Eliminating my dream job based on vision concerns?
January 19, 2012 1:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm worried about pursuing my dream job as a graphic novelist because of worsening vision. Can any severely nearsighted artists or others in vision-intensive careers speak to this?

Since I was in second grade, I've needed glasses. Two myopic parents ensured this. I read and drew a lot as a kid. Now, at 27, I'm at -7.75 and -8.00 diopters, and my eyes are worse than my parents'. I'm between jobs, but for my previous job, it was 8 hours a day of computers, and then I'd come home and do another couple hours of reading, writing, drawing, TV watching, etc.

I've begun to train myself in graphic novels by drawing and practicing daily, reading a lot of different art books, and just going for it in general. But there's one thing holding me back... I'm afraid that I'm going to go beyond correctable vision/go blind or otherwise damage my eyes. When I immersed myself in reading and art a few months ago (along with a lot of computer usage), I was experiencing extreme eye fatigue and having blurry vision up close, and my eyes were hurting a lot. Quite scary, and I backed off. For this reason, I'm wondering if I need to choose a career that is not so hard on them.

I've taken as many steps as I can think of to help: I've now installed AntiRSI and take 5 minute breaks to shift focus every 20 minutes, with 20 second pauses every 10, using good light, doing some eye exercises. I've also installed Flux to change the color contrast on my monitor. I turn down the brightness at night. I try to get out every day and use my eyes. For my next job, I'm looking at one that won't be as vision-intensive so I can "save" my eyes a bit for after hours. But if I want to get really serious with comics, there's no avoiding a lot of very detailed work, drawing, reading and writing (also with some of it on paper, rather than computer).

I haven't seen a lot on choosing a career based on vision usage. When I've looked up artists and eyesight, I found things about Monet going blind which were freaky, but didn't explain the exact cause. Also a few on comic artists losing vision (eek), again no specifics. I'd be crushed if I couldn't do this seriously, but better to decide now if I need to shift directions. Anyone have experience with this, thoughts, suggestions? Thanks, MeFites!
posted by iadacanavon to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need to consult a professional to work out whether your fears of ruining your eyesight are realistic, and also to work out what you need to do to relieve your discomfort.

It's possible that your screens are simply too bright. When CRT monitors went out and flat screens came in, I had real problems, to the point where I opened a book one day and the page was boiling - I had to slam the book shut. Turns out that my pale skin and pale eyes let a lot of light in, and what I needed to do was turn the monitor down. Including setting each of the RGB values to 18, as well as adjusting the brightness and contrast. The eye doctor also told me that I should get photoreactive lenses for my glasses, and feel free to wear sunglasses as much as I wanted.

I'm not saying you have the same problem, I'm just saying that it's the kind of thing a professional can help you solve. Thinking you need to change careers is totally jumping to conclusions.
posted by tel3path at 2:35 AM on January 19, 2012

Best answer: When you hear about artists (such as Monet) going blind, most of the time it was due to cataracts. Cataracts are not caused by over-using your eyes; they occur because of things like trauma to the eye (physical, or due to illness), hereditary factors, aging, certain drugs, smoking, and so on. When you get your eyes checked, cataracts are one of the things that will be picked up; they can be treated fairly effectively - you certainly won't go 'blind'.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:52 AM on January 19, 2012

So if it makes you feel better, your vision is better than mine! And my chosen profession is vision scientist, so....

In general myopia isn't due to your eyes getting worse really, just changes in your eyes' shape. You could end up with problems with your vision, but it won't be because of your myopia. I wouldn't give up your dream for vision problems. However, if you are really concerned, then talk to your doctor and see what he thinks about your concerns. I find that when my prescription gets old I get more eye fatigue than when it's current, so something to remember.
posted by katers890 at 4:13 AM on January 19, 2012

Dik Brown,the original cartoonist for Hangar the Horrible, had such bad eyesight I had to help him pick out a tube of paint once.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:59 AM on January 19, 2012

Best answer: If Beethoven could write symphonies while deaf, you can pursue your dreams in spite of your eyes. On a more practical note, a dear friend of mine has been supporting himself as a graphic novelist for years despite the fact that he cannot draw worth a darn. That is because he can describe what he sees in his head to the artists jhe pairs up with. It is not uncommon for the person with the dream to not have the skills to bring it forth without help. Perhaps your eyes may get fixed, but even if that does not happen, you can still pursue your dreams of creating graphic novels.
posted by Ys at 5:36 AM on January 19, 2012

