Digital Artist | Photoshop Guru

ap_065bWearing a light pastel shirt and an oddly shaped silver and gray headset nestled within his short dark hair, Ryan Forshaw, 35, sits within the metal and cloth confines of a black wheelchair in front of a high-tech workstation in his home near Manchester.
Although he bears little physical resemblance to the wizard Merlin, as Forshaw’s computer screens come to life and begin to glow, he is not only ready to conjure up some extremely serious magic, he’s going to do it the hard way. Instead of employing a steaming, bubbling cauldron and shelves overflowing with dust-crusted hand-blown glass bottles partially filled with rare and exotic herbs and elixirs, Forshaw skillfully blends the energy and power of imagination with microprocessors to gain some degree of control over Photoshop and begin to harness its awesome power.
Although Forshaw’s talents as a Photoshop Guru eventually wind up reflected back at us in the seamless images he creates, the really impressive stuff is the force of will it takes for this digital artist to begin each project, as well as to preserve the take-no-prisoners determination he religiously maintains to continue working.
And why, one might ask, is all this intestinal fortitude and true grit necessary to get good at Photoshop? Because Ryan Forshaw is paralysed from the shoulders down. Which, when you think about it, means that Forshaw is somehow actually able to produce incredibly complicated and highly artistic images by manipulating a computer program that generally requires, as a condition of use, a pretty fair amount of handeye coordination.
And, as incredible as it is that Forshaw does what he does, his current creative output is just the latest chapter of a tale (which Clint Eastwood would probably love to bring to the big screen) that has so far taken some impressively bizarre twists and turns. In 1996 Ryan suffered serious injuries as a result of a fall. “I was showing off on a football post,” he says. “It left me paralysed from the shoulders down.”
It was while undergoing treatment for his injuries that Forshaw found a hobby he could enjoy. He discovered the magic of digital image manipulation. “In the occupational therapy department of my rehabilitation unit were computers set up with headsets that enable people with no hand movement to control the system,” Forshaw explains.
The headset, which is connected to the computer, has a receiver box which sits on top of the monitor. There are three small infrared sensors located in the center, the right and left side of the headset. When the user turns his or her head in any direction, the sensors pick up the movement and move the on-screen cursor. To left-click his mouse, Forshaw blows into a tube. To right-click, he presses down on a button about two inches in diameter, which rests on his shoulder near his head.
“With my keen interest in art, I was instantly attracted to the possibilities that computer programs could offer,” he says. “While at the spinal unit, I used MS Paint to dabble with the tools. After I left rehab seven months later, I discovered Jasc PSP 6 and used this for a couple of years until I discovered Adobe Photoshop. Since then, there has been no looking back.”
Forshaw realizes full well that, in the end, the effort it takes him to work his magic matters little when weighed against results. After reading about the psychology and symbolism of photography, he came to understand layers of meaning he had unconsciously created in a recent project, Earthbound, which features animals rooted to the earth with tree trunks for legs and feet “I feel the Earthbound series reflects my paralysis,” he says. “The feeling of being bound—as in wheelchair-bound.”
Now that his talents as a digital artist and his evocative images are gaining wider notoriety, Forshaw’s primary goal at this point is to raise the level of skills he needs, not only for transferring the images in his brain onto paper, but for allowing his creativity to expand. “My dream for the future is to study more about art and design and to learn to control Cinema 4D,” he says. “Cinema 4D is a package used for digital art and animation. It’s widely used in the film industry for special effects. I think it will bring more diversity and possibilities to my digital artwork. For example, it will enable me to create scenarios and objects that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to create in Photoshop. If I can become as comfortable with Cinema 4D as I am with Photoshop, the creative possibilities are endless.”
This article was featured in After Capture magazine