Create Art with a Visual Impairment
Painting and other forms of artwork can be more than just a visual experience. Creating art is a rich sensory experience that fosters self-expression and a way to cope with vision changes. As vision changes, adjustments may need to be made in the environment or in the kind of art created. This article presents adaptations famous artists made as their vision has changed, as well as tips and techniques for creating your own art.
Artist Deb Claire uses high-contrast colors and task lighting while creating art.
Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Georgia O’Keeffe are some of the famous artists who made accommodations in their art as their vision changed. Monet experienced changes in color perception due to cataracts later in life. His color palette changed from soft pastels to dark browns and reds later in his career. Degas was sensitive to bright lights and began to lose central vision in his 40s. He started to paint less detail and used more broad brush strokes, moved from oil to pastels, and took up sculpture. O’Keefe was known for abstract paintings, and as her vision decreased due to macular degeneration, she began working with clay and creating video projects, although she continued to create art using graphite and charcoal.
As Georgia O’Keefe’s vision changed, she adapted by drawing with charcoal and graphite.
Artist’s adaptations continue today. Duncan Hamilton, a Council fall 2019 Gallery Night artist, creates art using oil pastels. His pieces are small, which he said he enjoys since he can turn them around on the table and use his magnifier to see the area he is working on.
“I use upside down frisbees and coffee can lids to keep them [the oil pastels] separated by color,” says Duncan. “A table-mounted magnifier helps me get close to my artwork. I position that above the page on which I am working.”
Hints and Adaptations for Painting and Craft Projects:
- A flexible-arm task lamp can direct light onto the work area. Some lamps also have built-in magnifiers.
- Make use of natural light. Position the easel or the work area so the sun is coming from behind and shines over the shoulder and on the work.
- Consider changing subjects or styles of painting. Try landscapes instead of portraits or abstract painting instead of realism.
- Ask a vision rehabilitation specialist about low vision devices that are hands free, such as spectacle-mounted telescopes. Sometimes electronic video magnifiers can be helpful to do artwork.
- Label supplies in large bold print with a wide-tipped felt marker or mark tactilely with bump dots or Braille.
- When working with yarns and textiles, use colored knitting needles and crochet hooks that contrast with yarn colors. Keep fingers close to the ends of the needles to have a better sense of the stitches. Put a light or dark colored fabric across the lap to enhance contrast and provide depth.
- Enlarge instructions on a printer or have them recorded on a digital recorder.
- Learn to trust senses other than sight, such as touch, smell or hearing, when creating art.
Find supplies to assist in creating art at the Sharper Vision Store. Needle threaders, sewing supplies, braille/large print ruler, tactile measuring tape, bump dots, 20/20 Bold Pen, the Portable Lap Desk, task lamps, and magnifiers found at are just a few of the products that could help make art creation more accessible.
Additional Resources for Art Creation
The Perkins School for the Blind eLearning site lists multiple resources for creating and accessing art, including an informative article about woodworking.
The Hadley Institute’s has a Crafting Circle Discussion Group seeks to discuss “all things crafty” and share resources and tips with each other.
The Council published an article about taking art classes with a visual impairment.
Visit the Council’s Fall Gallery Night exhibit either on Friday, October 4, from 5-8 p.m., or between October 7 and November 15 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Artists featured in the exhibit are blind or visually impaired. Make an appointment for a personal guided tour by calling (608) 255-1166. Groups are encouraged to attend. All are welcome.
The Council’s exhibit is accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Braille and large print signs are placed next to each piece of artwork. Artist Statements are in large print, braille and audio via the PenFriend and the WayAround app. When the device is brought close to the tag near each piece of artwork, a recording of the Artist Statement and tag will be read aloud. The WayAround app can be used with iPhone and Android devices. Download the WayAround app for free on Google Play or on the Apple App Store.
With a few tips and adaptive techniques, it is possible for people who are blind or visually impaired to create and enjoy art. Choose your artistic medium and give creativity a try.
Four of Duncan Hamilton’s oil pastels pieces will be on display at the Council’s Gallery Night.
“I have been an amateur artist all my life,” Duncan says. “Creating my art is something I enjoy that keeps me active.”