by Bonnie Sheckter
A few weeks after turning 68, I woke up one morning to find that when I tried to read, my vision was blurry. Rarely having to wear glasses, I was aghast. I sighed and chalked it up to aging and made a mental note to see my optometrist. I started to wear my glasses full time, even though the prescription didn’t feel quite right. A few weeks later, while watching a movie on TV, I covered my left eye and realized that the TV image was blurry. Left eye still covered, I began looking around and realized that not only was everything blurry, there was a grey circle in the middle of my vision and straight lines appeared wavy and distorted. Needless to say, I immediately got myself to Emergency at the nearest hospital. Doctors there said it could be a couple of different things and to see my ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
This eye condition forced me to finally extricate myself. It was a huge load off my shoulders and I thought, “there’s a silver lining in all of this!”
"Till The Last Clue Is Solved"
Prismacolor Premier Pencils on matte Duralar, 18 1/4" x 15", completed January 2020.
Thinking the worst for the next few days till I could see my doctor, I was over-the-moon relieved when he told me that he was sure I had something called Central Serous Retinopathy, a condition caused by stress, and that it would heal on its own but would take about 4 months. I immediately took action to relieve the stress in my life, which meant resigning from my position as General Manager of my Community Orchestra. This was a volunteer position I’d been doing for about 15 years, and it had turned into a full time, very stressful job, as I was doing the work of about 6 people. I had long wanted to step back, but felt that I had become indispensable. This eye condition forced me to finally extricate myself. It was a huge load off my shoulders and I thought, “there’s a silver lining in all of this!”
I had already committed myself to 3 projects when this occurred: a portrait commission, a book cover design, and a CD jacket and booklet design. In spite of the challenges with my vision, I was able to complete all those projects over the next 4 months. I would often have headaches and feel dizzy and a little nauseous from my skewed vision, it felt like I was wearing someone else’s glasses, with mayonnaise smeared on the one of the lenses. Luckily my glasses worked well enough to draw, although things like the striped shirt in my commissioned portrait gave me lots of grief as the stripes started to warp and waver if my good eye got tired. But hey, I was so grateful that I could still draw!
"Up Against The Wall"
Prismacolor Premier Pencils on matte Duralar, 18" x15", completed Feburary 2020.
Sadly, when I saw my doctor 4 months after the initial visit, there was no improvement at all. He recommended treatment, but had to send me to another ophthalmologist who had the equipment to perform the procedure. This new doctor insisted upon repeating all the tests and scans before proceeding. To my dismay, after reviewing the scan results, he said he didn’t agree with his colleague’s diagnosis, and said it wasn’t Central Serous Retinopathy, but macular degeneration. So this wasn’t something that would clear up on its own! He ordered more in-depth testing done, and after a few more months and more tests and getting a third opinion, I finally was given the diagnoses of pigment Epithelial Retinal Detachment, which is caused by macular degeneration. The disheartening news was that there is no good treatment for this rare condition. Injections of drugs could possibly improve things a little, but could just as likely make my vision worse. I opted to do nothing, but just keep monitoring it.
Perhaps the most important silver lining in all this is that I feel as though I have finally found my ‘voice’, the narrative that I’m trying to express in my art work. And I now I finally have the time and especially the impetus to pursue the expression of those ideas!
I have been living with this condition now for almost a year. My brain has learned to take information from my good eye and ignore the distorted information coming from my bad eye. How it has impacted my life, and in particular my drawing, is quite miraculous! It has given me insight into what is really important in life and to let go of the things that don’t matter. With time on my hands now, I spend long, lovely days drawing. I used to produce about 3 drawings a year, now I am able to complete a drawing about every 3 weeks; the drawings you see here were all done in the last few months! With this intensity and focus, my drawing skills are improving by leaps and bounds. I have even found that my less than stellar vision has aided me in unforeseen ways.
"Living In An Alternate Reality"
Prismacolor Premier Pencils on matte Duralar, 23" x 18 5/8", completed March 2020.
To lessen eye strain, I now let my focus go soft when starting out, and I do the initial layers without paying attention to detail. I am much more attuned to the feel of the pencil, and the pressure I’m applying, even giving credence to the sound of the pencils on the surface. I concentrate on creating smooth blends in small areas, always keeping soft edges for future ease of blending. I used to always work with strong illumination, but discovered (when turning off my light to give my eyes a rest) that if I work in dimmer lighting, value relationships between areas become more apparent. Once the drawing has taken on some dimensionality, I use a brighter light and focus my vision to create the detail and fill in gaps I’ve missed. Perhaps the most important silver lining in all this is that I feel as though I have finally found my ‘voice’, the narrative that I’m trying to express in my art work. And I now I finally have the time and especially the impetus to pursue the expression of those ideas!
An award-winning Canadian artist, Bonnie Sheckter has been working with colored pencil for 20 years. She is always on the lookout for interesting faces to draw, and uses her iPhone camera to collect reference material for her drawings. She strives to capture candid expressions which convey a variety of eloquent inner thoughts and emotions; for her, these faces all have stories to tell, tales which give testament to our perseverance, our humanity and our empathy towards one another.
See more at: https://www.bonniesheckter.com