Thursday, August 25, 2005

Unique Touch Art

Barry R. Segal, Artist & Unique Touch Art Studio Owner
Silver Spring Towers
816 Easley Street, Apt #923
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Last week, a friend forwarded me one of Barry’s emails. He was offering a special Labor Day Sale until September 7, 2005. I checked out his website at:

I realized that this artist, Barry, was a 37-year-old DeafBlind individual I worked with last year as a SSP at NYC’s DAW (Deaf Awareness Week) Deaf Fest at Lincoln Center. At that time, I got my first glimpse of his artwork.

According to Barry, Unique Touch Art is an art studio, established during Summer 2003, designed to offer unique tactile and visual artwork that can be appreciated through the use of different mediums.

Numerous art works in the online Gallery are currently available for purchase through his studio. Other artwork seen in the gallery may already be sold. However, Barry can replicate or customize an art piece just for you, be it in different colors or sizes. Customized artwork is done on commission.

Barry’s work is frequently shown at art exhibits, fairs, events and festivals. He travels around the country exhibiting and selling his work. Chances are he will have an exhibit or sale in an area near you. Check his website’s Art Exhibits page for past and upcoming shows.

As a DeafBlind artist who lost his vision due to Optic Atrophy, this presents him with an unique twist in artistic expression; his artwork is enjoyed by hearing, Deaf, and DeafBlind patrons. As a result, his work is accessible and greatly appreciated by DeafBlind people. And, his artwork helps educate hearing and deaf people about what DeafBlind people can do and who they are.

Many Hats of a Self-Identified DeafBlind Artist

Not only is Barry an artist who paints, he also performs occasionally in a one-man comedy stand-up show. He frequently tells diversity-related jokes such as gay, Jewish, Deaf, hearing, and DeafBlind jokes. Barry shared that he enjoyed performing comedy through the use of facial expressions, body movements and using ASL. Occasionally, he dresses up and acts as a woman. Recently, he performed stand-up comedy in front of 350 people at the RAD (Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf) conference. Barry stated that people encouraged him to travel around performing his stand-up comedy.

Barry often works as a DeafBlind consultant. He gives presentations to schools and agencies about DeafBlind culture and how to work with DeafBlind people. In addition to consultation work, he has worked in Deaf services, taught American sign language, and worked in recreational settings.

Another hat Barry wore in the past was producing, directing and acting in a DeafBlind Culture videotape. The videotape is narrated by Barry; he covers five topics related to DeafBlind culture, types and causes of DeafBlindness, communication methods, assistive devices, recreational activities, and employment. The video is captioned. It is available for sale through his website.

Barry has acted in several productions as well as taught dancing, acting, American Sign Language, recreation, and art at camps.

Barry is learning the ropes of starting up and running a new business selling his artwork. He is developing a following of supporters, a portfolio of art, visibility at different venues, and capacity for increasing profits. He enjoys running a business which sells artwork reflecting his beliefs, artistic techniques, life experience, and developing artistic skills.

Barry’s Start as An Artist

Barry grew up creating art pieces, starting in school. For two years at Gallaudet University, he further studied art. Upon graduation from Gallaudet University, Barry began to decorate his apartment (in Minneapolis, Minnesota). Apartment visitors expressed strong interest in his art and encouraged him to sell his work. His mother also strongly encouraged Barry to take art classes and sell his work. Two and a half years ago, Barry decided to take up on his mother’s advice and encouragement. His mother immediately went out and purchased art supplies to help him get started. Three months later, Barry created 10 art pieces to sell at the American Association of the DeafBlind Conference in San Diego, California (Summer 2003). Barry came home feeling optimistic about his sales and the fact that people became aware of his work through word-of-mouth. People contacted him for purchases and to order custom work. Barry’s entire family was supportive and encouraged by his strong start as an artist. So, he opened up his art business during the late summer of 2003.


• Two pictures were selected to be in a juried art show in Minnesota Twin Cities Gays/Lesbians/Bi/Trans’ Art Show. Barry was one of the 18 finalists from artwork submitted all over the country. His work, “Downtown Hands,” was shown for three weeks during June 2005.
• Interact Center at the In/Outside Gallery exhibited his “Landscape Hands” alongside work done by other nation-wide disabled artists in downtown Minneapolis during July 2005.
• Barry earned his Master’s degree from New York University.
• Broke sales record during the recent RAD conference. “Downtown Hands” and “Landscape Hands” alongside greeting note cards were top sellers.
• Barry recently had great success selling Leather/Bears artwork at RAD conference in Washington, DC.
• In 2001, Barry won the Mr. Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf title - Modern/Jazz Dancingok
• In 1995, Barry established and coordinated Bridge between DeafBlind and Deaf Communities in Minnesota.

