I’m an award-winning professional portrait artist. I’m also legally blind. I now have less than 10 percent of average human vision.
I have Usher syndrome, so I’m losing my hearing as well as my sight. At first the diagnosis floored me. The doctor who told me was harsh. He said, “You’re going to go blind.” I showed him one of my portraits that won a major award. He said, “You’d better find another profession.”
For the next two years, I didn’t cope well. I slept badly. I’d lie awake, convinced that I’d be completely blind within a few months. I imagined myself sitting in a La-Z-Boy all day doing nothing and my wife coming to check on me, asking, “Are you still alive?”
“Keep painting until you can’t.”
My wife, Kim, turned my thinking around. I respond well to a kick in the pants—and she gave me a good one. She said, “You’re behaving like your life is over.” So I decided to start living every day as best I could. I learned that overcoming adversity is partly a matter of perseverance: you just have to put one foot in front of the other.
My retina specialist also changed my mindset for the better. I asked her, “Should I stop painting?” She said, “Why would you stop painting? Keep painting until you can’t.”
My sight loss is progressive, so things gradually get more challenging. There are some abilities I’ve lost altogether. I can’t drive. I can’t get around in the dark. Kim and I always hold hands so that she can steer me.
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Everyone is going to face some adversity in life. I’m no different
This all taught me that you can’t take the future for granted. Before the diagnosis, I’d imagined myself painting up to age ninety-five and then dying happy. But everyone is going to face some adversity in life. I’m no different. So I try not to focus on the unknown future. I just take one step at a time.
I’m now painting better portraits than ever; I just have to work harder at it. I’ve lost my peripheral vision, but I can still see what’s directly in front of me. Painting well is as much in your mind as it is in your technique.
If someone tells me, “That’s impossible,” then I want to prove them wrong. My wife challenged me to create a coloring book, and it’s now been published. Seeing Beautiful is based on my story, with a chapter called “Perspective” on how to overcome adversity. I’m also doing carpentry and remodeling our bathroom—things I didn’t think I could do while legally blind. I’m trying to live by the Jonathan Swift quote, “May you live all the days of your life.” I want to make sure I’m truly alive in every moment.
Timothy Jerome Chambers is a lifelong artist, having grown up amidst the scents, dust, and beautiful paintings of his father’s Chicago studio. Tim speaks from experience when it comes to finding hope; he suffers from a degenerative hearing and vision disease, and is legally blind. Tim is also the author of two books: Portraits: Discovering Techniques For Approaching Formal Paintings and Seeing Beautiful and the founder of Iguana Art Academy.
Image Credit: Norman Jean Roy