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Art isn’t just about what you see: An Art Lesson Exploring the Work of John Bramblitt

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

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Henri Matisse famously said, “If I close my eyes, I see things better than with my eyes open.” American painter, John Bramblitt has echoed the same sentiment. Though Bramblitt always drew, it wasn’t until after he went blind in 2001, that he began painting. His work is remarkable, not just because he creates them with a visual impairment but also his use of vibrant colors.

"Contra" Photo courtesy of John Bramblitt

To accompany our five senses theme week, we studied the work of John Bramblitt. To start this lesson, we watched a short interview I found with the artist. In the interview, Bramblitt discusses his technique. He uses raised lines to sketch out his work and feels the lines as he’s painting. He also explains how he adds texture to his paint colors to differentiate them through touch as he’s painting.

After watching the video we looked through Bramblitt’s website to view more of his work. Mr. J really loved his use of color. His favorite piece was “Cast Off.”

"Cast Off" Photo courtesty of John Bramblitt

As always, after viewing Bramblitt’s work we discussed what we saw.

As I shared in last week’s art lesson on Jason Mecier’s work, some questions we discuss when viewing art are:

  • How did the art make you feel?

  • What did the artist use to make their art?

  • What is interesting about it?

  • Does the art remind you of anything?

  • What do you like about the work? Is there anything you don’t like about it?

Our Art Project(s)

This week, we did two different simple, low-prep art projects to explore the idea of art being not just something you see but something you feel, both literally and figuratively. Our first project was raised line shape painting.

Raised Line Shape Painting

Materials Needed:

Paper (we used construction paper but you can also use cardstock, fingerpaint paper, etc.)

Eye Mask or a scarf to use as a blindfold

To start, I prepped two simple shape drawings ahead of time. After sketching the shape, I outlined the shapes in white glue and set them aside to dry.

Once the drawings were dry, we started our project. I used an eye mask to blindfold Mr. J (thanks JetBlue- we miss travel!) and placed one of the drawings in front of him. I invited him to run his hand over the paper to feel the shape and try to identify it.

Then I handed him a paintbrush and he felt his way to a paint jar I was holding to dip his paintbrush in the paint. I then instructed him to feel the shape, see the shape in his mind and try to paint the inside of the shape.

He peaked a few times which got some giggles out of all of us but for the most part he painted entirely by touch and was very proud of himself when he took his blindfold off to see what he created. We enjoyed it so much and wanted to do another, so I was very glad to have prepped more than one raised shape in advance! We discussed how it was difficult to make art without the sense of sight and how it made us appreciate Bramblitt’s work even more!

Blind Contour Drawing for Kids

Mr. J’s favorite subject is art and was interested in doing another project so we decided to try blind contour drawing.

Contour drawing is essentially outline drawing and blind contour drawing is a drawing exercise where an artist draws an outline of a subject without looking at their paper. The idea is that by not focusing on the end result, we can focus more deeply on our subject. The exercise also strengthens the connection between your eye, hand and brain.

To help resist the urge to peak, I used a paper plate over Mr. J’s pencil to block him from easily looking at his drawing. This got lots of giggles.

Materials Needed:

Paper Plate


Subject (Mr. J, drew his sister Ms. S but you could also pick an object like an apple or a vase for example instead.)

Poke a hole in the center of a paper plate and thread a pencil through the plate.Instruct your child to look at a subject and observe it carefully.

Challenge your child to draw what they see without looking at their paper.

I just love what Mr. J created here!

For older kids you might try continuous-line contour drawing where the idea is to keep your drawing instrument in constant contact with the paper. The line in a continuous line drawing is unbroken. Some recommend using a pen instead of a pencil for this exercise to resist the urge to erase lines.

An example of continuous line drawing.

That’s it! Enjoy the results!

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