it was just a hobby - until I turned 41 when I decided to give art a real chance and see how far I could go with it.

"I felt isolated as an artist at first, working from a corner in a room, not really knowing anyone in the art scene locally.

"I figured there would be a ton of amateur artists feeling the same way, so in 2019 I looked for a small studio space in Leigh where I could help encourage others to show their art, no matter their ability, and in turn it would help me grow and learn new skills. That is how the Little Known Studio was born, 'Little Known' for little known artists.

"It was a great little hub joining together lots of artists, many who had never sold or shown their work publicly.

"It was tiny but worked so well, a mere 4 metre by 5 metre space, and I loved it.

"Part of my mantra is to help others learn and to always include community no matter the skill level. I started to teach others, but the space was far too small, so the studio naturally had to grow.

"In August 2021 I found and renovated a dilapidated industrial unit on the Grainger Road Estate, which is now open as this fantastic purpose-built art studio.

"We now have the space to run all types of classes, put on art shows and invite schools over to witness what goes on in a working studio.

"We give talks about art and career possibilities, something I wish I had been offered back when I was at school - so I am giving back helping the next generation and uniting artists of all abilities and disciplines.

"We are currently running life drawing sessions that can be booked through the website at andydownesart.co.uk

"As the studio has been 100 per cent self-funded since its inception, moving forward I would like to see it grow in the local area and hopefully gain financial aid for equipment and development."