When I left him, my son was gleefully painting with a duck. The duck had, in the early stages, seemed a bit jittery, but once it had its feathers smoothed, the results were quite amusing.
Now, lest we invite less-than- civil comment from the Animal Rights lobby, I should perhaps explain. No ducks were harmed in the making of this painting. Not even made vaguely uncomfortable, in spite of the fact that he was using a live mallard as a paintbrush and it was, at one point, rather jittery. .
On second thoughts, that probably doesn’t help much.
You see, the thing is, my son is tired and it is very cold outside. Even more so when you are confined to an electric wheelchair in which you sit completely still and let the motor get warm while you freeze. So he’s hibernating for a bit and casting around for something to do, he came up with the idea of painting with a duck. As you do.
Well, my sons would… I have written before of the talent for random acts of lunacy shared by both my sons.
The fact that the duck was my idea is neither here nor there.
All he wanted was an unusual paintbrush.
The duck seemed a perfect choice.
It is an easier concept than it sounds. First select and capture your duck. The mallard has superb markings, so it works well. Then cut it down a bit, turn it into a paintbrush and start painting.
Before you rush out in search of mallards, though, I should probably mention that you need to have a decent camera and good painting software, otherwise the animal rights people will definitely be at your door.
It was, Nick explained, a matter of curiosity. He is learning to paint with a digital painting programme as his coordination will not allow him to do so with a brush. He even let me have a go, though that was before he had started teaching himself how to really use the software.
Knowing he has a lot to learn, he began going through all the training material step by step. Having learned that he could create his own digital brushes to suit his needs, he decided to see just how far that could go by choosing one element of a photograph, converting it to an accessible image and using that image as a brush stroke.
We settled on the duck. He duly fiddled with a number of arcane settings and magically transformed the mallard into a paintbrush that left duck-shaped strokes on the virtual page. The jitter setting altered the outline, making it un-duck shaped, so he smoothed it down again and went with a straight mallard, creating a background with the programme and writing his name in ducks. Because he could.
There was much laughter and the inevitable “ I feel a blog post coming on” crept into the conversation.
“Yes,” said my son. “There’s a serious point to make.” He explained. Technology, he said, was blamed for a great deal these days. Especially video games and social media. Yet he and many others face challenges… physical, mental and emotional… that mean leaving the house to go out into the world is difficult or even impossible. Technology is a lifeline. Not only for the obvious things like staying in contact or building online friendships and dealing with daily tasks, but also for helping improve reduced dexterity, hand-eye coordination and, most importantly perhaps, fostering and enabling creativity.
For those unable to read or write through visual impairment, technology has opened access to a world of books that they can read or, indeed, write. For those physically unable to manipulate pen or brush, art has become possible. The benefits of engaging in a creative pursuit…and reading counts amongst them as you create images in the mind as you read… are enormous in terms of mental and emotional wellbeing. But there are other benefits too, including encouraging the plasticity of the brain itself…its ability to form new neural connections. While this is of value to everyone, as plasticity diminishes with age…though it doesn’t have to be that way and the process of learning or engaging in a creative activity increases plasticity at any age… it is of particular importance to people, such as my son, whose challenges stem from brain injuries of any kind.
When Nick had been discharged from hospital and come home we got the paints out and he painted a picture with his recently-paralysed hand. It took all day, was so frustrating that it had him near tears, but the sense of achievement at the end was worth it. He has since learned to use his left hand for many things, but the control of brush or pen is still what he refers to as ‘a mission’.
Technology enables… though it is, for many, an expensive or unaffordable luxury … or they are simply unaware of the possibilities it now offers. It is an age-old problem…you do not ask if you don’t know there is anything to ask about. Many simply don’t know what is available.
Try asking your search engine for the impossible…and sometimes there is a solution, such as sophisticated painting programmes. There may even charitable grants to help access technology.
And then, when you have your sophisticated painting programme, you can create wonderful things…or even write your name in ducks.