• Kate West

'Word pictures' and colour in the learning-different academy

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

I'm a dyslexic, visually-stressed, and attention-deficit 'disordered' academic. My learning-different cocktail means that I have an aptitude for comprehending the visual. The formal properties of objects and images enter my intellectual practice early on. Colour, line, shape, size, and texture present a backdrop against which I process all other information.

The visual theme of d y s l e x i c A C A D E M I C honours the learning-different relationship I have with the visual. The title's typeface is a lower and upper case coupling of a white Futura Light and Bold. But it's the once digitally on-trend (c.2012) kerning of the letters that represents how I see and struggle to comprehend words.

Take 'a n a c h r o n i s m', for example. I first met this word in the penultimate year of my bachelor's degree (2009) when I was asked to submit a handwritten rather than word-processed essay. I can’t recall the exact formation of the question but it included 'a n a c h r o n i s m'. The word manifested itself to me then as it is presented here, in a single-spaced formation. I read it slowly: 'A n a c h r o n i s m'. But, and as typography scholar Louise McWhinnie puts it, 'the space that surrounds [typeface] is the silent component: ever-present, but only considered when it imposes upon, hinders or muddies type’s meaning or message' (c.f. space surrounding typeface as digitally-trendy, above). So, as my eye shifted from left to write (right), from one letter to the next, the foregoing letter shifted from right to left so that it left my line of sight and dissolved into nothingness. Since dyslexia holds my working memory captive, out of sight was out of mind. Each letter had no visual and therefore intellectual relationship to the one that preceded it since, as abstract painter and colour-theorist Josef Albers suggests, 'in reading we do not read letters but words, words as a whole, as a "word picture". I can't see word pictures how others do.

A lengthy m e d i t a t i o n (this one, too) about how I wrote followed a too-brief affirmation of my mark. The marker observed that I'd spelled a n a c h r o n i s m differently and incorrectly on every occasion and that each attempt was accompanied with a randomised flourish of lower and upper case ‘a/A’ (reviewer 2 dislikes this dyslexic quirk, BTW).

'a n a c h r o n i s m'

'A n a c r o n i s e m'

'a n a r c a n i s m'

'A c h o r i s m'

'a n a r c h i s m'

'a n a n a c h r o n i s m'

In turn, the title for d y s l e x i c A C A D E M I C is overlaid on a cobalt blue and fuchsia pink wall found in pre-made colour palette of a city, New Orleans (IMU). This pink and blue feature in the visual theme of d y s l e x i c A C A D E M I C because visual stress wills me (I experience it as less difference, more disability) to write on the not-quite-as-saturated and also once-digitally on-trend (c.2014--2017) millennial pink (RIP) and read on a light azure blue.

When I write and read a n a c h r o n i s m on the comforting hues of said pink and blue those o once-visible single spaces that severed the constituent letters of the inaccessible word picture evaporate. Anachronism. On pink and blue I can hold each letter in my mind not only simultaneously but so too in relation to all of the others. As I see and read anachronism in this way my anxiety lessens as the word, not letters, washes over my eyes and into my mind...