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!
I’m so glad that you went to the clinic as the first step to sorting your eyes out. First steps can be the hardest. It must have been a relief to discover that the treatment is tried and tested and will actually give you a new pair of eyes. Very best wishes for the op and looking forward to hearing what effect your new sight has on your silhouette cutting. It might bring new insights!
Thank you Louise
Yes, I certainly plan an update in the new year sometime. I approach almost everything from the point of view of the silhouettes!
What an interesting blog, I could not stop reading all of it.
When I got to the part about your eyes and not wanting to use spectacles, and carrying on even though you were seeing double and triple. I went through that too some years ago, some 6 yars ago. I had cataracts in both eyes. I had been using over the counter glasses for reading. The operation is really simple, meaning you go and have it done, you go home, you wear a plastic cover for the first night and then you are fine. I had no pain after the op. Even though it as local, I went to sleep during the event. Mine was done the old fashion way, they make a small incision on the edge of the iris, they remove the lens and cataract and then put in a lens. The new way is by laser, but that is very expensive. I am sure you will be fine and I shall be thinking of you next week.
Thank you so much for the reassurance! A number of people wrote similar stories, so I realise it’s probably true!
Just a comment about your impending cataract operation … you may remember me, from the Tuesday sketch class, I once showed you my silhouette from 1949 by B. Rex! Well, a couple of months ago I had my first cataract operation. Oddly enough NHS, but at a private hospital that had been contracted out to them. What can I say, but Wow!!! An hour
before-hand of drops, into the ops room, laid down and told to just look at the (very!) bright light, which I did and then, ten minutes later, told “OK off you go.”. No sensation of anything touching the eye at all. A day later blurred vision in that eye, the second day, less blurred and, bingo, the third day a revelation! Some eighty per cent brighter vision, clear focus, and bright colours ! Even at night, when driving, no dazzle, not to mention being able to read number plates clearly again! I liken it to when you went to the Xmas pantomime (if you did!) and then, when the tabs parted, there was a dark filter over the stage for a moment before it lifted and, hey presto, there was this wonderful dazzlingly lit scene behind it! It was just like that, so I look forward to hearing of your forthcoming successful op!
Yes of course I remember (although I confess I’d forgotten about the Rex silhouette… ). My guests and I really enjoyed your TV night a couple of weeks ago. My may remember Kris who kept asking you questions. She thought you were amazing! As did her partner, Andi who I think has been in touch about your film project idea.
Thank you for your reassurance. Many others have said similar things, so I guess it must be true!
I am off to visit the optician this very morning and have already been told that I need cataract surgery… Not as young as you though -:)…
Wishing you the very best for your surgery! If you are able, give us an update when you can, if you feel like it!
I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll update you and let you know how it goes!
I’m planning an update in the new year – assuming all goes well!
A splendid newsletter article.
You are a great exponent of the art of the
One thing I like about your work is that it is in
black and white which gives it a splendid
sharpness of line.
I am a chromophobe. I don’t like colour. I expect
you know the work of Bridget Riley. Her early
work was in black and white and very good.
Several years later when she added colour I
found her work less interesting.
Best wishes for the cataract treatment.
Thanks for your comment. Yes, I know the work of Bridget Riley very well, it can be quite disorientating.
Thank you for being so open about your visual difficulties. A scary journey. My husband has had both eyes done and his vision is fine now – though he does need reading glasses, though that is Perdue to age rather than any shortcoming in the new lenses.
I would say, follow the aftercare instructions to the letter – rest, hygiene etc – and don’t push yourself too soon. Alan took a peek the morning after and was horrified that he was seeing double. However, after a phone call to the clinic he was assured that it will quickly go away. So it proved!
The very best of luck! You are obviously in the right hands!!
Thank you so much for the reassurance! A number of people wrote similar stories, so I realise it’s probably true.