Portraits of Disability



A single glance into Rebecca Tombaugh's spare bedroom may make you swear to clean out your closets. However, upon further inspection, you might realize the piles of paper crowding the corners are actually vivid pieces of artwork. You might also see the sunshine illuminating the dazzling array of colorful ink lined on makeshift shelves.
Then, there's Rebecca. The slipper-clad wife, smiling mother and retail-by-day artist is a contemporary talent not to miss in Kansas City. Her work aims to capture the beauty of life with a disability and features some of society’s often-overlooked art subjects.


"I don't have a connection to anyone with a disability like a family member or anything," says Tombaugh. "A person is just a person, disability or not, and I think it's important to show that art depicting a disability can be beautiful and inspiring to anyone, especially the person with a disability and his or her family."
Initially, Tombaugh embarked on the quest to feature people with disabilities in her paintings because it is a somewhat rare focus in the art world. However, after working with disabled people one-on-one for her projects, she says that her passion for presenting the subject via art has increased tremendously.
She recently conducted an interview with a disabled individual via Skype prior to creating their portrait, or "inking" as she prefers to call her designs. This face-to-face session over the Internet between artist and subject gave Tombaugh a better perspective on how to best feature their disability and person.
“Seeing people and how they move and how they hold their bodies in person is so much better than working from a photo,” says Tombaugh who will ink and re-ink a portrait with an assortment of ink, pens and brushes until she gets it right, thus the numerous piles of artwork in the nooks and crannies. She seems to have a vision of the best outcome for a piece and aims to meet her expectations while still maintaining the artistic fluidity that comes with working with a messy and unpredictable spot of ink.
“I sort of outline as I go at the beginning,” says Tombaugh, while quickly working on a portrait in her home studio. “Then, the colors kind of just come to me for each person and shape.”


For more information or to contact Rebecca Tombaugh, email rebeccatombaugh@gmail.com; call (816) 809-7844 or like Inkings by Rebecca Tombaugh on Facebook. Tombaugh is currently seeking volunteers with physical disabilities to be models (either live or via photo).
Kathie Snow is a public speaker, author and creator of the online newsletter, Disability is Natural.
Tombaugh, who was looking for models, contacted her, and she featured a blurb about her in her monthly newsletter for parents, caregivers and healthcare professionals, most of whom have some connection to disabilities. Snow is also the mother of a grown son with cerebral palsy, so navigating the world with a disability is a common topic that she likes to share with others. She recently sent Tombaugh photos of her son with the hope of setting up a face-to-face phone session for the pair very soon. 
“There are some parents who wouldn't want their child to be photographed or drawn due to shame," says Snow, who isn't one of those parents. “As a parent of a child with a disability, you're constantly told about what kids can't do and so you're swimming upstream all the time. Work like Rebecca's is important to reflect people with disabilities as people, for people to say, 'Gee, there's a real person, and he's a pretty cute kid or a good-looking man or woman.'"
Snow believes that Rebecca’s work is important for the general population, because she says that interaction, acceptance and understanding of disabilities is often very limited.
“Rebecca’s work has the potential to change society by putting people with disabilities out there and by showing people as people, beyond disability," says Snow. "When we get away from the notion that everyone is the same, we can realize that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Let's celebrate people’s differences.”
Tombaugh says that she attempts to use her approach to art to ink the reality of those differences on paper for all to see."Through her art, Rebecca is saying, 'I value you. I see you and your uniqueness,’” says Snow. “What a boring world we would have if everyone were the same.”

For more information about Disability Is Natural and Kathy Snow, visit Disabilityisnatural.com or call (210) 320-0678.