Choice of Art Mediums & Styles

Barry uses bright colors and textures in his art. As a result, his art is easier for DeafBlind and hearing Blind people to feel his work and appreciate art in their homes and offices. Another reason for choosing the mediums he uses is his appreciation for diversity, resulting in mixed media with abstraction and surrealism. He is creative when it comes to symbols in his work. For instance, Barry used bagels in his artwork symbolizing Jewish identity and pride. Barry enjoys being creative in the use of materials to symbolize culture, diversity, pride and so on.

Art Categories
Barry breaks his current work into four categories: Abstract, Hand, Jewish, and Diversity. You can see samples of his work at his website.

Lessons In the Life Of An Emerging Artist On The Go

1 - How to use a credit card machine and work with credit card companies
2 – How to appropriately protect and pack artwork for shipment
3 – Type of equipments to purchase for art shows
4 – How to write and get grants
5 – Learning effective business management skills while selling and creating art
6 – How to advertise artwork and interest prospective buyers
7 – Using a digital camera with computers
8 – Booth design that allows one to communicate with browsers and effectively advertise showcased artwork
9 – Determining popular artwork to showcase with target market groups at events, conferences and exhibits
10 – The challenges of locating and scheduling SSPs, interpreters, drivers for art shows in advance
11 – Effective communication and marketing skills and personas
12 – Website design
13 – How to earn revenues and expand business successfully during the first few years
14 – Many more lessons to come!

Challenges & Issues as a DeafBlind Artist

Getting Around & SSPs

Barry travels around to sell and exhibit his art work all around the country. Traveling means he needs SSPs, also known as Support Services Providers. SSPs can drive him to places and interpret for him during these events. However, accessibility and scheduling a SSP is challenging. When SSPs are not available in an area where the art show is taking place, sometimes he has to cancel his show. Other times, he is fortunate to schedule available SSPs. Two SSPs are preferred so they can take turns, just like sign language interpreters take turn working.


Barry faced obstacles when people in educational settings did not believe he could study art, theater, and American Sign Language due to his vision. DeafBlind people were believed to not be capable of becoming artists, let alone becoming successful artists. This was partly due to lack of education and understanding on the educators and educational institutions’ part. Adaptations and accommodations alongside education are keys to helping one understand better about the possibilities of becoming an artist who happens to be DeafBlind. One needs to realize that DeafBlind artists offer the advantages of expressing and creating art in different perspectives just like any other artists. For instance, they add a tactile element to their work. Their personal experiences as DeafBlind people lend to expression of experiences that people might otherwise not see or feel in their art work. There are numerous blind artists all around the country. Why not DeafBlind artists too? We’re taught as Deaf people that we can do anything but hear. DeafBlind people can do anything but hear. Yet, they can see in different ways such as tactilely. We often rely on our eyes to appreciate art. We sometimes forget that we were born with up to 5 basic senses: seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and tasting. Barry’s artwork encompasses all five basic senses in a manner that allows us to experience art through our basic senses, not just one or another.

Business Is Expanding

Unique Touch Art has expanded and grown since its 2003 inception. People are recognizing his work through word of mouth, art fairs, flea markets, conferences, and exhibits. Barry learned that the busiest months of the year were October-December. Slowest months were January-March. Barry quickly learned about buyer demographics and where to sell. He has the support of his family, friends, VSAarts (Very Special Arts arts), and loyal customers.

Future Expansions & Opportunities

* Expanding business by exhibiting at a wider variety of venues such as DeafNation Expo, DeafBlind Expo, leather/bear organizations and events, Gay Games 2006, and Jewish organizations.
* Ordering 2006 calendars which will feature an artwork on each monthly page.
* Contacting companies and stores to carry his work, stationary, and video.

Goals as an Artist & Art Business Owner

1 – Increase annual revenues by $10,000
2 – Continue VR grant until end of 2005
3 - Be recognized for his artwork during the next year
4 – Sell at art fairs and shows across the country
5 – Contract a SSP to work with Unique Touch Art
6 – Own an art studio outside of the current home-based studio
7 – Become self-employed and live off sales of art work
8 – Teach people, institutions and communities that DeafBlind can be artists
9 – Buy a van 5 years later for traveling to exhibits, shows and expos
10 – Take more art training, especially in wax and sculpturing
11 – Learn new advertising techniques and strategies
12 – Create more artwork that recognizes and reflects diversity and identities of specific groups
13 – Increase online orders through Unique Touch Art website (a minimum of 10 orders monthly)
14 – Earn $700 by August 31, 2005 so his VR grant continues until the end of 2005

Barry is a resourceful man who is creative in finding opportunities to showcase, advertise, and sell his work. I wish him the best in his business expansion and success as an artist who has a lot to offer.