Inspiring Individuals

Christmas and New Year’s eve turned out to be the most wonderful time of the year for my lungs to act up again. In a vehement attempt to emigrate without me, I spend most of my time in bed. Here, I pleaded with the ungrateful airbags to please stay within my body, since I had become accustomed to my daily hit of oxygen.

As the days and weeks crawled by, I started to notice a pinch of self-pity grow inside of me. That would not do! It could well be that misery loves company, but not in my house. In Casa Freakstyle we (meaning: Me) are going to be inspired, whether we want to or not. And so I took up my phone to battle this foul beast.

Didn’t take long before my search let me to Matthias Buchinger, born June 3rd 1674 without arms and legs. But that did not deter him from making quite a life for himself. Next up was Sarah Biffin. Whose life on earth started in 1784, in similar circumstances. Again a powerhouse of a human being. And before I knew it, I tumbled down the rabbit hole that is the World Wide Web.

Prepare To Be Awestruck

Below are 10 inspiring artists who kept on going when people like me would’ve likely thrown in the proverbial towel:

  1. Let’s start with the two already mentioned. First Matthias Buchinger. Born in Ansbach, Germany on June 3rd, 1674. Despite being born without legs and hands, he would grow up to be an accomplished magician, calligrapher, artist. The art form he would be especially noted for was micography, which were illustrations where tiny writing was used to provide texture.


    Self portrait


    Close-up showing the lettering

  2. Born in Tuscany on April 3rd 1603, Giovanni Gonnelli would grow up to become a sculptor. But then, in his early 20’s, an illness would leave him completely blind. After going through a bout of depression, eventually he took up sculpting again, and received accolades from people like the Duke of Tuscany and Pope Urban VIII.
    At one point he had to prove he was ‘truly blind’ by going into a dark room and finishing a sculpt. Which he did with flying colors, of course. He was a better sculptor than many of us are with perfect eyesight. Isn’t that just infuriating? 😉


    Buste of Pope Urban VIII

  3. Sarah Biffin was born in Somerset in 1784. Being a woman without arms and legs in a rural area, the prospects for her were slim, despite the fact that she taught herself to write, sew and paint with her mouth. With few opportunities available, she joined the circus and became known as the ‘Limbless Wonder’. It was there, that she met her future patron, the 16th earl of Morton. It was the earl who arranged for Biffin to study under the royal academician William Marshall Craig. This was at a time when women were not yet permitted to study at the Royal Academy.


    Self portrait
  4. In 1858, in a peasant family 1122 kilometers from Moskow, Grigory Zhuravlev was born. Everyone in the village of Utyovka was poor. For a peasant family, it was customary that even the children did their part for their survival. But Grigory was born with arms that stopped at their elbows, and legs without knees, shins and feet. A heavy burden.
    However, the boy was bright and talented. And he had his mind set on becoming an icon painter. Eventually, he would even paint a portrait of the Imperial family. Not bad for a lowly peasant, eh?



  5. Moving onto present day, let’s start with Lisa Fittipaldi. Born in 1948, in Pontiac Michigan, she did have an art degree, but has always spend her working life either as a trauma care burn specialist, or in finances. It was only when she lost her eyesight to an autoimmune disease in 1993, that she took up painting again. In 1998, she created her first street sketch, after which followed a series of fantastic portraits.
    Some people say that blind people can’t draw. I’d think Fittipaldi disagrees with them.



  6. Stephen Wiltshire (1974 London) may not have been able to speak as a small child. He may find it hard to relate to other people. But what he DOES do extraordinary well is draw from memory. This man is able to perfectly render entire cities based on what he saw during a single helicopter ride. His finely detailed pen and ink drawings are a marvel to look at.



  7. Born in Swidnica, Poland on November 10th 1992, Mariusz Kedzierski’s artistic talent is something to be admired. The fact that he has no hands, and yet creates the most intricately detailed portraits is almost enviable. I mean: Here I am with two perfectly normal hands, and I can’t even draw a proper stick figure. Look at what this man achieves!



  8. Another artist without limbs is Zuly Sanguino from Bogota. Her paintings  are cheerful and colorful; a stark contrast to the harsh life of bullying she led due to people not accepting her disabilities. But like the other people in this list, Zuly does not want the challenges in her life to hold her back. And we can all use a little color in our lives:


  9. What’s more difficult than working with brilliantly cut diamonds that are only a millimeter in diameter? Working with those diamonds when you don’t have any fingers. Annette Gabbedey is a jeweler specialized in high quality, miniature designs. She doesn’t consider her lack of having fingers a handicap. In fact, to her when looking at our hands, she doesn’t understand how we manage. Don’t our fingers get in the way? Her work, by the way, is absolutely stunning!


  10. Steve Erra is a photographer who is functionally blind. In 1979, he was given the news that he would turn blind in 20 years. Instead of letting it devastate him, it gave him a need to make the most of his time.
    At this point, Erra’s condition has left him with the ability to only detect very bright colors. His field of vision is compressed to only a tiny area. But that doesn’t stop him from making beautiful artworks like these:

If this list has taught me anything, it’s that humans are extraordinary. And – more important for my situation – that apparently we can still make great art, even when we miss seemingly vital body parts. Which has left me with a cunning plan. Next time my lungs threaten me with a vacation notice, I will bully them right back. Go ahead! Leave! I will THRIVE without you. It may not quite be true, but I like to negotiate from a position of strength. Perhaps they won’t see through my lie… They are simple air balloons, after all.

The picture in the header features Alice and Laurel from Kinetic Light, two wheelchair dancers.

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