When people ask, I tell them I accept any challenge. As an artistic philosophy I’d recommend it to anybody. I’ve frequently experienced unexpected but welcome benefits from testing my scissor skills this way.
You’ve probably already seen what happened when a New Jersey policeman asked if I could cut a silhouette while wearing a pair of handcuffs!
“Can you cut a silhouette while wearing a blindfold?!”
This one comes up from time to time. Luckily for me, those who ask don’t generally have a spare blindfold to hand! Instead, I suggest a compromise: cutting with my hands hidden from view, either under a table or held high over my head. For me, this compromise neatly sidesteps the main issue; I can’t see my hands, but at least I can see the subject! With a little practice I’ve found I can cut quite a respectable silhouette this way.
“Cutting blind” – as I call it – seems like an entertaining artistic trick which never fails to amuse.
How does it work? Easy! After cutting tens of thousands of silhouettes my hands, hidden from view under a table, simply know what to do. They feel their way around the silhouette, turning the paper this way and that, while I focus on studying the face in front of me.
In recent years, however, I’ve been relying on this technique rather more than I might care to admit.
My family tease me that I need reading glasses
I noticed some years ago that small print was becoming oddly difficult to read.
I assumed it was my age. My family told me to get spectacles but I resisted, joking that I probably needed longer arms! In secret, I did try an old pair of reading glasses I inherited from my father. They helped a little – by making everything bigger – but didn’t really make things clearer.
When I stopped to analyse what i was seeing I realised that the print was not so much blurred as “doubled up”. Every letter had a not-so-faint ghost copy floating above and slightly to the left. Reading glasses, by enlarging the text, brought the copies closer together, but didn’t make the “ghost” go away.
The main problem with reading glasses, however, is that they’re fine for reading but no good for cutting silhouettes. The subject blurs out and the constant movement of my eyes from paper to person and back makes me nauseous. I put them away and decided to carry on as I was.
During 2019, rather to my surprise, several people commented that my silhouettes were getting smaller and neater than ever.
Why was this happening? I wondered.
Like many, the long months of lockdown gave me time to do more reading. I noticed that text had acquired a second ghost, making three copies in all. Worse, I began seeing the same effect in the distance: road signs, shop facias and car number plates all had the same trebled-up appearance. It was alarming and deeply worrying. I realised I needed help, but with the NHS under so much pressure it was not the time to seek it.
Cutting silhouettes over Zoom made things easier. Working under studio lighting is a real luxury compared to some events I work at! I found I was looking less at my hands and more at the screen, although I assumed this was more to do with the inadequacies of the Zoom connection. I kept my eyes on the subject and allowed my hands to just cut.
All that practice I had put into “cutting blind” really began to pay dividends.
… and the shock of cutting live
The ending of lockdown and the welcome return of live events really brought the difference home to me. I experienced a shock when I held a silhouette up to my eyes for a closer look – cut at one of the many weddings I’ve attended recently – and saw this!
There was a further shock when driving home as I realised I couldn’t read the numberplate of the car in front.
Enough was enough. Time to get help.
The London Vision Clinic
We all have favourite clients. One of mine is the London Vision Clinic, who have booked me many times for their client summer party (in the days when summer parties were a thing). You can tell a lot about a company from the parties they throw, and their’s are always a delight.
I called to make an appointment.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the barrage of high-tech tests they subjected me to. Coloured lights, spinning wheels, puffs of air, all peering into odd dark tubes, and that was before they even started looking at lenses and a possible prescription. It tickle the geek side of me and I really enjoyed the experience.
At the end of it all they confirmed that I don’t need spectacles. Instead, the odd visual distortions I’ve been experiencing are due to cataracts.
“Cataracts!” I exclaimed,
“I thought that was something which happened to old men!”
Instead of the obvious retort, they were kind enough to explain that I was unlucky in having an unusual and rare form of cataracts which do affect younger people. Somehow, it made me feel a lot better.
A rare form of cataracts
I’m not sure how much you know about cataracts. Perhaps, like me, nothing at all! Cataracts are a condition which usually cause clouding of the eye’s natural lens. This results in a reduction in light entering the eye and eventually (if left untreated) can lead to blindness.
My cataracts are different; instead of clouding the lens they cause scarring to the surface of the lens. This results in a scattering of light, leading to the multiple overlapping images I’ve been seeing. It also makes me see “starburst” patterns around bright points of light (street lights and car headlights). I’ve been seeing these for so long I didn’t even realise they were unusual.
These starburst patterns are really rather beautiful, and will be one aspect of the condition I’ll miss when they’re gone. My son suggested taking a photo of them to preserve the memory…
But go they must. I can’t continue to be a silhouettist with cataracts for much longer. At present I can still cut silhouettes as well as I ever could, in no small part thanks to the inconsequential trick of “cutting blind” I taught myself years ago. But obviously this won’t continue forever. As the condition worsens it would eventually become harder and harder to see the person I’m cutting as well as my hands. That would never do.
The Lonodn Vision Clinic suggested they work on one eye at a time, beginning with the right as the cataracts there are slightly worse than the left. Treatment is booked to take place next week.
Time Off Work
Despite the alarming nature of the surgery, I’m told cataract operations are routine and have good outcomes. The treatment involves removing the natural, damaged lens from the centre of my eye and replacing it with a prosthetic one. This prosthetic lens is likely to last longer than I do!
I say “alarming” because all this is carried out under a local anaesthetic. I’ll be awake and able to see exactly what’s coming! I feel I’m going to need all my powers of meditation to cope with that.
Afterwards, I’m told I’ll be up and about and can expect to see better after just a day or two. I shouldn’t drive for a week. My plan is to take a week off events work although I will be doing some online silhouette cutting before that. I’ll begin cutting online on Sunday 14th November, as one of my virtual studio days. I’ve secluded a reduced number of sittings to easy myself in gently.
If you’d like to own one of my first post-op silhouettes please do book a sitting!
I’m hoping by then that the silhouettes will look more like this.
I have a lot of questions. I’ve no idea whether my post-op silhouettes will be any different or not. Will they be bigger or smaller? More accurate or less? Will I need to learn some things all over again? Will I still need the blind-cutting skills I developed?
Who knows. One thing I do know, I’m looking forward to finding out. It’s a another new challenge!