“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
– Helen Keller
Hi, I’m Craig. I’m an artist... I’m visually impaired... not vision impaired. I want to share my story to inspire and invite everyone to give themselves a break, get happy and hopeful, and spread that dang love, people!
The “light switch” moment that would irritate two decades with indecision, self-doubt and frustration
T here are few times in our lives when we have those “light switch” moments. You know, the ones where you can look back and define a change that transformed you? My first light switch moment was in college. At just 20 years old, I had my whole life ahead of me. While In class, I felt a little off balance. Then I closed my left eye and saw something that still haunts me to this day. My teacher's head was gone. There was no black hole, but the green blackboard behind him was there. I reopened my left eye and it reappeared. I closed my right eye. This time only a portion of his face was gone, almost like a very strong blur with speckles. I found myself opening and closing one eye at a time to grasp the situation.
I did this several times and could not believe what I was seeing. After class, I quickly told my twin brother, who was attending the same college and, to my surprise, he said he was experiencing the same thing. We would soon find out that we both had a rare macular degenerative eye disease called Stargardt’s. What’s even stranger is that my brother and I are fraternal twins, and this rare disease was not known to have affected anyone else in our family.
The next two decades would be defined by my struggle to cope with a disease that was progressing, incurable, with no clear explanation by the finest doctors to its ultimate severity and speed of progression. What’s even worse, my brother and I were both on a path into the visual arts, and the word “visual” became one of uncertainty and anxiety. It’s not like we could forget about our situation. We lived it every time we open our eyes.
While abandoning the thought of not doing what we love, my brother and I moved forward with our original plans. While my brother was a bit more courageous than I was in his decision to attend the Art Institute of Atlanta and graduating with the honor of Best Portfolio, I stayed in college to get a bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in advertising. However, once I moved back to Atlanta and saw the amazing work he was doing, I quickly decided to attend the Art Institute – ironically being the next to graduate with the honor of Best Portfolio.
I spent many years hiding my eye disease in fear of pity and being viewed as incompetent as a commercial artist. I held many positions, including senior designer at Turner Broadcasting where I would be tested in my ability to conceal my disease on a daily basis. Over my professional years, I have strayed away from becoming a true artist and approached my career as a path to build a business where I would ultimately have less input as the creator...just in case my condition became too debilitating to do the work.
Doing what I love was impossible, right? If I work hard and get by, then eventually luck will be on my side, right? If so many other people are afraid of letting go, being themselves and doing what they love, who am I with this extra burden to be able to succeed? These thoughts consumed me as I dreamed big but stopped short of completing…even when I knew it was BS. I wanted change so bad, but was afraid of what it would bring.
That was until the next “light switch” moment that would redefine my life and put me on a path to accepting myself as an artist and overcoming my fears
I t was a balmy summer morning as I took my seat on U.S. Airways Flight 1970. The date was July 29, 2013, and I was heading to Chicago for the Climate Reality Leadership Training to learn more about what is going on with our environment.
As we ascended into the clouds, I reached for my iPad and drew a line on a blank, digital canvas. This was not just any line. This line would ultimately put me on a path that would test my endurance as an artist and help me overcome adversity.
With each line came a new piece of the story. What was a two-hour flight turned into an unstoppable work of art. In between fascinating conversations and study, I would finish the piece through my training in Chicago.
As I worked on the illustration, it began to take shape as an environmental piece. I worked from each line with the result telling a story of our reliance on oil and the struggles our world faces as we deal with what is becoming the most important issue of our time.
Now that this first piece was complete, I found myself craving to draw another
As I began to draw with the same technique, I noticed a harmonious flow that was shared by all the VINES. This was especially fascinating, because I do not look at the overall piece, but rather draw whatever I see by spinning the canvas, zooming in to areas and working from the growing lines. I call this process “grape vining".
I began to grow the individual VINES together, and that one line has now turned into an interactive art experience, allowing others to draw lines on a blank canvas and become part of the artwork, part of the story, and part of the movement to raise awareness of climate change and inspire the hope needed to deal with the issues.
The Project Was Born
This resulting project is the Grapevine Wall. It is the story of us, told through surreal scenes and symbolic elements, along with documented highlights from important current events that guide the narrative of the story.
I embrace this amazing journey and feel fortunate to build a platform that can touch the lives of so many people.