Sheila Taylor is one of the blind painters that Rosemary Fontenla, OCAC Seniors Art Program co-ordinator, teaches at the Gardens at Qualicum Beach. Taylor holds her painting of poppies during the Gardens in Qualicum Beach’s Seniors Art Show on Tuesday, July 25. — Adam Kveton

Become a painter — sight not required at Qualicum Beach class

Blind seniors taught to paint through OCAC program

When it comes to painting, you could say that sight is pretty important.

Or, you could charge on ahead and learn to paint anyway.

That’s just what three seniors at The Gardens at Qualicum Beach seniors residence have done, with the help of OCAC’s Seniors Art program co-ordinator Rosemary Fontenla.

A former employee at the Gardens, Fontenla started an art program there about two-and-a-half years ago. At that time, she already knew Kaye Lindsay, a resident there who can no longer see.

“We’d become friends, and we trust each other,” said Fontenla. So, despite Lindsay’s impairment, Fontenla began pestering Lindsay to join the art class.

Convincing Lindsay was not an easy process, but Fontenla said it would be a sort of experiment, just to see how it goes.

“Once I got going, I must say I’ve enjoyed it,” said Lindsay

She’s been painting ever since, creating abstract work out of which materializes birds, flowers and other things which Fontenla helps Lindsay develop, though Lindsay is one of her most independent blind painters.

Now, the art group includes two more ladies with visual impairments: Peg Smith who is legally blind, but can see just a bit, and paints with a large magnifying glass; and Sheila Taylor who cannot see at all. Their work, and that of other members of The Gardens’ art group, was on display at the residence’s Seniors Art Show on Tuesday, July 25 -.

None of the three had done much painting before at all, though generally they said they’d decided to try it after finding they could no longer partake in their other passions, like sewing, gardening, dancing or sports.

Fontenla’s teaching process is to first ask the painter what they’d like to paint, and what colours they’d like to use for each portion.

Then, Fontenla guides the painter’s hand by the wrist, teaching them the motions of creating a rose, for instance.

Then, without prompting, she stops guiding their hand, and only holds their arm to the general spot, and lets the painter create.

The results are impressive, said Fontenla.

Smith said she is astounded by the colours available and how she finds a way to incorporate them into her paintings with Lindsay’s help.

“It’s frustrating at times,” she said, describing how she’s sometimes not sure if her brush is about to touch the canvas, despite the use of her magnifying glass. “(But) it’s satisfying too in a way… I’m doing pretty good,” she said.

Taylor said that dancing used to be her thing, but that painting was a new challenge.

“It was something I’d never done before or knew I could do,” she said, adding that the more she’s painted, the more she’s liked it, and that she enjoys the motion of the brush work.

Lindsay said she is very particular about knowing exactly what colours she’s using, where her brush is on the canvas, and what the work looks like so far.

Fontenla explained that each of the three painters have an image in their mind of what their paintings look like as they are doing it, and are able to incorporate changes with Fontenla’s help.

But they must rely on Fontenla’s accurate appraisal of their work to keep working, as well of the input of their fellow painters.

“It’s good to know that people like what you’ve done when you can’t see it yourself,” said Taylor.

Fontenla’s art class also includes other seniors with disabilities. Dee Mellgren was another one of Fontenla’s friends from the Gardens, and convinced her to start painting as well, despite shoulder problems.

Since then, Mellgren has sustained damage to her arms, but still manages to paint when she’s inspired.

“If I see something I really like, I have to attempt it,” she said.

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