Even though I have low vision, I love creating and learning more about visual art in a variety of different mediums, and have taken art classes in a variety of settings, including at school, as part of community programs, and special events offered at my college. Admittedly, I’m not very good at photorealistic drawings or using charcoal, but I’ve learned several strategies over the years for participating in art classes with low vision. Here are some of my favorite tips for art students and teachers for working with low vision in the art classroom.
Choose bold, saturated colors when possible
Bold, saturated, or high-contrast colors are the best options when choosing art materials with low vision, as these colors pop against surfaces and can easily be seen on the finished product. Pencil or charcoal on white paper provides poor contrast and may be difficult or impossible for people with low vision to see- to me, pencil on paper is the equivalent of invisible ink. Other than that, I don’t have any color deficiencies and often gravitate towards color palettes with bold, bright shades that pop against the background and that are easy for me to identify.
Have a high-contrast surface
When working with flat surfaces such as papers or tiles, it can be difficult for people with low vision to distinguish the off-white unpainted surface on top of the off-white table. For this reason, it helps to have a high contrast surface to work with such as a colored table or a textured surface like newspaper or a drop cloth underneath painted items.
Use tape as a guide
When I went to a pottery painting studio, one of the staff members suggested that I use painter’s tape as a guide, and I discovered this was a game changer for painting straight lines and avoiding unwanted color splotching, though I still had a small amount of splotching in some areas that I could cover later on. Other types of easily removable tape can also be used to facilitate painting on different surfaces, or can be incorporated into the final product.
Accommodating for dexterity issues in the art classroom
Many people with low vision also have more difficulty with dexterity or motor skills, which can impact the ability to use some art tools. Some of my favorite strategies for making art supplies easier to use with dexterity issues include:
- Wrapping a hair curler around a brush or marker to make it easier to grasp
- Using adaptive scissors with a loop or modified grip
- Pencil grips for colored pencils, crayons, or markers to ensure proper hand position
- Using an angled table or drafting table to adjust the height of the canvas
When possible, use colored glue sticks for kid’s art projects
White glue or clear glue can be difficult to see on white paper, and as a kid I often put too much or too little glue on paper because I had no idea how much I was using. Purple glue sticks or colored glue were much easier for me to work with, and there are several brands that dry clear as well. Glue sticks were also easier for me to manipulate with reduced hand strength compared to glue bottles.
Understand that not everyone sees art the same way
Some of the art projects my teachers would assign involved tracing or drawing items with a high level of accuracy, which was difficult for me with low vision since I experience double vision and blurry vision, and also have no depth perception. I remember in one memorable instance my teacher was confused why I had painted something very “abstract” when the rest of the class had worked on painting more realistic items, and then realized I was painting the item exactly how I saw it. I have an entire post on classic artists who were influenced by their experiences with vision loss linked below.
- Ten Ways Vision Impairment Influenced Classic Artists
- Creating Audio Description For Crafting Tutorials With YouDescribe
Add tactile mediums or materials
A lot of people I know who are blind or that have low vision often add tactile materials or use tactile mediums to create art, engaging in embroidery, adding textured items/stickers to canvases, creating items with polymer clay, and other three-dimensional mediums. 3D printing can also provide several options for creating interesting art.
Consider the lighting of the space
Lighting plays a huge role in helping people with low vision maximize their usable vision, and many artists will use additional surface lighting such as lamps to make it easier to see their workspace. Environmental lighting can also be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the intensity of overhead lights.
More tips for participating in art classes with low vision
- My favorite tools to use for creating art include markers and pens, since these provide rich contrast against a variety of surfaces and are easy for me to manipulate
- Many folk art styles feature high contrast colors and relatively simple shapes, making this an interesting area for artists with low vision to explore
- Some people with low vision may be more prone to spills or knocking items over- make sure that materials are kept away from the edge of the table and that they are kept in an area where they can’t be knocked over