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Maximizing Strength for Painting
"Had it not been for my disability, I'm not sure I would be where I am today, art-wise. Aside from giving me a reason to spring out of bed seven days a week, my art has caused me to redefine my notion of what disability is. For me, art was the means by which I rebuilt my sense of self-esteem and self-worth, following my injury. The positive feedback I received was, and still is, great for my ego."
Randy Souders, of Fort Worth, Texas, is a 48 year old, incomplete C-4/5 quadriplegic celebrating his 25th anniversary as a full-time professional artist-painter. A swimming accident at age 17 fractured Randy's back. Randy uses his arms and hands to paint. Though generally unable to grip objects or use finger-movement, Randy has just enough tension in his fingers to hold a paintbrush.
A trip to Randy's Web site is a tour through online galleries by a prolific artist. Much of his paintings are ethereal scenes for children's publications—castles, country estates, and nostalgic scenes, such as an old-time schoolroom or barbershop and quaint churches. That may be partly because Randy likes art to transport him and take him places, even when he's unable to travel. Being able to paint with a brush fastened to his hand played a crucial role in Randy's recovery; it surprised him, restored his identity and hope, probably saving him spiritually.
Randy now owns Souders Fine Art, Inc., an art studio, publishing and marketing company, and Souders Gallery. You may visit his website to explore his many works.
Randy's works are represented by galleries nationwide and have been marketed nationally on the Home Shopping Network. His long-standing clients include the Walt Disney Company, MGM, Turner Entertainment, State Farm, and Maxwell House. Randy also serves on the national board of directors of VSA Arts. Randy is married, a dad, and a granddad.
Some of Randy's paintings have a kind of Norman Rockwell quality, but make no mistake, his style is all his own. They are warm and homey, so after seeing his paintings, you may feel as if you know him.
Adapting for Painting
I use a wheelchair. I have good shoulder movement and biceps, but very weak triceps and pectorals. I have good flexing upward of my wrists, but not downward. I have a good grip in my right hand, but no ability to extend my fingers. I have zero grip or finger extension in my left hand. OF COURSE, I'm left handed!!!:-)
I am able to sit upright and work all day. Twelve-hour workdays are typical. I drive and travel by air, when needed. Though married and a grandfather, I can live independently, if needed.
I paint on an inclined table, similar to a drafting table. I need to rest my forearm on the table in order to achieve control. Without steadying my forearm on a table, my ability to write, draw, or paint is severely compromised. This is the only way I can paint with the high degree of accuracy and detail I'm known for.
Due to the need to rest my arm on my work and table, I use fast drying acrylic paint to avoid smearing. I also paint on Masonite—a ¼-inch thick wood panel coated with a white surface (gesso). The thinness of a wood panel is an advantage in resting my arm. However, I have recently begun working on stretched canvas. I have devised a stack of 4-5 cardboard sheets glued together to fill in the space inside the stretcher bars on the backside. This allows me to rest my arm and hand on the canvas surface without it sagging or stretching.
(a) Perspective: Working on an incline causes some problems in perspective. For example, a drawing done on an incline is noticeably elongated when viewed vertically. To overcome this, I sometimes work out my drawing on a smaller scale, then enlarge it using my personal copier, then an engineering copier at a local copy center. Therefore, when I transfer the drawing to the wood panel or canvas, it is in proportion.
(b) Reach: Working on an incline restricts the size of my paintings. After all, I can only reach so far (2x3 feet is quite large for me—about the end of my universe). I often "spin" a painting like an animator, working upside down, sideways, and any direction that facilitates my ability to reach.
"People don't embrace my work because they feel sorry for me. Nor do they comment, 'Gee, this is good, considering he's a quadriplegic!' I take a measure of pride in knowing that my work succeeds - not because of my disability, in spite of it. Because of my art, I hardly feel disabled at all."