Issue 2
Monday, 26 March 2018
Charles Darwin University
Lynne Wastell with her first drawing as a Visual Arts student
Lynne Wastell with her first drawing as a Visual Arts student

Can’t see but can do: Blind woman joins art class

By Patrick Nelson

It has taken Lynne Wastell a long time to summon the courage to enrol in an arts class and pursue a life-long love, but that’s exactly what the legally blind Alice Springs woman has done.

Mrs Wastell, who was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease in the 1980s, took about 15 minutes to complete her first drawing as a Visual Arts student at Charles Darwin University recently.

It was a charcoal sketch of a red kettle that veteran lecturer Henry Smith keeps among a collection of artefacts in the art studio at Alice Springs campus. 

“They put it in front of me so I could touch it and feel its shape and measure it with my fingers,” Mrs Wastell said.

“That was my first effort. Then I had a go with a group of three objects; the kettle, a vase and a glass jar.”

Mrs Wastell has also enrolled in sculpting classes on a Tuesday evening, having recently found a surge of courage to embrace an artistic passion that dates back to her childhood.

“I’ve loved painting and drawing since I was little and I still like the same things 50 years later,” she said.

“The main thing for me in my early years was a fear of failing and a belief that I was no good at anything. 

“When you draw from within yourself you show a bit of your vulnerable side and it would take just one person to say a bad thing and I’d be hurt.

“But now that I’m older, who cares? I don’t get frightened anymore. If you love drawing, painting, sculpting and making mosaics as much as I do, you’ve just got to do it whether you can see or not.”

Despite having had “poor vision” all her life, and having worn glasses “that didn’t work” when she was a school child, Mrs Wastell had enough vision in her mid-20s to pass a driver’s licence test, having migrated from hometown Adelaide to London.

“I snuck through having memorised the Highway Code,” she said.

“The day I got my licence, I picked up a friend and we drove straight into central London and around Piccadilly Circus. And later I drove along the motorways, and in France and in the snow. But that was a long time ago.”

Mrs Wastell “worked in advertising” for some years but has much fonder memories of the two years she worked delivering cheese, yoghurt and pints of bottled milk from the back of a three-wheel cart.

“I loved my milk round,” she said. “Not so much getting up at 4am in the winter, but otherwise it was good fun and I had good customers.”

Mrs Wastell was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease before her return to Australia and Alice Springs, where she has lived “on and off” for the past 20 years.

“I’m lucky because I’ve got a bit of sight,” she said. “I can see block colours but nothing defined. If I look at a person I can’t see their face.

“In class I use charcoal or oil; anything that is dark or thick. I wouldn’t be able to use pencils or water colours.

“Henry says nice things about my work and gives encouragement and that’s the nicest thing anyone can do.

“I’m just thankful that I’m here and that I’m healthy.”