Artists with disabilities at Hattie Larlham each have their own way of letting you know what they want, or, for that matter, don't want. It takes time to build a level of understanding between the artist and a tracker. This understanding is cultivated by the tracker through close attention to detail. The tracker is tasked with making sure each minute decision is recorded, ensuring the artist never loses sight of the creative process.
Artists with disabilities begin the process by choosing whether to draw or paint. If they choose to draw, the artist is presented with the first set of tools, the shape charts, the string and the laser. In order for the artist to make an informed decision, each choice is presented verbally, visually and tactilely. If the artist with disabilities decides to paint, they begin by selecting colors and mixing them however they choose.
When an artist comes to the studio for the first time, he or she is introduced to the tools and charts available to make paintings. Every painting is an archive of the decision-making path unique to each artist with developmental disabilities.
The laser is a popular tool in the Creative Arts studio. Artists with disabilities wear the laser on their head. When the artist moves his or her head, the laser's red dot indicates the direction of the stroke to the tracker.
Artists have used this technique to create shapes, fill in shapes with color and create linear brush strokes. The laser is a freeing technique that allows the artist to respond to his or her spontaneity.
The string is the most precise drawing tool in the studio. Through a system of questions and answers regarding length, direction, placement and the amount of curve the artist wants to apply to a line, the artist with disabilities can create any shape they desire. As each artist becomes more acquainted with the use of the string, they may opt to view or participate in demos showcasing more advanced techniques. After viewing one such demo, an artist decided to draw a flower and use it as a template to paint a flower pattern in her painting.
Less precise then the string, yet more exact in form, the shape tools allow for a world of possibility. Using three basic shapes; the circle, square, and triangle; the artist can explore new and exciting shape combinations. Recently, one artist connected two circles with triangles for an abstract image of farming equipment.
Once an artist selects a color, he or she is ready to choose the application method. Artists can choose the classic paint brush or from a myriad of tools, each capable of making their own unique mark. The mark each tool makes is identified on its own chart. There are charts for scratching tools, smooth tools, print tools and pattern tools.
Photography is a recent addition to Creative Arts. The medium gives artists with disabilities another means to express themselves. With photography, gratification is more immediate as artists have more control over their choices by being able to capture the moment and composition they desire.
To accommodate artists with dexterity limitations, the camera can be attached to a person's wheelchair and hooked up to an adaptive switch. These switches can be rigged to activate the shutter and take the photograph. To line up the shot, artists use a tablet screen connected to the camera. This tablet works as an enlarged version the camera's viewfinder.
Artists can use this setup to do self portraits, still-lifes or documentary-style walking tours. Artists are then able to review their photographs, manipulate them using a computer and select which photos to print.
The photography program offers an alternative to participants who may not be as receptive to painting or pottery. It can also allow painters and sculptors to explore a new medium or combine it with their work for multimedia pieces.
Clay is a tactile and physical medium. It has great appeal for people who enjoy manipulating materials by hand. Clay provides the artist an opportunity to interact in the creation of their art as pottery and sculpture are largely constructed on the artists wheelchair tray. Artists can combine products of their own hand with elements they create utilizing the tracking system in any proportion they choose.
Artists with disabilities choose their clay type, whether to create a sculptural or functional piece, and construction method such as slab, coil, pinch or wheel-thrown. Measurements and profiles are established using a ruler, the string method or a flexible curve. Visual samples of construction and decorating techniques are available to guide the process.
Once a piece is completed, it is dried and fired and returned to the artist for finishing. At which time the artist may choose to glaze the piece.