There’s a new mural in the Bishop Arts District that towers over anyone who walks past it. It’s an explosion of color that would otherwise be a dull cluster of bricks on the side of an apartment building. The mural took about a week and a half to finish. During that time, North Texas painter John Bramblitt could be seen on a blue lift, raised four stories from the ground. Jacqui Serie, Bramblitt's wife, directed him through a walkie-talkie from the ground.
Bramblitt lost his eyesight in 2001 while studying art at the University of North Texas. He's had epilepsy for most of his life, and by the time he was in college, his seizures had become life-threatening and would often stop his breathing. After a series of severe seizures one semester, his optic nerve suffered permanent damage from lack of oxygen. The following semester, he was legally blind.
Bramblitt thought his days of pursuing art were over, but with the help of his professors, friends and family, he was able to continue practicing his passion. After a year of learning how to navigate himself around Denton, he figured he could learn how to navigate around a painting as well.
This is the fifth large-scale mural Bramblitt has worked on since he started painting in 2002. With each one, he tries to push the mural a little further, either in size, color or detail.
He painted his first large-scale mural on a building in New York for World Sight Day two years ago. Bramblitt’s often flying two or three times a month to go work with museums, inclusive programs and charities, putting him around an impressionable crowd: children.
“I work with kids and lots of adults, but especially kids,” Bramblitt says. “I always tell them, ‘You can do whatever you want to do. Do something bigger than yourself.’”
Bramblitt puts this life philosophy in practice by painting building-sized murals, and he wanted his latest work to reflect the culture in the Bishop Arts District.
“It’s kind of funky and fun and laid-back quite a bit,” he says of the area.
The mural is a painting of a woman playing an acoustic guitar, with hair blowing in the wind and blue skies sitting in the background. Bramblitt believes this is to be his best mural yet.
For smaller projects, Bramblitt uses his hands to guide himself around whatever surface he’s painting on, but big murals,
like his latest, require a different technique.
The paints that he uses are labeled in Braille, and some of the paints are different textures, which helps him differentiate between them.
First, Bramblitt will paint on canvas a street view of what the building will look like once the mural is done.
Second, he, along with Serie and their dog Eagle, get to the site with paint and a lift. Bramblitt starts by creating an outline on the building with a special black paint. The texture of the paint is just different enough that Bramblitt can use it to guide him through his mural. Up on the lift, soaring above the ground, he says he sometimes worries about how it will all come together.
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“I get about halfway through and think, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t have any idea how this is going to come together,’ which is a good feeling because if you don’t have that, if there isn’t a chance of failure, then you’re not doing anything new,” Bramblitt says.
He says he would get the same feeling when he was first learning to paint without sight. But, just like back then, all of his friends’ and family’s support keeps him going.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I go up on that lift that I don’t think about all the people that I’ve met,” Bramblitt says. “Working on something big like this, it’s an emotional sort of thing. It’s a crazy feeling."