By Angela Sasser, Board Member, National Association of Blind Students
It was a Friday and my second grade class was preparing to go on a field trip to a local art museum. I was excited because I had never been to an art museum before and it seemed as though it might be fun. My little feet took huge steps to make it up the stairs in the front of the building. When I opened the door, the cool air conditioning hit me, and I felt as though I were entering a magical place.
The walls were covered with paintings of various artists. As I looked around, I knew that I wanted art to be a part of my life. I wanted to create the kinds of things that would hang in museumsthe kinds of things people would enjoy. As my big, blue eyes took it all in, my mind was constantly filling with the idea that I wanted to be an artist, just like those people whose paintings were on display.
It has been quite awhile since I was in second grade, but my passion for art has not died. There was a time about six years ago, however, when I thought that I was going to have to give up art forever. Due to unexplained pressure on my brain and optic nerve, I became blind. I was not worried so much about living a normal life as a blind person, but rather living a life without being able to do what I loved. I did not know how a blind person could do art, but I soon found out.
After returning home from the hospital, I continued my private art lessons as part of getting back to my usual routine. It was during these lessons when I began trying to paint, to draw, and to use other media as a totally blind person. Sculpture and weaving were possible without having to create any alternative techniques. As I found out, drawing and painting did not require terribly complex adaptations either. Because I developed some techniques, I have been able to be a successful art major as well as a successful artist.
Last semester I was enrolled in a Life Drawing class. In this class, a nude model posed in front of everyone so that we could draw the figure to practice drawing form and perspective. I had never done anything of this sort before and I was not sure exactly how I was going to do it. The first day of class, I was a little nervous. I sat down, poised my drawing pencil, and began to draw. The professor had explained to me how the model was sitting and where the light was coming from so that I had an idea about shadows.
To draw, I usually use a door screen mounted on wood underneath my paper. This provides texture as I draw on the paper. I started to draw the model, but soon became frustrated. It was my first drawing class in college and I had never drawn a person before. I stared blankly at my paper, wondering what to do. I was almost in tears when my professor came over to talk to me. He said that drawing was difficult for everyone. He then gave me the choice of sticking with it or dropping out of his class. So I hung in there, and started my drawing again, using the alternative techniques that I had employed in previous drawings. At the end of the class period, the professor said that my drawing was the best in the class and moved me to the Advanced Drawing class.
Finding alternative techniques for painting is also easy. If I draw the picture before I paint it, I use a reader to tell me where my lines are or I have them trace my lines so that I can feel them. If I paint directly onto a canvas, I paint a little and let it dry. Then I can feel where I have painted. I also label all of my paints, colored pencils, and other supplies, so that I know their colors. I have found that these techniques work quite well. They have given me the chance to have my work hung anywhere from living rooms and dens to the White House and the Smithsonian. Painting, as well as drawing, is difficult for many people. But for me, the creation of these art forms continues to be possible.
Art is often considered a "visual" field, but I do not believe that at all. Art is created from within, through one's mind and passion. It is affected by experience and the environment. Like anything, art is possible if you have enough motivation and creativity to do it. I do not consider myself amazing or wonderful because I am blind and I continue to do art. It is something that I have always loved and I do it simply because of that. I do not consider myself a "blind artist," but rather an artist who happens to be blind. The dream of that second grader, who was so taken by the field trip to the museum, is still alive and probably more so than ever.
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