In bed with my paint brush
In the first post in a new series on disabled people and hobbies, D H Kelly, who has ME - a disabling condition which affects energy levels and causes chronic pain - writes about a simple adaption that has revolutionised the way she paints.
Arts and crafts are common symptoms of chronic illness. Force us to lie around doing nothing and soon enough, we'll start fiddling about with something.
Stringing beads, making cards, sewing - I've done them all. It's only my shocking inability to count that's kept me away from the knitting Renaissance of recent years.
About three years ago, painting became my hobby of choice.
I took a great picture of my mother. There were a few things about it that weren't perfect, but rather than edit the photograph like someone with things to do and places to be, I decided to try painting a portrait. I was very pleased with the result and my mother framed and put the painting up.
Within a year, there were four generations of our family on the wall. But back then, a picture often took months to complete.
At that time, I needed to find a window where I was comfortable enough to sit in a chair for a while, then do as much as I could before the pain got too much and I had to lie down. Sometimes I could only work for a few minutes, and sometimes I needed to spend the rest of the day horizontal, so it took a long while before any given painting began to resemble its subject.
It didn't occur to me that I could actually paint in bed. That would be against the rules. My image of a proper painter is someone stood up or perched on a stool in front of their easel.
Of course, I know artists like Frida Kahlo have done it successfully, but she was completely bed-bound and so had no other choice. I felt that if I could manage the normal way, even it was a painful struggle, I should.
But then, my boyfriend, who isn't afraid of getting paint on the bedclothes, had an idea. He asked his father to make me a device to enable me to work on my pictures in bed; a large MDF tray with legs that fold down to make a table and a rim around the tray to stop my brushes rolling off.
This has revolutionised the way I work.
I can sit or lie comfortably in bed all afternoon, rearranging my pillows when needed. And I can continue to look at my work while I'm resting, paintbrushes in reach, should I notice something that needs touching up. I am more relaxed when I paint and without needing any extra energy, I'm able to finish a picture much more quickly.
This hobby is something that takes me out of my immediate, rarely changing environment. Painting portraits connects me to others, when I have little face-to-face contact with people other than my family, and painting landscapes connects me to places outside these four walls. And most importantly, painting is something I can do when I don't have the physical or mental capacity to do much else.
Being able to paint in bed renders my health even less of an obstacle.
D H Kelly blogs regularly at Diary of a Goldfish