Definitely consult with a professional the next time you have an eye exam (and you should have them regularly). As another data point, I've had glasses since I was 3 and my diopters are about the same as yours. The glasses thing held me back as a kid because they broke all the time, the kids made fun of me and I realized I'd never me a filter pilot. I've never once thought that they would hold me back as an adult.
posted by mmascolino at 6:14 AM on January 19, 2012

Is your prescription fairly stable, and not changing year-to-year? If it is, you may be a good candidate for LASIK. I was also very, very, nearsighted (though not quite as bad as you) and had it done 10 years ago. I've had 20/20 vision since then and only now have to wear a very light prescription occasionally for some astigmatism. Age-related issues will still come (as they are beginning for me), but depending on how old you are, you may get many, many years of corrected vision. Just throwing it out there - your eye doctor could tell you what sort of outcome to expect.
posted by jquinby at 6:28 AM on January 19, 2012

Best answer: Metafilter: Glasses Kept Me From Being a Filter Pilot.

(sorry, I liked it so much, I couldn't resist!)

As someone with lousy vision, it took me way too long to figure that tel3path's idea about fiddling with the brightness of your monitor can have a drastic effect on your eye comfort. So can adjusting font size. LCD monitors are pretty lousy for long use, so while it sounds like you've got the taking breaks and f.lux and whatnot all set, your comment:

When I immersed myself in reading and art a few months ago (along with a lot of computer usage), I was experiencing extreme eye fatigue and having blurry vision up close, and my eyes were hurting a lot.

makes me think that you should play with your brightness settings, up your font sizes (and generally play around with color schemes on whatever platform you use, to make it easier on your eyes)... and see if you can work more on paper in an appropriately lit work-space.

I nth going to see an optometrist (for starters) but I've found they're not always great about knowing the fine points of reducing eye fatigue on computers. Here's a link with some common trouble-shooting advice for dealing with eye fatigue using computers.
posted by canine epigram at 6:29 AM on January 19, 2012

I've got similar diopters, and while YMMV, my previous (and perhaps somewhat over-reactive) optometrist suggested that if my eyes kept worsening I may need to have preemptive laser eye surgery. As in, I would get the surgery, my eyes would continue to get bad, I'd wear glasses again, I'd get the surgery again, wash-rinse-repeat. I have no idea how well this would work and my new (and more reassuring) eye doctor has not mentioned this plan.

However: corrective surgery is getting better all the time. Presumably as your eyes have been worsening for 20 years with no blindness yet (IANAO) you've got a while left to go. Perhaps, by the time things get bad, we'll be at the point where a surgical fix is possible and maybe even inexpensive.

Don't give up on your dreams.
posted by AmandaA at 6:30 AM on January 19, 2012

Best answer: I feel for you. I had about the same degree of myopia in graduate school and was told by a university ophthalmologist to "try to read less." I freaked out and went to an optometrist who'd been recommended to me. He said, "Oh, nonsense, in your field you want to be reading all the time." He refined my prescription and taught me some tricks. (Largely for getting better binocular vision; I was always looking out of one eye or the other, not both, which is really exhausting.) I can't say those measures completely alleviated my problems and eventually I went for laser surgery. But he did get me to relax a little about the whole thing.

Based on my own experience, I wonder if your eyes would feel better if you were to devote some nights and weekends to working on paper only. Maybe even go to some drawing classes with nudes and still lifes. And draw in some natural light! I find natural light extremely restoring.
posted by BibiRose at 6:49 AM on January 19, 2012

I run into the blurry-watery eye thing all the time. It's a combination of environment and difficulty in focusing on small details for extended periods of time.

Mess with the contrast and brightness of the monitor - also make sure the room isn't too dark, and that the background image or desktop wallpaper is neutral in color and similar in tone to your working windows. Apple's standard "deep space" background image isn't ideal, especially with floating tool palettes.

Some folks are sensitive to extreme contrasts in their work environment: I know I prefer to work with light grey windows and understated tiled backgrounds in muted tones when editing text. My eyes "hurt" when staring at a large, white window - but it's unlikely I'm doing actual damage to my eyes.

Also, make sure you magnify the work enough to be comfortable... almost everyone gets progressively more farsighted as they age (presbyopia) - some need reading glasses earlier than others, and it's not unheard of for someone in their 20s to have trouble with fine detail. If you have a thick pair of lenses in your glasses, that can also make seeing small things rough. Just zoom in on your work a bit, and see if that helps. I certainly use a large font when text munging, especially on small, high-resolution screens.

