Finding The Artist In Yourself

Creating art is something I can do without anyone’s help. In fact, it’s one of the very few things I can do by myself. What’s important to me is the ability to control at least one thing in my life because of my severe limitations. Everything I do takes immense energy and endurance. Luckily for me, I am very stubborn, and my tenacity keeps me from giving up anything I feel is important.

I have spinal muscular atrophy 1 (SMA 1) and have long outlived my life expectancy. SMA 1 is manifested at birth, and a child with this form of muscular dystrophy usually doesn’t reach age two. I will turn 62 this year.

Since I couldn’t play with other kids easily, my mom would sit me outside with a pencil and paper. I must’ve already been a pretty good artist at four years old, because I drew a fly that was bugging me (no pun intended) and my mom could tell exactly what it was.

I used oils until I graduated from high school and then switched to watercolor. They didn’t smell, and they were much easier to work with even though I had to create my own method of application. Physically I wasn’t able to paint watercolor in the traditional manner, like wet-on-wet and large transparent layers. Instead I perfected a dry brush technique where I could cover large areas by using thousands of tiny brush strokes. It took me hours to complete a piece, but I’m happy to say I don’t know of any other artwork like mine.

I decided to attend junior college. Majoring in art was a given until I started school. I had so much trouble with an art teacher convinced that I couldn’t paint if I couldn’t physically stretch my own canvases. I was extremely disappointed after taking so many prerequisites only to be told I couldn’t take painting. What else would I do for possible employment? My dream was shattered.

When I transferred to the university, I changed my major to psychology. That didn’t last very long because I changed it back to art the next semester. I knew in my heart I had to pursue something where I could be creative and express myself. Even if I didn’t make it big in the art world, I could at least teach.

A friend of mine designed a tiny sleeve out of neoprene that slips over my finger and over the brush handle. I can paint by merely moving my finger. The results are the same as my usual work, and I can paint a little faster than I used to. As you move through life, remember there are ways to do everything you need to do to have a peaceful and productive existence.

Attending California State University, Fullerton was probably the best part of my life, and I would recommend this to everyone. The college environment was full of people who were either very educated or they wanted to be. I was treated like a regular person there. This feeling was even more noticeable when I was out in public and people would literally run into something while they were walking and straining to stare at me. College was the one place where I felt like I belonged.

After I received my Master’s degree in 1981 I decided to do some part-time jobs on campus while I looked for art options. I worked in the Disabled Student Center reading tests for visually impaired students, illustrating a newsletter and writing some of the articles in it, running errands on campus and setting up appointments for student counselors. I even volunteered at several galleries. For someone with so many limitations, I handled lots of jobs and did them well.

Since being out of the college scene I have immersed myself in the art community, especially when I moved to Las Vegas in 1991. I’ve participated in hundreds of art shows, was the director of a major art group in southern Nevada and I started the Spirit of Art group with some fellow artists. Our goal is to keep art alive in the community, and every exhibit I curate for us includes some kind of benefit for a local charity.

As I age, my disability continues to decline and rob me of many abilities — but I will always find a way to paint. Art truly is in the mind, and fixing the physical part is easy.

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