How One Artist Paints Using Only Her Eyes
Even paralysis won't keep artist Sarah Ezekiel away from the canvas.
As part of our Creative Technology series with iQ by Intel, PSFK is interviewing unique artists to gain insights about how they use technology to enhance creativity and push the boundaries of their art.
Sarah Ezekiel has motor neurone disease. She is paralyzed from the neck down, yet the mother of two is able to communicate, use the Internet and paint with a unique technology that tracks her eye movements. Called the Tobii PCEye, it uses a USB-powered eye-tracking bar that plugs into PC computers to allow users to interact with their eyes instead of a mouse. We spoke with Sarah about how she overcome her disability and embraced her creative side using this technology. She wrote to us using the Tobii technology.
Would you explain what this tool is and how you use it?
The Tobii PCEye comprises of my laptop, a monitor and an infrared bar. The bar tracks my eye movements and I’m able to operate my laptop just by looking at a screen. It’s much quicker than any other assistive technology that I’ve used and I love it. I can do everything that able people do on a laptop, including emailing, shopping, using social media sites and paying bills. This is vital for me because of my limited mobility.
How has the Eyegaze changed your life? Has it helped you lead a more fulfilling life that would have been possible without otherwise?
I was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2000 and soon lost the use of my hands. I spent five years without computer access and then started using EZ Keys with a chin switch. After six years as a prolific user I developed terrible neck pain and knew that eyegaze was my next and only solution. I had to wait over a year for funding and became despondent because I was unable to do much. Tobii eyegaze has given me a new lease of life and I don’t know how I would cope without it. I’m now the secretary of my local MND branch and on the board of a charity called Movement for Hope. I need more hours in the day to keep up with everything!
How has the use of this technology transformed your creative process?
I couldn’t paint using previous computers so my PCEye has made the impossible possible again. I use Revelation Natural Art software and I really enjoy being able to create again. It’s very different to using my hands, as I did prior to motor neurone disease, but my digital work is remarkably similar to my previous work. It takes more time to create an eyegaze painting and can be painstaking and tiring. Every stroke needs extreme concentration but it’s great to see the final product.
Where do you draw inspiration for your art? How does technology now fit into that creative exercise?
I find most of my inspiration when I’m out and about but my PCEye isn’t portable, so I use images that I find online for reference. I’m also inspired by artists such as Modigliani, Picasso, Hockney and Klimt. I use online programs to add effects to my work, which enhances their impact. I’ve connected with other artists online, which I find encouraging and inspiring. I’ve had several exhibitions and art has become a major factor in my life again.
The Eyegaze is still a relatively new technology and is not widely available due to the price. What obstacles exist when trying to make this technology more widely available to others with similar disabilities?
From my experience there seems to be a postcode lottery for eyegaze funding. My local health authority has never funded any computer equipment for me. Some people in other parts of the UK do get funding. I started to sell my work and donate all of the proceeds to fund Tobii eyegaze technology for people with my illness. In my opinion, being able to communicate and interact with other people online, makes life with a disability manageable and enjoyable.
Continue reading about Sarah’s work here on iQ by Intel.
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