I was born cross-eyed, and even after several surgeries as a kid to get my eyes mostly aligned, I still never learned to use both eyes together in proper stereo vision. Instead I’ve always used one eye at a time, alternating between them as easily as you might shift your weight from one foot to the other. Monocular vision works great for drawing and painting, not so well for parallel parking or tennis, but I would have merrily continued on like that for the rest of my life except I gradually started getting eye strain headaches whenever I tried to draw. It took me a year of misery and procrastination to catch on that my inability to focus on my work was an actual physical problem and not entirely some moral failure as an artist. Fortunately for me, this happened while I was in Washington, where the state’s Apple Health (Medicaid) covered the eye doctor visits to get the cause of my headaches diagnosed, and vision therapy to gradually correct and re-train my misaligned eyes. (Anyone curious about the process can read “Stereo Sue” by Oliver Sacks, or Fixing My Gaze by Susan Barry.) Over the past year I've learned for the first time to look out of both eyes simultaneously, how to control my eye muscles better to physically align both eyes where I'm focusing, and am just starting to get the hang of actually forming a binocular image, though it's still tricky and I end up with a lot of patchy double vision, seeing people with three eyes, that sort of visual nonsense. I'm not yet convinced the third dimension lives up to the hype, if that's even what I'm starting to see now, but at least my headaches aren't as bad as before.
With my vision doing strange new things, it was frustrating bordering on impossible to get much art done, so for most of the winter, I didn’t do art (and tried my best not to think of the terrifying possibility that changing my vision might not work, or might even make things worse). Then the Alaska State Fair contacted me for another poster (and logos, and illustrations). I warned them I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but I liked the theme of “Dig In!” chosen for 2015, my vision was very slowly improving, and I had done the Fair’s artwork twice before so I knew what I was getting into. Hesitantly, I accepted the challenge. This spring, while painting the poster, I had stopped ignoring one eye at a time but hadn't yet got the hang of using them together, so I felt like I was seeing everything twice in almost but not quite the same place, and it was very confusing. The poster is designed so that I could work in small patches of detail and not have to be constantly aware of the whole image. It's not usually the best way to paint, but at that point it was the only way I could paint without seeing too much. (In frustration one night I tried painting the poster half-blindfolded to replicate my old vision. It was less confusing, but I got a headache even quicker that way.) It took a lot of breaks and a lot of ibuprofen, but I think it turned out pretty well, all considering.
Now I can paint or draw for a few hours at a time without headaches, and I’m gradually getting back to my own artwork. It’s slow going, after so long of subliminally associating doing art with feeling terrible. Last year, not knowing what was wrong other than I'd stopped enjoying the process of making art, I was starting to wonder if maybe I was just not meant to be an artist and should give up and do something else. Even if I had figured out on my own what was wrong with my vision, as an artist with bad eyes I never would have been able to pay to fix it. I’m grateful that Washington has good free healthcare for low-income artists. I’m looking forward to being a more productive member of society again, and to earning enough to pay the taxes to provide care for others who need it. I have some paintings about Washington history I want to make in part to acknowledge that debt I owe to society.