My grandmother, an incredibly philanthropic woman, spent countless hours teaching fellow volunteers how to transcribe books into Braille. I was a young girl when she first taught me how to use a Braille slate and stylus—archaic by today’s standards. One of my grandmother’s projects in the late 60’s was a Braille coloring book. I still remember the day she proudly presented the prototype—a slim plywood box with a chrome handle and a sliding lid—inside were eight crayons and a coloring book. Instead of lines to guide the crayons, blind children would color inside Braille dots that outlined each scene. Each crayon was also labeled in Braille. At the time, it made perfect sense. I loved to color. All kids loved to color. But as I got older, I began to wonder if blind children could get satisfaction or joy from a finished work that they couldn’t see.
Now, I get it. My grandmother was smart enough to know that art is about creation. The act itself produces joy. There is something incredibly therapeutic about coloring. The gentle back and forth motion of the crayon has a soothing effect on the soul. And perhaps young blind artists can see their finished masterpieces. If they truly see through their fingers, then they can feel the smooth, silky wax on the paper.
We all create using our senses. Cooks rely on taste, musicians on hearing, perfumers on smell, and artists on sight and touch. Yes, touch. It took me a little while to figure out what my grandmother knew all along. I just wish she were here today to see me make the connection.
“Red”–graphite–From my sketchbook