Tactile art is to be touched and handled. Artists can use various materials to create tactile art, including tile, textiles, wood, metal, found or recycled items, paper, plaster, everyday household items, or any other item or material that brings inspiration.
Though it is not exclusively for the enjoyment of those with reduced sight, tactile art does provide an opportunity for blind and visually impaired people to encounter art with other senses besides vision. Technically, you can touch any work of art, but tactile art for the visually impaired is explicitly created as a physical experience.
With tactile art, textures, shapes, and even sounds play a more critical role than color. Images and art pieces can be simple, like a pottery bowl, or incredibly complex and sophisticated, like a fiber sculpture from the acclaimed tactile artist Sandra Chung Nga-shan.
Touch Tours for a Tactile Art Experience
Finding a tactile art exhibition near you may be a challenge. The good news is, more museums across the country are making an effort to include art that is accessible for all people.
A tactile museum tour might include handling replicas and models or copies of historical art pieces. It may also include freely touching contemporary art that artists have made explicitly for that purpose.
Ask your local museums and galleries if they provide a guided or independent touch tour. If they don’t, ask them why. If more gallery owners and museum directors understood the need or demand for tactile exhibits, more such studios and exhibits would be available.
During a guided touch tour, a trained professional docent will direct museum visitors to specific tactile works that are safe to handle. Handling sessions are typically available for anyone interested—not just the visually impaired—to supplement their understanding of a sculpture or other tactile piece of art.
Self-guided tours allow visually impaired visitors to explore the gallery independently and thus more thoroughly. Braille and large-print labels help lead visitors to sculptures and other tactile pieces to explore through touch.
Don’t overlook small, local galleries when searching for a touch-friendly exhibit. Smaller studios and exhibitions are sometimes more open to supporting experimental and accessible shows than established museums.
Tactile Art at Home
You don’t have to be a child to enjoy doing art projects at home. But being in touch with your inner child might help! If you are vision-impaired with a desire to make art but don’t know how tactile projects can open the door of creativity for you.
Tactile and sensory projects are also an excellent way for parents and children to have fun together. If you are a vision-impaired parent or have a vision-impaired child, you know that making art together can be more frustrating than fun. Focusing on projects that depend on other senses besides sight will put the pleasure back into this simple joy.
Tips Before You Start
Making art is messy under the best circumstances. When participants are visually impaired, messes are guaranteed. Don’t worry, that’s part of the fun. Whether you’re making art by yourself or with a crowd, the following tips will help everyone relax and worry less about accidents:
- Lay a painter’s drop cloth on the floor in your art area to protect carpets and flooring
- Use only non-toxic materials
- Wear a smock or apron to protect clothing
- Select art supplies that engage all the senses
- If creating with others, identify the available materials by feel—beads are hard, glue is sticky, cotton balls are soft, etc.
- Keep materials to a minimum; too many creative options can lead to confusion and frustration
Lastly, whether you’re creating with kids or are an inexperienced artist trying something on your own, have some type of plan. “Let’s make something” is actually a more challenging goal to achieve than “Let’s make a fish out of pom-poms and glue.”
The sculpture is a naturally tactile art form that almost every human enjoys doing. Who doesn’t love to roll the perfect snake of cookie dough under the palm of their hand?
Working with clay is easy for children and satisfying for adults. Choose inexpensive playdough or high-quality polymer clay, depending on your project and skill level. Include a model for reference and inspiration. For example, have various small toy animals to feel to get a better sense of shapes and proportions.
Self-Portrait Texture Painting
Collect objects from around your home to “paint” a tactile self-portrait. Use buttons, yarn, scraps of material, dried pasta or beans, beads, and whatever else feels interesting to create the image. And try to think of ways to develop your face’s bone structure curves and planes for the most significant tactile impact.
Beginning artists can glue items onto paper to make their portraits. Artists who want a greater challenge can make their self-portrait fully 3D.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve created any cool tactile art projects!