Visually Impaired East Texas Children Find New Ways to Create Art at Kilgore Workshop

Visually Impaired East Texas Children Find New Ways to Create Art at Kilgore Workshop

Kilgore — Plastic drop cloths lined the floor and tables of a room Thursday inside the Region 7 Education Service Center in Kilgore as the space was temporarily converted into an artist’s studio.

Forty-six visually impaired students from 20 area school districts attended a workshop led by Denton artist John Bramblitt, who also is visually impaired.

Bramblitt lost his eyesight from epilepsy complications as a college student more than 20 years ago.

After losing his sight, Bramblitt said he became depressed, and art helped him recover.

“I was fortunate because I was already into art, and I knew how to draw and all that before my eyesight went so, for me, it was just a a matter of finding new ways to do it, but for a lot of people, they think their lives are over — but they just don’t know what’s out there to help them accomplish their dreams,” he said.

During his workshop, Bramblitt encouraged students to use their other senses and other adaptive techniques to create art that will allow them to express themselves and connect with others. Using textures to find their way around a canvas and employing music and the tastes and smells of jellybeans to inspire color palettes, students filled their canvasses under Bramblitt’s direction.
He said he uses his sense of touch to feel the lines of paint on a canvas the same way he uses a cane to guide his way around a city.

“When I first started, I had to use big, thick, giant lines,” Bramblitt said, “but it’s the same way you use a cane to walk down the street — you’re feeling the sidewalk and the curbs and you making a mental map. So, using the same idea and techniques, instead of navigating something as large as a city, you can draw lines on a canvas, and the more you paint, the more information you have on the canvas.”

Lannette Burlingame, a Region 7 special education specialist in the area of visual impairment, said workshops such as the one Thursday are especially important for visually impaired students.

“Sighted students learn so many things incidentally, just by watching,” she said, “but if you can’t see what is happening, how do you learn those things? You have to have direct instruction, so part of what we do at the service center is to try to provide direct instruction opportunities like this at least once a month.”

Burlingame said there are about 500 visually impaired students in the 101 school districts served by Region 7.

“The art is super cool to me,” she said, “but the best thing is that they get to actually interact with someone who has walked in their shoes. Someone who can provide that inspiration to never give up and to realize that, ‘I have a dream and I may have to use special tools or specialized strategies to get there, but I can still get there, and I’m not going to let my vision loss stop me.’ ”

Alex Rhodes, a 10-year-old student from Lindale, wasn’t necessarily inspired to lead the life of an artist, but he agreed.

“I probably won’t be an artist, but it’s pretty cool to hear how (Bramblitt) has overcome obstacles to be able to do whatever he wants,” said Rhodes, who was born blind and is the only blind student at his school.

“The kids are brilliant, so I may be getting more out of it than they are,” Bramblitt said. “But I really hope they just get the idea that they can do whatever they want and be whatever they want. If you’re blind or have any kind of disability, it doesn’t mean your life is over — you just have to find a different way to do some things.”

Longview News Journal
March 3, 2023

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