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"I think that most artists' works are largely autobiographical, consciously or subconsciously, whether they are visual artists, writers, or musicians. We incorporate aspects of our individual experiences, positive and negative into our work ...divorce, loss of a loved one, human relationships, pain, and joy—whatever it is. So in that sense, my experience with illness and disability finds its way into the content of my work through issues of endurance, etc.
In a literal sense, it has impacted how I hold a brush, the materials I use, how long a period of time I am able to paint, and professional adjustments. But it ultimately serves to strengthen my commitment to my art and the way it satiates my soul."
Lyn Horan painted Belladonna Lily (above) on a 36 x 36-inch canvas, in watercolors. Lyn uses a drafting table that her mother (also an artist) gave to her, and the table allows Lyn to raise or tilt her work to various heights and angles. An adjustable table is very useful for artists with limited mobility or motor coordination.
Lyn is a professional artist and watercolor instructor in Maryland for the Ginger Cove Retirement Community. Having both multiple sclerosis and arthritis for over 15 years provides Lyn with special insight and sensitivity to seniors in her classes who have physical limitations that can interfere with enjoyment of art. Lyn's job is to reignite talent in people and help them find new talents.
Lyn has exhibited her work in galleries throughout the country and abroad—Greece, Turkey and Israel. She's exhibited at VSA Arts in Washington and served on VSA discussion panels. Lyn also serves as vice-chairwoman of the Coalition for Balanced Excellence in Education, an organization that protects and supports education programs. Lyn acts as an advocate in arts education for children.
Lyn's Tips for Artists
There are all sorts of things I have learned to do to continue to be a productive artist who just happens to have MS and arthritis:
The biggest issue is learning to pace myself because one of my biggest obstacles is fatigue. I try to be sensible about not working too long at a time, as I will get stiff and tired. I take regular breaks to stretch and rest.
I sit at a large drawing board (as I can't stand for long periods of time) in a chair with wheels and a lumbar support to protect my back. This is very important, as folks who walk long-term with crutches, such as myself, often put extra stress on their back and joints. The drawing board can be adjusted in order to angle the painting surface slightly, almost flat.
Initially I concentrated on watercolors as I was told early on that people with nervous system disorders needed to stay clear of toxic substances and chemicals. Clean up is easy, etc.
Many folks with MS (as well as many of the seniors I teach) suffer from a hand tremor, making it difficult to control a brush or pencil. I have learned to always rest and support my drawing and painting hand and arm on the painting surface to counteract my tremor and give me more control.
Hand and arm supports can be purchased at many art supply companies to protect the working surface.
Artists with difficult to control tremors should not be discouraged from continuing to create original artwork. Often the loosening of control of our work gives us a more interesting, freer-flowing brushstroke, conducive to abstract, emotive work.
Remember that creation is very often about personal choices. Personal choices of color, shape, composition, and rhythm are part of the process for every artist, and choices are made from our hearts and souls, not our hands.
Small- (but not minute) to medium-sized artwork is easier to accomplish for many disabled artists though larger pieces can be made by "piecing together" smaller ones.
I have recently started back to painting in oils with less toxic materials. I can still use my drawing board when I am painting on gessoed 300 lb. watercolor paper or a braced canvas so it won't slide down the drawing table surface.
I also invested in a lightweight, portable, French easel (for watercolor or oils) that I use in my studio or outdoors. Its height and surface angle can be adjusted so I can sit and paint.
It is important that everything you do in between painting periods will enhance your health such as a good diet, physical therapy, de-stressing activities, and rest as these will help you be more efficient, relaxed and creative when you go into your studio to work.