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I am naturally an introvert and have a tendency to be shy. At high school I was bullied by the other students and made to feel that it was dangerous to excel at anything or to speak up, especially not to speak up for myself. I was an easy target. We all know that teenagers will focus their intimidation and humiliation on those they perceive as different and/or weak.

As a teenager with a vision impairment, I was a perfect target.

At school, I developed ways to be small and silent and unnoticed. When it came to choosing electives, I made sure to stay out of the classes my primary tormenter took. The one class I took that didn’t follow these rules was art. Several of the girls who liked to make my life hell were in my art class.

In year eight, my art teacher didn’t even want me in her class. She believed that someone who was blind could not do art.

I spent most of the first half of the school year turning up for class and sitting, being ignored by the teacher, being made to feel invisible.

That teacher left and I stayed in the class with a new teacher. Mrs Kaminsky made sure I could participate in the class. She introduced me to oil pastels and showed me how to shade and blend and create pictures where others painted. She helped me hone and build on the sculpting skills I’d started developing in primary school. She gave me a way to have a voice. It was this class that kept me sane throughout school.

Mrs Kaminsky encouraged and nurtured my artistic voice by believing in me and encouraging me. 

Years later, coming back to art has given me back the voice I thought I’d lost forever.

When I can’t untangle my thoughts, I paint out the knots and snarls.

It is a physical thing, the movement of my hand, arm and body loosens the threads. The threads then have room and space to weave themselves into order.

When I paint out these tangles I feel my breath changes, my thoughts, that started the session as a pile of scattered and like leaves before a storm. These thoughts start to slow, to shift and eventually make sense again. I can paint out the problem and give me back my voice.

My paintings and sketches tell the stories I can’t get out in words. The stories that frighten me. That are too full of emotion that I’m afraid if I start speaking, they will explode and drown me.

I can be brave in my art, when I can’t be in the rest of my life. When I create, I am centred and present. Most importantly, I’ve got the strength and confidence to give voice to my experiences. The knowledge that my work is never going to be perfect, but will be uniquely mine, has quietened the perfectionist inside me. By taking away that fear of not being perfect, I can speak and share what’s inside me.

Art is my meditation and my voice.

-Sam Ogilvie