I have been making art my whole life. I would always make drawings, paintings and sculpture since I was a small child. It was something that I enjoyed doing, and it came easily for me.
As a child, I took classes at the Philadelphia School Art League and Cheltenham Art Center. When it was time to go to college, I won the Philadelphia Board of Education Scholarship in Art and the Philadelphia City Scholarship. These scholarships enabled me to go to college for free.
I graduated with honors (Magna Cum Laude) from Tyler School of Art of Temple University, where I majored in sculpture, and also dabbled in painting, photography and other areas. I have continued to make art over the last several decades.
Why I create
I create because I have to. It is like eating and breathing for me. It’s just something I must do to survive. It is a great outlet for me to communicate my ideas, experiences and my unique view of the world around me. I often use my art to educate others and try to make the world a better place.
My paintings explore issues of family, memory and experiences as a disabled woman.
My autobiographical cartoons focus on attitudinal barriers and stereotypes regarding disabilities, and some of the micro-aggressions that disabled people experience while living normal, un-inspirational lives.
I am also a photographer of micro-scale monuments in nature, and am often inspired by close-up images that people often do not notice in daily life – tree bark, dead leaves, flower anatomy, and water.
Animals and Color
I am an intense animal lover. Right now, I have 4 cats (or shall I say I have a herd of cats!) I also have 3 box turtles, a 75-gallon fish tank, and a beautiful service dog, named Lucy.
I often use animals in my cartoons, especially my service dog, as a kind of “alter ego” or “comic insult dog” to communicate things that are sometimes difficult to say in public.
The color in my cartoons is very bright, happy and sweet, although the subject matter is not. I use humor and color to make it easier to communicate my thoughts – I use a light touch to educate people about my experiences living with a disability and some of the attitudinal barriers that I face on a daily basis.
Reactions to my work
Most non-disabled people who view my cartoons really like them, and they are often surprised at some of the things that I have experienced. Sometimes they feel sad that people say these things to me.
Most disabled people who view my cartoons love the “disability positive” message that I am delivering, especially in the cartoon about terminology used by society to describe disabled folks. They have experienced similar things when they are just out there, going about their business and trying to live normal, “un-inspirational” lives.
What inspires me
I get inspiration for new cartoons by just getting out in public and doing normal things like going to work, getting out of my van, eating at restaurants, going to the doctor’s office and traveling to new places.
Sometimes, I am unable to think of a good response at the time to the insensitive remarks or conduct of others. So, I started writing down the remarks on a “note pad” app on my cell phone. Eventually, after a few days or weeks, I get an idea for a cartoon. I start to make rough sketches of the ideas at first, and then refine them into detailed pen and ink drawings and then apply color with Prisma Colored Pencils.
My most favorite artist in Frida Kahlo, a great Mexican painter. She painted very small, intensely personal paintings about her life as a woman with a disability. She painted about real-life experiences – dealing with pain and surgeries after her spine was impaled in a bus accident, her marriage to the muralist, Diego Rivera, miscarriages, and other issues. Her paintings inspired me to tell my own story through my art.
What inclusion means to me
To me, inclusion means being able to participate equally, with respect and dignity, in all aspects of life – education, the work place, housing, transportation, health care, religious institutions and recreational activities. Inclusion is nothing special – it is just a seat at the table, to have a voice and access to what everyone else has!
Regarding what part you can take:
- Open your doors to disabled people – whether they are physical, attitudinal or communication.
- Try to view things from the perspective of people who are different from you. We need to get out of our bubbles and talk to people who are different from us. This is especially important in these polarized times in our nation!
- Respect, recognize, celebrate and value disabled people for who they are and what they bring to the table. Disability is a part of our identity – it is not something to overcome, cure, pity, and it is not a vehicle for inspiration.
Disabled people want to have access and full inclusion in all aspects of society.
Wendy Elliott-Vandivier has a BFA from Temple University, Tyler School of Art. Her paintings explore issues of family, memory and experiences as a disabled woman. Her autobiographical cartoons focus on attitudinal barriers and stereotypes regarding disabilities, and some of the micro-aggressions that disabled people experience while living normal, un-inspirational lives. She is also a photographer of micro-scale monuments in nature, and is often inspired by close-up images that people often do not notice in daily life – tree bark, dead leaves, flower anatomy, and water.
She is a former Board Member of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the former Chair of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, where she advised the Mayor and Assistant Deputy Mayor with respect to existing and proposed policies, programs, and services for people with disabilities, and informed the public at large about the needs of the disability community. Reach her here.