Can someone who is visually impaired be taught to paint a picture?
Janna Reid thought not, but Tammy Jackson said otherwise.
Reid was born with a hearing impairment and then in her late teens began to lose her vision.
At the age of 29, she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare disorder that involves the breakdown of cells in the retina.
The result is a progressive loss of vision and eventual blindness. Peripheral vision is lost leaving the person with tunnel vision or as Reid describes it, “like looking through binoculars backwards.”
Affected individuals may also experience the loss of colour vision.
Reid now has less than 10 percent vision and is considered legally blind.
A year and a half ago, Reid entered Jackson’s shop and asked her if she could commission her to paint a picture of four tulips.
Jackson’s response was “Why don’t you come in and I can teach you to paint it yourself.”
“I just kind of laughed and chuckled and looked at her strangely,” explained Reid. “I lifted up my white cane and said can’t you see that I’m visually impaired?”
Jackson’s response was “so?” but she agreed to paint the picture for Reid anyway.
Some months later Reid came to Jackson again and said, “I have this picture in my mind that I want done. I want a big old willow tree done in a dark night time setting, with fireflies everywhere in the sky. Can I commission you to do that?”
This time Jackson said, “No, but you can come back and I’ll teach you how.”
Spurred on by a glimmer of hope and Jackson’s encouragement, Reid returned to give it a try.
“Tammy helped me out by sketching out the trees and the base lines and showed me how to colour graduate so that it went from light to dark,” explained Reid.
“Each step she helped me and would come alongside me. I’ve been painting here ever since. I’ve got the bug!”
Jackson has taught thousands of people how to paint, including people who may be handicapped in some way.
She has taught art as therapy and has taught all across Canada and into the United States.
When she first met Reid, she realized by watching her that she had some vision. She asked Reid what she could see.
“She can’t see a lot of the value scale in a colour, but she sees the real darks and lights of the colour,” said Jackson. “I told her if you can see light and dark, I can teach you to paint.”
And teach her she did.
“With her hand on the canvas, I told her here’s your brush. When she did the tree she would tap, tap with the stipple brush, where she needed to go,” said Jackson.
“I made sure that the line drawings were really bright for her too.”
It was amazing for Jackson to see how Reid was able to put on to the canvas what she had imagined in her mind, even though she could not see it fully with her eyes.
For Jackson, the reward comes when she can see her students gain confidence in themselves and when she sees the reaction that others have to their art.
Such was the case when Reid’s mother came by to pick up her daughter’s painting.
“Her mom just stopped dead right in her tracks and her eyes just went huge,” explained Jackson. “She looked at Janna and said, ‘are these yours?’ and then her mom just started to bawl.”
As with all her students, Jackson explained it is only fear that holds them back and once they let go of that fear, they just soar.
Reid would say to others who want to learn to paint, to let go of the fear and find someone who can teach them and then jump in with both feet.
Even though she had never thought she could learn to paint, Reid with Jackson’s support is taking even more risks with her paintings today.
Laughing she said,
“I had the courage to try and she is the steamroller behind me, pushing me through.”