If you see someone at an easel bringing beautiful images with brush and paint to life, you might think they need full sight. But this is not necessarily the case. Many people with a vision impairment use visual arts to express themselves.
Recognition for artists with vision impairment is growing around the world. For example, BlindArt in the United Kingdom holds exhibitions and a permanent art collection. Exhibitions typically contain paintings, sculptures, installations and other artworks designed to engage all the senses.
In the United States, the Blind Artist's Society provides a website for artists to display their work online. National Exhibits by Blind Artists has also been raising awareness of the work of blind and visually impaired artists for over 35 years.
In Melbourne, a group of artists has been quietly working away at Vision Australia for about 20 years. Their efforts have been so well received that their art has been published in a calendar. The calendar highlights the talent of the artists. It also helps combat stereotypes about the capabilities of people with vision impairment.
Dorothy Riddell has been painting watercolours for over 10 years. Dorothy has glaucoma and some macula degeneration. She first gained the bug for painting after being inspired by her aunt before World War II. But supplies were hard to find back then. Dorothy gave up painting for 50 years.
When her sight declined she was encouraged to join an art group at the Melbourne suburb of Kooyong. The group of between eight and 14 people met every Monday.
If it hadn't been for that, life would have been terribly lonely, Dorothy says.
Enriches her life
Dorothy says painting greatly enriches her life. The calendar also provides Dorothy with motivation to work.
Dorothy's watercolours are mostly flowers and animals. Her painting on the most recent calendar is a hibiscus. Dorothy says cats are also very popular.
I do mostly cats by request, she says. She does not charge for her work.
I just do it because I like doing it.
Artist Doug Sheers lost vision in one eye as a boy after a stone hit him in the eye. A stroke later in life left him blind in the other eye.
Doug had always been interested in art. Around 10 years ago he was recommended to submit a painting for inclusion in the Vision Australia calendar. His work has since been accepted three times.
I was tickled pink, says Doug. The calendar is widely distributed across Australia. One woman at his day group told Doug she had seen his work in New South Wales.
Go for it
Doug uses acrylic paints to depict landscapes and he has a particular interest in boats. He says producing art greatly benefited his life.
It enhances me because I've got something to look forward to.
Doug encourages others with vision impairment to try painting for themselves.
I'd say go for it, he says.
You don't know until you succeed.
These talented painters have used art to help the wider community see afresh.