At the age of 13 I was told that I would be blind by 21. That was in 1977 and obviously I can still see. Well… mostly (two operations, some pain and a lot of discomfort later).
And what does that have to do with art?
Well, a fellow blogger wrote a post about what constitutes a true artist (do you have to be such a tool). The post was actually about someone else’s post and it discussed whether a real artist used tools such as grids etc to create art. This is a detailed response to that excellent post. By the way, talking so publicly about the limits of my vision is something that I have never done before.
To be honest I have always been deeply offended by those people who say that the only real artists are those who draw their art freehand. You see, my eye disorder makes the world look very distorted and blurry, with halos around bright objects. In my case I also see multiple instances of the same objects that all overlap. In my left eye I can only read unaided at 4cm. With current glasses I can read at about 20cm. Luckily with my right eye the shadow instances of objects are not quite so pronounced and so I can read at almost normal distances in my glasses if I really squint and concentrate. Things are still quite distorted, and I suffer constant headaches, but I am used to that.
This disorder is called Keratoconus and it essentially involves having conical corneas instead of hemispherical ones, along with a number of stigmatisms. Wonderful! A lot of people with this problem suffer increased anxiety too (a genetic partner), and this can be quite crippling. I have met a number of people with the same degree of disability as myself who simply cannot work, mostly due to the anxiety. In my case, I still have excessive anxiety over things, but I can cope. In fact I am reasonably good at hiding it.
But I have no intention of going into those life and work issues. Today I am writing about being an artist with this problem.
Firstly, I cannot perceive objects as they actually are. This makes it very difficult to draw an accurate representation. Hence my drawings and paintings tend to be slightly off. I certainly have trouble with perspective. To show you what I mean, below is a painting of my daughter. She is a bit stretched and distorted, but I still love the painting anyway.
And because I am effectively short-sighted, I need to paint and draw from photographs. So even if something is right there in my house, I will take a photo and refer to that rather than the real thing. When I do this I can achieve less distortion in my pictures. Below is my take on an Australian landmark called The Three Sisters. I went there, took a photo and then used that as a reference.
Another tactic is to trace the outline of objects during my preliminary sketch. That gives me a framework into which I can places components of the image.
Secondly, because things have a tendency to blur into neighbouring objects, I tend to like bright but differing colours next to each other. It helps me distinguish things apart. When I paint I tend to use bright colours on different objects so I can clearly delineate the different parts of the painting. Hence my skies are usually blue in a distinctly non-realistic manner. My grass and foliage is also strong.
Sometimes paintings do turn out better than expected. Here is one I painted at 23 (two years after I was supposed to be blind). It is of my then girlfriend and now wife.
Over the years people have criticised me for painting slightly distorted images with strangely bright colour. If they read this then they will now know why I do this. However I persist. Painting is not about being good, its about the joy of visually expressing feelings.
In the 1990s computers, and more importantly computer graphics, came along. These were the tools I was waiting for. Using products like Poser, Bryce and more recently DAZ Studio, the whole issue of distortion went away. The models are there for me to manipulate and turn into images. Some call this cheating in art because I am using other people’s models. I disagree.
Think of photography. No one would suggest that some photos are anything but art. They are beautiful and express such strong emotions. Yet the person exists outside of the photo, as does the scenery and the clothes and other props. The art is in the composition and colours etc. For me, using DAZ Studio is the same as photography.
Naturally some computer artists completely draw things from scratch using Paint programs, others sculpt objects from scratch in tools like Blender, Maya etc and… well, you get the picture. All these things are art.
Also, because the act of creation happens on a computer screen I can get my face in really close to see what I am doing. I still like bright colours though. Force of habit perhaps.
Fact is, there is no reason why someone with Keratoconus cannot be an artist. With computers it is easy to see what you are doing while you create. I have never let Kerotoconus define me. I am determined that it won’t limit me (that’s why I mentioned the four university degrees earlier). And I try to avoid telling workplaces (unfortunately not always possible) so that I get treated normally.
Anyway, Keratoconus aside, artists should feel free to use whatever tools that they want to achieve their art. It is not the right of others to judge them. Art is creation and tools are part of what make us human. They assist us, enhance us, extend us. How can that not be good?
That is my rant for the day :)