Inspiration for Painting in the Dark: Esref Armagan, Blind Artist
by Rachelle Burk
Today LitPick has the pleasure of bringing you a special interview with Rachelle Burk. You previously met Rachelle when she visited LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author and Extra Credit interviews (https://litpick.com/author/rachelle-burk).
This time Rachelle is here to talk about her new book, Painting in the Dark: Esref Armagan, Blind Artist, illustrated by Claudia Gadotti. In the book, actual photos of the artist’s work are embedded into the illustrations. The pictures hanging on the walls in the illustrations are photos of the artist’s paintings.
How did you find out about Esref Armagan?
I found out about Mr. Armagan quite by accident when I stumbled upon an article about the congenitally blind artist on the internet. I wondered, “How can someone who has never seen mountains, windmills, or waterfalls, paint such things? How can he paint in perspective when he has no visual concept of it, or properly use red, blue, or yellow when, to him, these should be mere words?”
Moreover, I wanted to know why he would want to paint pictures when he would never see his own artwork? I set out to find out everything I could about him.
What motivated you to write a book about him?
I find Esref Armagan’s unique story so inspiring that that I wanted to share it with anyone willing to listen. As a children's writer, I thought that his story would inspire children who struggle with disabilities or challenges of any kind. One can't possibly read about Esref without thinking, “If he can overcome such obstacles, I should also be able to do anything I set my mind to!"
Compared to other books you’ve written, was this book harder or easier to write, and what made it so?
This was the hardest book I've ever written. First of all, there was language barrier and distance. He lives in Turkey and speaks no English. We worked this out by having a three-way conversation with his American born manager who lives in a different Turkish city. She has been a limitless source of information and has become a friend.
But there was so much other research as well. Mr. Armagan has been studied by scientists who wanted to understand how his extraordinary brain works. Psychological and perception studies, including MRI imaging, were performed. I needed to read and understand the scientific journal articles resulting from all that research, and also interview some of the scientists involved.
Then there was the issue of finding a publisher. For years, even publishers who found the story fascinating and the writing professional felt that there would be no market for a story about a painter whom few have heard about. If you check the library shelves, you'll find countless biographies of the same famous artists, but virtually none about those who are not well-known. So publishers passed on it, telling me they didn't feel they could market it.
I was extremely fortunate to find Tumblehome Learning, an award-winning educational publisher of both fiction and nonfiction science-themed books for children.
Is there anything you learned about Mr. Armagan that surprised you?
Everything about Mr. Armagan surprises me: His level of curiosity and dedication, including his desire to “get it right” with respect to details, color, and perspective, even though he will never see the results. I also greatly appreciate his sense of humor.
What else would you like to tell us related to this book?
We (author and publisher) are in the process of fundraising to produce the book in blind accessible formats such as braille (with some tactile images) and audio. We are hoping that those formats will be produced shortly after the book's release.
Rachelle, we also find the story of Esref Armagan inspiring! Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us more about him and your book.