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Drawn Into The Open

Photo: A mixed media piece called "Unity" by Canadian artist Margaux Allard, and her husband. In the centre is a pencil or charcoal sketch of a person's profile (head only) contrasted against nature (water, trees). Around this sketch are also pencil drawings of feathers and rope. The piece is framed, and real feathers and beads hang from it.

Margaux Allard has always had a passion for drawing. Her art has become both an expression and a source of her strength, yet it was the influence of others that drew her private hobby into the public sphere and convinced the artist to be more open about her vision impairment.

Born in 1965 to a German father and Lakota (Sioux) mother, Allard grew up in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. She was diagnosed with an underdeveloped optic nerve shortly after birth, and is legally blind with approximately 10% vision.

In high school, classmates teased Allard and sometimes interfered with her use of a monocular and magnifying glass. As a result, she got into fights, skipped school and found herself one year in a segregated class for students who were "troubled". She did not graduate, but later passed her high school equivalency test.

It was her use of visual aids in school that helped Margaux Allard discover her love of art:

"With the use of basic visual aids, I was able to attend regular public school. As time went by, I discovered that these same visual aids enabled me to create more detailed drawings. This opened a whole new doorway for me and dramatically improved the quality of my work."

With no training other than art classes in public school, Margaux Allard's drawing remained a private hobby until, in 1990, her parents gathered up some long since forgotten artwork and asked her to put prices on them.

Says Allard, "This was very difficult. How do you put a price on something that you love?"

To her surprise, people enjoyed her artwork when her parents displayed it at a local craft fair. She even sold a couple of pieces.

When her uncle introduced her to members of the artistic community, her artwork gained more recognition. It was featured in local newspaper articles and other publications, as well as in business displays.

And Allard's multicultural background has proven significant in terms of her art:

"I consider myself fortunate to have grown up with two very diverse cultures. Many people have told me that these cultures are evident in my drawings.

"My grandma (Sioux) lived with us for many years, giving me a lot of exposure to my native heritage. Before she passed away, my grandma gave me her native name, White Swallow Woman. It is a great honour for me to associate her name with my work."

Allard never uses sketches when she draws; rather, she transfers a concept or theme from her mind directly onto paper. These themes include nature, animals and Native American symbolism, and her drawings are usually black and white with occasional splashes of colour. She uses a 0.3 mm mechanical pencil to create her art, and either a colour pencil or paint to make certain elements stand out. Her drawings are so detailed that it can take anywhere from 20 hours to eight months to complete a piece, depending on its size.

Due to Allard's vision impairment and depending on the degree of detail she wants in her art, she uses either single or double magnifying glasses that are one inch in diameter. This limits her field of vision and renders the result uncertain:

"I never really know exactly how each piece will turn out when it is finished, so the outcome is a bit of a surprise to me. For the most part, I am usually happy with the end result, but I have thrown away many drawings that I wasn't happy with."

But art is a source of strength and stability for Margaux Allard:

"When I draw, I feel very empowered. It is something that I have complete control of and it makes me feel so good when others enjoy my work. My work is an extension of who I am. So, when people like my work, that means that they like a very important part of me!"

Initially, Allard was not exactly forthcoming about her blindness. She says, "I used to be ashamed to tell people about my eyesight. I didn't want to associate it with my art. I wanted people to like my art for what it is and not because the "blind girl" did it."

An art gallery owner convinced her, however, of the public education value of making her blindness known, and now she includes a page that provides information on her vision impairment on her website.

Margaux Allard is a successful artist. She has sold her work in England, Germany, Japan, the United States and Canada.

Besides drawing, Allard creates beadwork with First Nations, Egyptian and New Age themes. She has also created a technique known as "Mosaic Art", where she dabs acrylic paint onto a canvas with an embossing tool to create the image. As the dabs are so close together, the painting is textured and can be explored by touch.

Margaux Allard is currently working on a series of drawings entitled "Fantasy Is My Reality", which will feature fairies, wizards, unicorns etc.

She is also experimenting with a new computer graphics program and plans to produce greeting cards, as well as publish a book of her artwork with accompanying stories, in the near future.

"I consider my artwork a gift from God. I will always be thankful that I can share it with others ... The beauty of interaction is that we can all learn things about ourselves and others. It is important to remember that we all have a gift to share..."

For more information on Margaux Allard and her art, visit:

Photo: Posed picture of Margaux Allard, with long hair, smiling at the camera.