Karen is a retired Senior Data Analyst. She also draws and paints with watercolor. Both she and her twin sister Celeste were born with retinopathy of prematurity. Karen sat down with Kirsten Ervin to share her love of art, and how her visual impairment has affected her artwork. She is enrolled in a number of Touch Art workshops. Below is one of her pencil drawings.
When did you start making things?
I started drawing and painting when I was about 5 years old. I loved to draw by myself, but both of my parents helped me learn to draw. My Dad taught me about colors and perspective when I was fairly young. My Mom bought my sister and I John Nagy drawing sets and drew along with us.
Describe your visual impairment
I’m blind in one eye, due to retinopathy of prematurity.
Karen explains that she and her sister have been reading “Fixing My Gaze”, a first person account by neuroscientist Susan Barry, who lacked stereoscopic vision for most of her life, then gained the ability to see in three dimensions in her 50s. Like Barry, Karen and her sister lack stereoscopic vision.
I thought I knew what I was missing by not having two eyes, I thought I could see in three dimensions, but I don’t. I thought I could see they way you see. But I realized our sight is very much different than your sight. That’s why I can only draw from pictures, not from life. For example you appear flat to me, you don’t occupy volume or space, but look more like a piece of paper that could bend.
What do you need for an art class to be more accessible?
Karen explains that she took a watercolor class as an adult at the Carnegie Museum of Art, but near the end, she left the class because she felt rushed and frustrated.
I needed to look a lot closer than other people in the class. I could not go as fast as the others in the class, partly because of my inexperience and partly because of my problematic eyesight. It probably would have helped if I had alerted the art instructor to the problems with my eyes and the extra help I might need.
The Touch Art teacher (Katy DeMent) was so natural, I thought she had been teaching blind people her whole life. She didn’t treat anyone like they were dumb. That’s one thing that really gets my whiskers up. I’m really sensitive to being treated as if I’m dumb just because I have problems with my eyesight and my need to go slower. If I need to go slower, don’t make a big deal about it.
Maybe that’s why I’m self-taught. In my 20s, I might not have trusted that a teacher could work with me, without making me feel different or dumb. I had bad experiences in high school, so I thought I’d have them everywhere.
What did you think of the first Touch Art class, Paper Making with Katy DeMent?
I loved the class. I loved the paper things I made. I didn’t feel like I was rushed. No one said I couldn’t use my creativity or take the time to do what I wanted to do. Nobody said you can’t do it. I stuck my leaves inside my crochet doily and it looked very Victorian. I loved the fact that I could take the materials I was given and make them my own.
I also liked being around other blind people. They’re like me. It felt good.