John Bramblitt, The Blind Painter

One Inspirational Human Being

I remember seeing John Bramblitt's work way back at the start of 2011 on the Nine O'clock News, and I was amazed at his talent. As some of you already know, I'm visually impaired myself, so I think I could understand better than a lot of people just how amazing his work was. I still have some sight remaining in one eye, and I couldn't paint anything approaching comparable to his creations.

First of all, let me introduce you to the man himself:

A Short Bio

Mr. Bramblitt is an artist who lives in Denton, Texas. He lost his sight in 2001, and while he always enjoyed art, it was not until then that he began to paint. He claims that art completely reshaped his life. His paintings are very personal, and most of them depict real events or people in his life. He has never seen his wife's face, nor that of his young son, but the images he creates of them are almost exact replicas.

John runs his sensitive fingers across his subject's facial features, and can reproduce their image entirely from touch. He offers workshops, and his are unique in the art world not only because they cater to all artists from beginners to professionals, but also due to the fact that they teach adaptive techniques to people with disabilities. He claims that "everyone has an artist somewhere in them; sometimes they just need a little help letting it out."

His art has been sold and greatly received in over twenty different countries, and he has appeared numerous times in print, television and radio. A segment describing the work done by John was awarded the "Most Inspirational Video of 2008" on Youtube, and he has earned three Presidential Service Awards for his ingenious, cutting-edge art workshops.

The methods employed by John in his artwork are listed below.

The Original Technique

Before losing his sight, Mr. Bramblitt had drawn almost exclusively with pens, pencils and charcoal, but this was obviously a problem, as these materials did not create tactile markings. He set to work finding a method that would produce an elevated line that could be felt with the fingertips, and not just seen with the eyes. He experimented extensively, and failed constantly, until he discovered that by using a matte fabric paint he was able to create fine lines that remained permanently raised and that dried almost instantly when put under a heat gun. He explains that the method is very straight forward, but often tests his patience.

Another of his favourite tools is a Paasche pen, which produces very thin lines. He compares his drawings to topographical maps, as he sketches more than the form of his subject - he also denotes areas to be shaded, where he will blend colours, where shadows should fall, dark points and highlights, and any other information he will need to successfully navigate around the canvas. Once the image has been mapped out, John is ready to begin painting.

Watercolour Painting Set
Watercolour Painting Set | Source

The Invisible Technique

Though John's identification of the raised line method was a huge step forward, it still limited his potential - it left thin lines all over the canvas. It was when carrying out techniques such as glazing or doing a wash that he encountered problems. When using other materials like water colours or gouache, the elevated bars were a major annoyance.

He eventually came up with the solution of making the raised line drawing on another sheet of paper, and then he could put whatever he wanted the image to be on over the paper - by pressing down lightly he could still feel the lines beneath. John says that when working with other surfaces such as thick canvas or wood, he instead would etch the markings into a light but durable piece of paper, which he would set where the actual painting was going to be made. "I can fold back the paper so that I can feel the lines and then make the additions to the painting."

John has also devised a way in which he uses thick oil paints, but leaves the layers thin enough so that by the time he applies the last glazing, the whole surface is smooth and flat. He has to be careful both when planning out and executing this technique, otherwise the intended result will not be achieved.

However, sometimes Mr. Bramblitt will decide to let the lines show. In certain situations it adds to the piece to have the markings visibly raised. He hastens to point out that it is important for an artist to have complete control over his materials, methods, and work surface, all the same.


Colour Pallet
Colour Pallet | Source

Colour Mixing - Textural/Viscosity Technique

You're probably wondering how John Bramblitt can tell which colours he is working with at any given time. The texture and viscosity method involves the examination of the "feel" of each tint. He explains that with the brand he uses, titanium white has the thickness and sensation of toothpaste on the fingers, whereas ivory black is much runnier and freely flowes over one's fingertips. "If I need a grey that was halfway between these two," he says, "then I would simply mix a paint that was twice as thick as the black or half as thick as the white."

There are also a collection of mediums and additives that can be combined with oil paints to accentuate the properties of each paint. He does this with hues that have a similar texture to each other and either thins or thickens them to make it easier to distinguish between them.

According to John, this is the original method he employed to help him tell the difference between colours, and he still uses it regularly today. It is highly reliable, and allows for complete colour control.

Proportional Technique

John uses this method when working with water colours, acrylics and gouaches, and aptly compares it to using the proportional method when cooking. e.g. If he requires a grey, he will measure 50% black and 50% white, and he is left with a shade exactly half way between the two.

He states he prefers working with the textural method because it allows him to have greater control over the pigments, but that this proportional technique helps him to push his way into other mediums.

The Resin Technique

Resin painting is an ancient Asian technique, the use of which dates back 200 years. The methods developed by John that let him work with materials such as gouache, watercolour and acrylic were done so with the ultimate aim of one day being able to work in resin. Before Mr. Bramblitt's research, techniques allowing blind people to paint in these mediums didn't exist, and so they had to be created. He learned many lessons throughout his journey, and he reports that "The end result has proven to be far beyond my wildest hopes or expectations.

The use of resin has allowed me to bridge the gaps between different media, and pull them together in a way that removes all barriers." In other words, the absolute control over colours that he has when using oil paints can be grouped together with the fine lines he is able to produce when working with watercolor and gouache, and would then be spotlighted by the rich, flowing colours that resin can provide.

I think he puts it best when he says that he is achieving a "very modern style of painting through the use of such an ancient medium."

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Comments 2 comments

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Trsmd 4 years ago from India

very inspiring story and unbelievable that a blind artist John Bramblitt is the one who creates the most strikingly vivid images.thanks for sharing:)


Michael Anthony Williams 4 years ago

Being a visually imapired artist myself,it is great to know that the world can see us as contributors through our art, will and inspiration.

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