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Joanne has asked me; I have drawn and painted all my life. Now I am seriously disabled and my right hand no longer works. I have purchased some Sennelier oil pastels to see what I can do with my left hand any thoughts?
Dear Johanne, I’m not going to bother you with advice for training fine motor skills, because I think you already know all about that. I would like to focus my advice on Kindness and Colour.
Kindness you can show by taking great care in switching all your gear to the other side. It doesn’t make sense to swap hands partially. It would be better not to reach out too far for your pastels, cloth or supporting drawing tools. You should also re-arrange the light. Ones you are settled, you can work on drawing with your ‘new’ hand.
Having said that, it is a major task to switch hands. The brain needs time to deal with this and from what I have heard you need to take baby-steps avoiding exhaustion. So start with big crayons, a big sheet of paper and don’t feel too ambitious. Allow your arm enough rest and warmth. You could put a comfortable cushion under your arm and a (warm) beanbag for supporting your wrist. I think your left arm will like the warmth of a warm-water bottle or cosy warm beanbag and will be good to you in return for you being kind to your arm. Please, don’t get cross with your left hand. Be like a caring mother helping your ‘toddler’ hand to take a few new steps per drawing session. Encourage yourself kindly and never be harsh to yourself.
It seems to me wise not to set high goals when it comes to putting lines on the paper. As an artist you are of course aware of the power of a strong composition and the magic of the use of colour. Do you know the wonderful work of Casey Klahn, artist, instructor and author of The Colorist Blog? By beautifully making use of his wonderful pastel colours, Klahn creates marvellous pastels. I often have the feeling I need to clean my glasses when I see pastel drawings. This is not the case with Casey Klahn. He is amazingly good with putting the right amount of colour on the right place creating a very alive and clear scene. Have a look at his Barn Interior.
The yellow sun rays that fall into the dark barn make me smell hay and straw. I can feel and hear the cracking wooded floor while I walk through this barn. It is wonderful how colours can enchant us and make us feel, smell and hear places of imagination.
Although I would like to show you many works by Casey Klahn, I like to share with you too my favourite Klahn tree.
To me this very bluish pastel would be too sweet and too blue, hadn’t Klahn created that darker right side that contrasts beautifully with the ethereal lighter left side. The heavenly blue and dreamy violet is also balanced by that wonderfully positioned emerald green moss on the bark of the tree (and in the centre of the picture). Just that bit of green balances this heavenly scene with just enough earth-element. The beauty and function of that bit of green to me is ‘grounding’, is showing ‘Earth’, and communicates to the viewers that this scene can be found right next to your house if you were only willing to admire the colour palette of nature.
There is another treasure you could enjoy by studying how Casey Klahn works. To Klahn Henry Matisse is the master. As you probably know, Matisse became sick at the age of 71 and had to stay in bed for a long time after a major operation. He felt lucky to be alive. He said: “Every day that dawns is a gift to me’. But he had trouble painting because he couldn’t stand up for long periods of time. So he’d cut out paper shapes, lots and lots of them and called this ‘drawing with scissors’. It is not that I advise you to do this. Henry Matisse was lucky to have an assistant to help him positioning the cut-outs on canvas. But he was unstoppable, like you, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked me for advice. Because of that unstoppable passion, Matisse developed a new way of making art. Matisse’s daughter said that Henri worked right up to the day he died. People say that some of his last cut-out pictures are his greatest.
Cut-out art work by Henry Matisse
What I hopefully have communicated to you is that even if all my advise doesn’t work, trust you artist passion to find a way to draw and paint or whatever activity that makes you feel you can let your creative energy flow. I can picture you -for instance- working with stamps. Lots and lots of stamps: Indian stamps, children stamps, custom-made stamps, letter stamps and geometric stamps, alphabet stamps, coin stamps, and antique Indonesian batik stamps. You could use stamps with ink or tempera paint, layered, not layered, or impasto.
You will find your way and I wish you all the best.
I also wish other artist will add their advice in the comment section on or their blog and link their post to this one, so that you get a rich palette of inspiring ideas.
Love from Paula