I am an artist with a disability.
I broke my neck on the eve of my 33rd birthday, crashed my 900 cc Honda four-cylinder motorbike into a keep-left bollard. The front wheel scraped the bollard’s stone curb (shower of sparks) but the rear wheel ran over it, snapping my head back and breaking my neck. Like most accidents, it could have been avoided. Six months later, and struggling to push myself about in a wheelchair, I was discharged from Stoke Mandeville Hospital. The doctors declared my injury ‘complete’, which meant the spinal cord was irrevocably and completely damaged at level C6. My condition is called ‘tetraplegia’, which is a cross between paraplegia and quadriplegia. I can use my arms but I can’t use my hands (I wrote this with a pair of rubber tipped sticks strapped to my hands). I have been writing stories, poems, composing music and painting since I left hospital. Most of my pictures are painted in oils but I use acrylics in winter when it’s cold and the drying time is prolonged.
I paint in a large shed at the end of my garden. My easel is driven by electric motors, which raises, lowers and turns the canvas 360 degrees. It was initially designed by me and my artist friend, Richard, then improved on by my friend an engineer John. He built and installed it. The easel, which is controlled by a disk-shaped rocker switch, is a permanent fixture in the shed.
My palette is designed to hold brushes and two large cans of turpentine (I use these to clean the brushes as I work). It is floor-standing and easily movable on casters.
I use an elasticated strap to secure the brushes to my hands. They’re fastened with Velcro. Occasionally I use a special brush holder which I designed myself out of everyday materials — bamboo cane, elastic bands, Velcro straps and plastic that can be molded in hot water. It is held together with araldite glue. The bamboo is split at the end and wrapped around with elastic bands. This allows the hollow cane to open when various sized brushes are pushed into it. The elastic insures that the brushes are gripped tight. I use the device for fine work. I prefer to paint with the brushes strapped to my hand — it’s a tactile thing, important for feel, sensation, and to maintain a physical connection.