I have always loved to draw and create different works of art, and was very fortunate to have art teachers who were able to adapt art class for low vision. Instead of being worried about how my visual impairment would impact my ability to follow directions, they encouraged me to draw, paint, or color things the way I saw them, and embrace creating my own unique artwork. Here are my tips for taking art classes in school with low vision, including quotes from my art teachers.
No two people see art the same way
When I was in fifth grade, my art teacher put a picture on the board and encouraged the students to draw a copy of it. They later said that my art was unlike anything they had ever seen- instead of intricate lines and shapes, I drew giant blobs, and didn’t pay much attention to size or other elements of the picture, just the colors. Several years later, we realized that I was drawing what I saw through my blurry eyesight.
Don’t grade on accuracy
In my high school Spanish class, students were assigned a project to research a famous Spanish artist. As part of the project, recreate one of their paintings. The painting recreation had to be exact, and it was worth a high percentage of the overall grade. My parents tried to get me exempt from such harsh grading policies, given my dysgraphia, but the teacher didn’t budge. This was very frustrating for us. The final art project turned out to be a very minimalist painting of a dot in the center of the paper- and even then, my sighted brother had to help me a lot.
Simple can be challenging- and fun
For a project in sixth grade, my teacher wanted us to draw intricate patterns on paper. They were similar to zentagles or paisley patterns, and required the use of a variety of colors and textures. With no depth perception, I have issues perceiving different textures and seeing small patterns. To accomodate my low vision in art class, my teacher had me do a simple template with rich, contrasting colors. This project was still very challenging, but not frustrating to complete.
Use high contrast tools
My eyes cannot perceive pencil on paper, as the gray lead on white paper provides poor contrast. Colored pencils can also be difficult for me to see. Because of this, my teachers allowed me to frequently use crayons, pens, and markers, as I could see those more clearly and pay more attention to my art.
Cutting inside and outside the lines
Even to this day, I am not very good at using scissors. When I am asked to cut along dotted lines, I not only have trouble seeing the lines, but I have trouble following them too. As a result, there are many jagged edges, or pieces that are too large or too small. Having someone help me cut out items is extremely appreciated.
Gluing things down
I always had issues when working with white glue and glue sticks. I could never tell how much glue I had used, or if there was too much/not enough. The purple glue sticks and glue pens helped me to not only see where I put glue, but also keep me from spilling it everywhere.
Poor visual references
No one really understood how poor my vision was for many years, including me. I remember in seventh grade for English class, my teacher asked us to illustrate a poem for class. When I finished my illustration, my teacher asked me what I had drawn, because they couldn’t tell what it was, and neither could the rest of the class. I don’t think I was even sure what I had drawn- I think it was supposed to be a horse outside of a building. Luckily, my teacher did not take points off for my terrible artwork.
Take additional precautions
I am very talented at knocking things over and spilling them. My art teachers always took extra precautions when setting up the art tables to accommodate my low vision in art class. Some examples include having a water bowl resting in a larger bowl for watercolor, smaller diameters for lids on glitter, and putting butcher paper underneath my paper while I worked.
Not the best at cleaning
When I worked at a day camp, I was assigned one day to clean up the paintbrushes. Because of my vision, I did such a poor job that I was never asked to clean the paintbrushes again. Understanding when an item is completely clean is sometimes difficult for people with low vision, and they may need additional help or reinforcement.
Even though I see art in a different way, I still love finding ways to express myself through visual media and have a strong appreciation for art. While I am not in an art major, the skills I learned from art classes have helped me tremendously in my software and web design classes in college. I am lucky that I had many teachers that were understanding and accommodated my low vision long before we knew how bad it really was.