I have several friends who are wonderful artists, and one of them is currently working on a drawing that they plan to give to another friend for their birthday. Since this friend has low vision, we’ve been talking a lot about how to create art for visually impaired audiences, and thinking about how to ensure that our friend will be able to see the finished product. Here are my tips for creating art for visually impaired friends and audiences, from the perspective of someone with low vision.
Use vivid, high-contrast colors
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.
One trick I learned for determining if digital art provides sufficient color contrast is to temporarily switch it to a grayscale view. This can be done within the device accessibility settings, or by doing the following:
- Add a new layer to the digital art that is solid black
- Ensure the layer is on top of all other layers, and set it to Hue
- After assessing the color changes, delete or hide the layer
Since I do not personally have any color deficiencies/colorblindness, I can see all colors without any issue, but do prefer vibrant shades over pastels when possible. There are a few different tools for evaluating color schemes for colorblindness, and I have linked one of them below.
- Paper Colors And Low Vision
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Low Vision
- How To Write Alt Text For Color Palettes
Art tools/mediums that are great for visual impairment
When creating art for audiences with low vision, the following art tools and mediums are preferred since they are highly visible against different background colors and can be enlarged with a magnification tool for easier viewing:
- Thick pens
- Acrylic paint
- Digital art, such as items created in Procreate, PhotoShop, or similar drawing programs
Art tools/mediums that are less great for visual impairment
While every visual impairment is different, these art tools/mediums may be more difficult for people with visual impairment to see:
- Pencils (including colored pencils)
- Pastels (unless they are on a contrasting background, i.e light pastels on a black background)
- Grayscale drawings
What size should my art be?
- When it comes to digital art, use the highest resolution possible when exporting, as this will make it easier to zoom in on details or display the art on a larger screen
- Smaller canvases or pages can be digitalized and enlarged on another screen, or a user can hold a magnifying glass over the canvas/use a video magnifier
- Larger canvas sizes are not necessarily easier to see, as the viewer may not be able to see the entire canvas within their field of vision
- 3D models should be exported at the highest resolution possible as well- I use the Microsoft 3D model viewer for examining models and zooming in
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
- Magnifying Glasses For Low Vision
- My Favorite Accessibility Features For HP Sprout
- Microsoft 3D Models and Low Vision
Incorporating texture and tactile elements
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.
- How To Create Tactile Images With Everyday Objects
- How To Modify Anatomy Diagrams For The Visually Impaired
Writing image descriptions for art
One of my friends handed me a picture they had drawn of a dragon, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at. I thought it was a picture of a dinosaur standing on a cliff, which isn’t a reflection on their art skills as much as it is a reminder that I can’t see very well. When I asked them what type of dinosaur it was, they were very confused and later told me that they felt like they couldn’t show me their art anymore.
After this experience, I started encouraging my friends to write image descriptions for their art, or at least tell me what is going on in the image. I have an entire guide about writing alt text for amateur art below.
Here are some examples of great alt text for original art that I’ve created, or that my friends have created:
- A digital art print that features a large yellow sun in the bottom right corner that extends to the top right corner, taking up 75% of the image, drawn with yellow markers and a black outline. The remaining 25% of the image shows a light blue sky, painted similar to watercolors. Inside the sun, the lyrics to “I’ll Follow The Sun” by The Beatles are printed in black calligraphy writing
- A photo of a car running a stoplight at night with a high-contrast filter applied. On top of the image, a large red and yellow cartoonish font says “See you in court!”, stylized similar to a vintage postcard.
- An oil pastel drawing of a copper-colored dog face that has light green eyes and a brown nose. The background is several different shades of green swirled together to complement the colors of the eyes.
- A cartoon picture of SpongeBob SquarePants jumping in the air on a blue background with bubbles surrounding him
- How To Write Alt Text For Amateur Art
- Zine Accessibility and Low Vision
- Visiting The Museum of Modern Art With Vision Loss
Other tips for creating art for visually impaired friends
- Don’t point out everything that is wrong with an image when describing it, or tell people about different mistakes- celebrate your finished product!
- Avoid using phrases such as “this would be better if you could see it” or “you can’t see how great this art is”- find ways to make the art easier to see, or describe what it looks like to the viewer
- When posting art online, include alt text and/or image descriptions- learn more in How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired