Elgin veteran defies sight loss by getting creative with new art forms

Posted: 15/07/2019 | Scottish War Blinded

A creative Elgin veteran with a huge artistic talent is overcoming the challenges of his sight loss by embracing new art forms and materials to create wonderful artworks.

Douglas Burke, 81, has created scores of detailed paintings of locations across the country in his lifetime and even sold some of his pieces.

But since he developed eye condition macular degeneration back in 2007, working on his detailed paintings had become a real struggle.

Douglas stands in front of four of his collages

Determined to find new ways to engage with his hobby, Douglas has now turned to an array of diverse materials to create collages, using everything from old CDs to newspaper cuttings, making his creative process and works much more vision impairment friendly.

And Douglas, who is supported by charity Scottish War Blinded, hopes the way he is experimenting shows that sight loss is no boundary to creativity.


Vision impairment-friendly art

“As my sight got worse I started working on the collages,” Douglas explained. “I just thought, ‘I can’t see that so what else can I do?’

“I had been using a hand-held magnifier to do anything detailed, but I found it difficult looking through that and trying to control a brush at the same time, so I started looking at other ways round to do it.

A piece of Douglas' artwork that uses CDs to represent flowers

“You can use anything to create a picture. I’ve used CDs to create flowers. I’m into the theme of space at the moment. It’s just ideas that come to me. I see in my head what I want to create.”

Douglas says he has been interested in art since he was a child, and wanted to be an artist when he was young, but was told by his father he needed to get a “proper job” instead.

After an apprenticeship with a painting company, he served with the Royal Horse Guards for six years before working as a postman and an experimental worker for the Ministry of Defence.

But after he suffered a stroke aged 50, and had to relearn to walk and talk, it was art that became his solace – and it’s been a big part of his life ever since.

“The stroke had affected the sight in my left eye intermittently,” explained Douglas.

“It took me two years to be able to write my name again. It was mind over matter. What I can’t do, I’ve got to find a way around it.

“At the rehabilitation centre after my stroke I took part in a ceramics class. Art came naturally. I just used to do odds and ends at home. I find it therapeutic and relaxing. I belong to an art club now.”


Cultural trips with Scottish War Blinded

Scottish War Blinded has also helped Doug to attend cultural trips, such as visits to the theatre, along with other Scottish War Blinded veterans, who all have a vision impairment.

Douglas’ service history and sight loss made him eligible for support from the charity and one-to-one support from Outreach Worker for Moray and the Highlands, Mick Hilton.

The veteran, who lives alone, also attends Scottish War Blinded’s monthly lunch group in Elgin, where he meets fellow veterans with sight loss.

And together with the support of the charity and his determination to continue in his art hobby, Douglas is facing the challenges of sight loss head on while his wonderful collages represent a new era in his artistic journey.

Douglas said: “Scottish War Blinded gives me a point of reference so I know if I want to I can ring Mick up.

“When I was told I have macular degeneration and that the cells in my eyes are dying, so eventually I’ll just know black and white. I thought, ‘I don’t want to know that. I can see a certain amount now – if it happens, it happens. I don’t think about it.

“If you make your sight loss a problem then you’re starting to destroy your own self, I think. Don’t worry about it. It’s about making people look at life from a different angle.”

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to ex-servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.

For more information about the support offered to veterans with sight loss in the area and to refer a veteran to the charity, call 0800 035 6409 or get in touch online at www.scottishwarblinded.org.