NEWS
03/31/2016 07:00 EDT | Updated 04/01/2017 01:12 EDT

'She's my hands': People with disabilities create art through the hands of another artist

A paint brush, palette, paints — they're all standard tools of the trade in art. But when an artist can't use those tools, a group in Toronto brings in one essential tool to help: another artist.

Artists Without Barriers is providing artists with communication or mobility-related ​disabilities​ the opportunity to create art with the help of another artist. ​The person who cannot create art due to disability will use a another person to actually perform the art.

It helps people realize their artistic ambitions even when they don't have the ability to make the art themselves. The able bodied artists are called scribes.

"I'll direct — to the best of my ability — the scribe where I want everything to go and what colours I want to use," said Amanda Maltais, an artist in the program. "He does his best to follow my direction."

The painting Maltais produces with her scribe, John Holland, is almost exactly how she envisions it, she said.

Artist Without Barriers ​is a program that operates out of the 519 Church Street Community Centre downtown and the West Toronto Diabetes Education Centre in Etobicoke.

Maltais and Holland meet twice a week. The artist with a disability is paired with a volunteer who is the scribe. The scribes are mostly art students, there to serve their partner's artistic vision.

Scribes cannot add nor subtract anything from the art. Their job is solely to create the art that's being described to them by the artist.  

"I've always been interested in painting, but since I've lost the use of my hands, and they've got a little bit shaky, I've got a lot of ideas in my head that I want to put on paper," said artist Christine Rowntree.

Her scribe, Montina Hussey, said art can be solitary and driven by ego a lot of times, and working with Rowntree is an antidote to that. Hussey and the scribes know it's a two-person effort, but a singular artistic vision.

"She's my hands, and I'm definitely the artist," Rowntree said of Hussey. "She's been able to help me mix up the paint, give me the paintbrushes, be able to hold the canvas so I can reach it well, and things like that."

Hussey is happy with the arrangement. Her goal is only to help put paint to paper.

"It's their vision coming to life, I'm merely facilitating them," said Hussey. "If they need to borrow my body to bring their vision to life, by all means. It's their work still."