Artist begins painting after losing sight

Thursday, December 1, 2005
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In a darkened room in the back of his Denton home, John Bramblitt paints, feeling his way across the canvas with his fingers.

With each brushstroke, guided by his fingers, he records images he sees in his mind's eye. A tiny dog, a row of wine bottles, a blues musician, a picture of himself.

About four years ago, Bramblitt, an El Paso native, lost his sight. Doctors still aren't sure why.

"It was almost like being thrown in prison, being cut off from the world. I would just stay in my apartment, I couldn't get out, couldn't walk around town by myself," he said.

Only then did he start painting – though he'd never taken an art class. While visualizing images in his mind, his orientation and mobility skills improved. He learned to use a cane and walk around town by himself.

"The whole process of painting brought me back to the world," he said.

He first sketches his paintings using a fabric paint that dries in about 20 minutes and leaves raised edges for him to feel. After priming the canvas with white latex paint, he paints by using the raised lines as a guide. He differentiates between paint colors by texture. Titanium white is thick, almost like toothpaste, while black is slick, almost oily.

An English major at UNT, Bramblitt paints just as a hobby – though he's already sold his work and exhibited in a solo show at the UNT Union Art Gallery. Images of his art on are his website, www.bramblitt.com.

"I don't know how talented I am, but I really enjoy it," Bramblitt said. "I believe my paintings are more to me than anyone else. I go back and feel the paintings and remember what I was thinking at the time."

He has shown his technique to elementary school students and held workshops in which the students are blindfolded so they can paint without sight. He hopes his story will help shed some of the stigmas surrounding disabilities.

Bramblitt hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in English and teach creative writing or English literature. Writing, he said, isn't so very different from painting.

"When you're writing a story, you're painting a picture in your mind and it's just the techniques that are different," he said. "Doing a painting is almost like doing a really short story – one really clear image."

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