“Tactile art is a way of being able to share a message with your audience”

Our Manchester arts and crafts group leader Nina shares why tactile art is so important to her, and her tips for creating tactile art masterpieces yourself.

“I remember being back in university and attending a show on tactile art and diagrams, which was fairly new at the time but much needed. As a visually impaired art and design student, I had many difficulties experiencing and researching the world of art in the way that I needed to.

Luckily, today the world of art and design is becoming much more accessible. There are many more audio tours and interactive touch exhibitions available now, making galleries and museums more accessible. Tactile art is a way of being able to share your message and communicate with your audience. I believe getting to touch and feel other people’s art is so important because it helps you to see it and appreciate it in a new way.

There are many inspirational tactile artists that believe that bringing art to life is as creative as art itself. Some of my favourites include:

  • Rachael Dein, who is based in London and creates raised plaster art pieces inspired by nature and plant life. These are a great way of preserving natural beauty, whilst at the same time giving it life by allowing everyone to touch and feel it.
  • Ann Cunningham, who is based in America, and whose artwork is a collection of sculpture and tactile imagery. She works with slate, stone metal and other materials.
  • Heather Bowring is based in Portsmouth, and replicates paintings but makes them tactile. This enables blind and visually impaired people to enjoy the same art as sighted people, such as her tactile replica Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein (pictured).
Heather Bowring holding up her tactile version of the painting Whaam!

I believe everyone can create art! Art is about expressing yourself and being open to new things, and since it’s personal to you, having a disability shouldn’t get in the way of making your masterpiece. You can easily start making tactile art yourself, and to get you started, here are my top tips for creating tactile arts and crafts:

(1) Use recycled materials

Creating art doesn’t have to be expensive; it can start with things around the house, which will give you lots of textures and make your art extra unique. You could use newspaper for paper weaving, and old buttons and beads can be used for mosaics.

(2) Use current news and events for inspiration

Tactile art can be a great way of communicating and celebrating current events. For example, John is an Art Maker at the Arts & Crafts Centre and is deaf-blind, and he celebrated the Tour de Yorkshire by making a huge paper Mache bicycle that he could feel with his hands.

In my arts and crafts group, we explore all different forms and ways of working with tactile art. For the Euros 2016, we created a pitch full of tactile football images, with each artist from the group making their own to represent a different country.

 Jon's bike art

(3) Experiment with different textures

You can use anything to create a tactile image. Fabric, scrunched paper, thick paint, plaster, and so on. Let your imagination run wild! You could always try copying an existing image you like first and then make it tactile.

(4) Find alternatives to glue

I’ve found that when you’re working with artists with a visual impairment, not everyone loves the sticky feeling of glue. As an alternative, why not use double-sided tape or stickers instead?

(5) Incorporate tactile art into your daily life

Tactile art is all about communication, so it makes sense that it can be used practically as well. When our group visited the Henshaws Arts & Crafts Centre in Knaresborough, they had a great tactile symbol system in place to inform all students of each room.

Tactile images can be as basic or as complicated as you want, but as they essentially convey a message through touch, they can be really useful for day-to-day life.”

We hope you find these tips useful, and if you have any art or advice of your own, we’d love to hear them! Get in touch at stories@henshaws.org.uk.

If you’re in the Manchester area, you can join Nina’s Arts and Crafts group that meets every other Friday by ringing 0300 222 5555, or if you’re closer to Yorkshire, you can even become an Art Maker at our Arts & Crafts Centre. Find out more at henshawsacc.org.uk or ring 01423 541888.

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Nina leads our arts and crafts group in Manchester, and has previously volunteered with the fundraising and marketing teams. She has previously completed our 'Skillstep' course, and now also runs her own jewelry business.
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