Why this is not only possible but a gift
When I was three years old I began to show talent for drawing. I would create crude figures with crayons until one day when a friend of my mom let me use a huge chalk board she bought from a local school that was renovating. Within three months I went from stick figures to full scenes. Given the fact I had a hard time seeing, I was able to finally have a canvas big enough for me to see and to draw on.
That year was also when my family discovered I had optic nerve gliomas that rendered me legally blind. With the threat of benign brain tumors and very little knowledge on this condition, I was given opportunities to succeed in art. I would find new ways to express my artistic side using chalk, plastic canvas for weaving, beading, drawing, and painting.
As I grew up, my passion for the arts, both visual and performing, increased and I focused as much time and effort as I could on these skills. It wasn’t until college where I began to experiment with paints. I quickly found that I had a gift of painting. I was not anywhere near master level, but I was beginning to bloom in my creations. Sadly, many of my teachers put limits on projects as well as my lack of financial support for supplies. I made due with what I had and somehow finished college.
After I had to return home, the need for creating was still there. However, I found that my inspiration dwindled with the circumstances and didn’t open up again until I was in my 30’s. I decided one summer to start a series on self-portraits. I wanted to explore color, perspective, and techniques that were limited in college. The results surprised me.
The time I was in my 20’s was so misdirected in my creative endeavors. I was focused on business and sales and marketing, but forgot the gifts God had given me. Once I began to open up my spirit and let the energy flow to my brush, the canvas started to reveal parts of my soul I kept silent for years. I began to paint images of this beautiful young girl in black, dancing and reading and dreaming. I needed to finally see these images in my heart.
Painting is easy if the mind is open
So many people are surprised I paint. Now admittedly I do have some eyesight and can list off some very talented painters that have no sight at all. The way we all can paint is by learning what works for us. Painting is not always oil on canvas in multiple layers using a brush no wider than a strand of hair. Sometimes painting involves oil drips and cigarette ashes, broad strokes of a toe dipped in paint, or a hula hoop with holes drilled into it to let the paint fly!
The hardest part about conventional learning/thinking is putting everyone and everything into a nice neat box. While these boxes are great for getting grants, they are terrible for human beings. Even those who have no disability at all. We are taught to think things work in a certain way, but let me tell you, if God wants you to paint, it will happen.
Breaking barriers is not just about you
There was this time I spoke as a panelist for the Vermont Association for the Blind’s Youth Conference. It was very tricky how I made it on as a panelist as I only just heard about it randomly and pushed my way on to having my voice heard. I knew I had to speak out about being an artist. I talked about the adversity I faced, the mocking (by teachers and students), the challenges, and how I succeeded. Afterwards, a woman approached me almost in tears saying “Thank you!” She was a teacher for a young girl who was legally blind who wanted to be an artist. This woman never heard of a blind artist and was concerned about this young girl’s passion that was until she heard me speak! I can only pray this teacher went back to her student to say that her dream is not only possible, but others are artists too.
So how exactly does a blind person paint?
Some use taste or smell to determine colors, others create a raised surface as an outline while others just go with where the spirit moves them. Personally, I look at a canvas and see an emotion, a memory, something inside of my heart. Then, I pray. I listen to my heart to hear what colors should be used, how to fade or blend. I need to be in the right spiritual place to let my energy flow as it can be open to so much that I need to be safe. The loud music goes on and I begin to sing as my brush races across the canvas.
After a few paintings, I stopped. The emotion was very intense for me and I needed to take in what I had created. There are still three paintings begging to be finished. Right now as I’m in transition with getting married and some major life changes, I am looking forward to having a space again to paint in.
Painting is more of an emotion than an action
Whether you are able bodied or disabled, no matter your orientation, race, gender, political stance, or whether or not you like pink, painting is for everyone. It fires me up inside to constantly hear people saying that they do not create art or sing or dance because of someone they respected in the past told them they cannot do this or that. How much talent goes away when these limits are set on ourselves?
It was not until I got older that I realized I had the strength through faith to break these chains. Even if I did not sing for years or my legs were tired from all that extra weight or I had little money. These were all limits I was putting on myself. BREAK FREE! I give you permission to love yourself enough to create art again! Find a paint brush, some paint, and a canvas and think like you were five years old and no one was telling you anything except that you can do this.
I want to see what you create!