I generally get by with whatever font size or colors a website uses when surfing the web, but when I'm concentrating on my work, it can get uncomfortable in a hurry if I don't pay attention to my work setup.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:22 AM on January 19, 2012

Best answer: Anecdotally: Both my eyes are worse than yours (-10, -10.5), and I am older than you. I am an editor, which requires lots of reading, on screens and paper. I too was concerned that my vision would continue to degrade beyond correctable, and so I started asking about it. Even at my current (fairly dramatically myopic) prescription, my ophthalmologist told me to not worry about it. First, in my late 20s, my prescription leveled out. Second, the doc told me it could get "much, much worse" before it became uncorrectable.

So, nthing that you should see a doctor and ask this question.
posted by purpleclover at 9:08 AM on January 19, 2012

Best answer: Maybe helpful: if your eyes hurt focusing on fine detail as you draw, try drawing much larger. Get yourself an enormous sketchbook and use the space; get a widescreen monitor and fiddle with in Photoshop with pixels zoomed in. Invest in a desktop magnifying glass like those used by jewelers and other fine-detail work. Worry about sizing down later. I saw an exhibit of original pencils from WWII superhero comics, and each page was about the size of a large newspaper, and the pencils were full of tiny penciled details that would clearly not be inked visibly into the final printed page (tiny red veins in the white eye sclera, for instance).
posted by nicebookrack at 11:55 AM on January 19, 2012

Your fears are reasonable.
I gave up dreams of being an artist or being a computer programmer.
I'm only 24, my eyes are now -10 -11, probably worse since I stopped caring to buy new lenses long ago. When my eyes are just going to feel worse 1 yr later, it's not worth the expense for me.

I'm young. I'm still a baby, compared to how long I'll (hopefully) be in this world. Just the fact that I wasnt 3 children will put a burden in my health, including my eyes, as it did for my mother.
Do I need even more incentive to hurt my vision?

Guess what? I know I can be a near blind artist and even be a blind computer programmer. But is it worth it?
One question for you: how will your life outside work be damaged by bad vision? Are you willing to make those sacrifices? If so, go ahead with your dream. Even as a near blind artist, you can be succesful.
For me, life outside work is very important. I don't want to deal with bad eyes outside work more than I've already had to.

I'm really bad at this myself, but we both need to stay away from computers an near-sighted projects.
If you are so willing, find a job that keeps your eyes exercised at long distances.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 7:48 PM on January 19, 2012

Oh, by the way, I've had to give up many dreams because of my eyes. Every single job I've ever wanted requires good vision. So you can imagine my frustration, my anger. But now that I've stopped feeling sorry for myself, I found a job I can do, and that I really love.

So there's hope!
posted by midnightmoonlight at 7:52 PM on January 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the great responses, everyone. Going to talk to the eye doctor today and possibly get a second opinion. Right now I'm fully correctable, my prescription is still changing, but not in dramatic leaps. (I found a condition called myopic macular degeneration online, which is terrifying, but it looks to be genetic rather than environmental, so it shouldn't affect my decision even if I had it.)

Liked the suggestions, particularly natural light and drawing big. Reminds me it's not all-or-nothing, even if my eyes get really hard to use I can still make art in one form or another.

If I got uncorrectable to 20/20, I'd consider Lasik, but until that point it seems too risky.

Thanks again!! Will post an update if I discover anything of note.
posted by iadacanavon at 11:43 AM on January 20, 2012

Response by poster: The optometrist I spoke with said he's prescribed for up to -27 diopters and the guy was still fully correctable. He said as long as I take 20 second breaks to look at a distance every 20 minutes, I should be fine to do close-up work in a career.

Good to be mindful and take the appropriate precautions that you all mentioned to avoid unnecessary fatigue (I don't want to get to -27 diopters), but at this point it seems like there's no reason I can't pursue my dream field. Hooray!
posted by iadacanavon at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2012

Hooray for good news from the eye doctor! And I forgot these before, but check out artist lightboxes:

Very useful for copying drawings larger/smaller without Photoshop.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:56 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who just hit the -8.00, -8.00 milestone, I completely sympathize with the freak-out. You didn't mention whether you use glasses or contacts, but if you do use contacts it's possible that the symptoms you were experienced were related to wearing them too long.

I HATE not having my contacts in, because with glasses I have no peripheral vision at all. I also can't stand waking up and not being able to see. So I did the worst possible thing and just wore my contacts all the time. Last week, I 'fessed up to my optometrist, who promptly prescribed Air Optix Aqua Night and Day lenses. They are so freaking amazing! I can wear them (sanctioned by my doctor!) 24 hours a day for 30 days. And they feel completely weightless. My eyes feel so much healthier already. Cannot recommend enough.
posted by charmcityblues at 1:19 PM on August 9, 2012

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