Tammy Ruggles is a legally blind artist, photographer and writer living in Kentucky. A former social worker, she intends to show the world that the blind and visually impaired can also create art. Having found finger painting as a medium, she relies on intuition, imagination and memory to create images in her mind's eye.
In this interview with editor Catalina Piedrahita, Tammy talks about vision, about the process of creation and about using your limitations.
Catalina Piedrahita: Can you describe your artistic process? Please tell us what it’s like getting an idea and transforming it into a work of art.
Tammy Ruggles: When it comes to finger painting, I can't use a reference photo or real world around me, because of my visual impairment. I rely on my memories, or emotions, some mental image I have, as a reference. What I find myself doing is painting an emotion, something the viewer will feel as well. I move my fingertips to form the emotions of the mental picture I have in my mind. For example, flowers bending in the breeze. A barn roof sagging from age. That kind of thing. I don't think too much about it, I just let my fingers do the work. I use what I learned in art education, and my remaining vision.
CP: Why is making art important to you?
TR: Making art is creating something, using what you have. As a visually impaired person, there are things I can't do. Certain limitations. Like driving, or bird watching, or other vision-dependent things. But creating is something I know I can do. I just have to find new ways or different ways to do them. Art comes from the inside. I'm a writer, but art speaks what words can't. Those feelings I have about growing up on my grandparents farm, or nature, or appreciation for life itself... I can never find the right words to put on paper. My art tells it better.
CP: It’s my understanding that you started creating art before your sight began to diminish. I believe sometimes we can be limited by our own privileges since our options are almost infinite and making decisions becomes difficult. How different is your approach to your artistic process now, and what are some things that perhaps are more liberating than before?
TR: Before my vision declined, I was limited on subject matter. Using a pencil or pen, and then later, even a Sharpie, I could only draw from a reference photo, as in a celebrity portrait sketch. Now that I can no longer do those, but rely on instinct and imagination, it seems like my subject matter is broader, and I'm not restricted by trying to get the likeness "perfect". I'm more abstract now.
CP: Your artistic rediscovery started in 2013, and your career as an artist appears to be flourishing at an amazing speed! Can you tell us what to look for from Tammy Ruggles in the future? What projects are you working on right now?
TR: I like it when things happen quickly, and I like to keep moving forward, lol. Right now I'm wrapping up with finger painting. I have around 700 of those, and I think that's enough, so I don't think I'll be doing any more. They're all in my DeviantArt gallery, and I have the originals at home (the ones I haven't sold or given away, that is). Moving on from finger painting may sound like I take a frivolous approach to art, but that isn't it. There are just so many art forms that I want to do, and only one lifetime to do them in.
Like life, my art has developed in phases, so now I'm moving to fine art photography. I've always been a shutterbug, but in the past few months I've taken it more seriously, becoming more educated and professional in my approach. I'm finding that I'm not the only legally blind photographer in the world. With a point and shoot camera, and my 47-inch computer monitor, I'm able to participate in yet another art form that I love. My photographs are all in my DeviantArt gallery too.
Right now I'm promoting the things I do, whether it be my children's e-books, YA fiction, poetry collections, audio books, finger paintings, or photography. That's a job in itself, so my plan is to devote this year to promotion. But my newest project is launching a call-in internet radio show, similar to the "60 Seconds" print interviews I do on Facebook. I love talking to people about their projects, and with The Promo Show, as I hope to call it, I can do just that.
I don't know if any of my writing or art will ever be valuable in the commercial sense, but it's something to leave behind for my son and two grandchildren.