Paint the Dying Light
I failed A level art at school. Somehow, they still gave me the art prize. Confused, I gave it up. At 36, it was a shock to learn that I am a ‘high myope’ with retinal degeneration. Gradually I lost the central vision in both eyes and was registered blind at 51. Then, ten years into a busy retirement and needing a new challenge, it was time to face the art demon again.
Some usable vision remained in the periphery of my left eye. My teacher Doreen got me to sketch with fat graphite sticks. She is also a fan of ‘dirty water painting’, using dilute watercolour and a brush to establish a very free image. Sketching without a pencil is liberating. Using photographs, manipulated, and greatly enlarged on a mobile phone, tablet or computer, I started to exhibit regularly and sold my first painting after a year. Rita gave me individual watercolour tuition. “Don’t show me what to paint,” I said, “Just show me how the paint goes on the paper”. That doesn’t get enough emphasis in watercolour tuition. People say it is difficult but it needn’t be and will often do the work for you. “I wish more students would ask for that” she said.
Embracing the Possible
One day Doreen’s class had a life model. No cameras allowed. So I just sketched tonal areas of the blurred figure twenty feet away. Using a gel pen with soluble ink, I got the main lines and shadows down and then generalised it with a wet brush.. I had managed to capture the pose. The ink and water took over my loose drawing and it looked arty. At the break, the model said ”I’ve not seen anyone doing it like that before’. I took it as a compliment. “I wish I could be that loose” said another student. You have to do what you can and not envy everyone else. None of my friends paint like me and I can’t do what they can.
At the outset I enjoyed just putting paint on paper, whatever the result. Now I embrace vagueness and inaccuracy, using my ability, not my disability to express… something. I try not to worry about what can be seen in a reference image or photo: after all, I am likely to be the only person to make the comparison with my work. When I was younger and could see, I admired Turner and the Impressionists and my photography emphasised light and atmosphere. I concentrate on that and if I make ’mistakes’ (and there are a lot) I have a good excuse.
I suffer from an uncommon condition called myopic maculopathy. Its effects are similar to Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is the most common cause of blindness in the western world and affects perhaps a third of us. Lots of older painters will get it. In old age, the resilience I found may well be beyond them. But drawing and painting can still be rewarding for visually impaired people. If you know anyone who has AMD, do encourage them to rage against the dying of the light, adapt and paint on.
Visually impaired at 36, Steve Brazier was a town planner with Nottingham City Council for 25 years. He retired as Assistant Director and took up painting ten years later. He has exhibited regularly at Nottingham University’s Summer Exhibition and had a solo exhibition at Nottingham Society of Artists in 2015. You can see more of Steve’s work on his Instagram here.