The time is senior year of college and the place is sitting front row, left, in my Toy Design class. My professor, Barry Kudrowitz, started each of these classes with a presentation and some thoughts to get our brains working; thinking a little differently. “Does anyone here have Synesthesia?” He said, looking out to the class of about 40. (40; Orange 4 and a creamsicle colored 0.) No one said anything. “Do you guys know what Synesthesia is?” Again, silence. “Okay, when I say the number 4, raise your hand if you have a color associate with it.” Immediately my hand shot up; 4 is orange. I looked around the class and I was the only one with my hand in the air. I was entirely confused, so to be transparent I don’t really remember anything he said after besides briefly explaining that some people associate color with sound, or shapes with sound, and that it was rare.


I left that class completely dumfounded. I immediately went to the courtyard and started researching what Synesthesia was. As sited from Psychology Today, “Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (for example, hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (such as vision). Simply put, when one sense is activated, another unrelated sense is activated at the same time. This may, for instance, take the form of hearing music and simultaneously sensing the sound as swirls or patterns of color.”


There are a few different types of Synesthesia and for time sake I will link that article here.  (I have 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, & 10 - I feel like everyone experiences 10, no?)


I was really at a loss for words. So, you mean, not everyone has an entire ‘mind’s eye’ visual experience while listening to music? Layers on layers of colors, textures, shapes… notes and chords having places in space. Lyrics layered over as their own dimension; each word having it’s own shape and feel. I don’t know how else to describe it besides a massive, deeply detailed and orchestrated painting that’s just evolving in the back of my head at all times while a song is playing. It can be overwhelmingly distracting, but usually it's just like a nice, soft vanilla scent that you aren’t paying mind to. In extremely rare cases, people actually see these things in their true vision; I imagine like you would while on psychedelics. In my case, and most cases, it’s just a mental tv screen in my head that’s playing in the background 24/7.


I have the verbiage for all of this now, because I’ve spent a lot of time trying to articulate what my visual experience with music was in my painting style. I spent 10 years trying to perfectly craft a Pharrell song. (Who also has Synesthesia, by the way. So does Kanye. There’s reasoning to why their production is so immaculate; there’s not a single missing layer and there's no competing colors or shapes.) Also, the research on this topic now in comparison to when I first discovered this is night and day.


But, as 10 years have past, I’ve started to learn that maybe there’s a less obvious way to incorporate Synesthesia in my art practice. Maybe it’s not as direct as painting everything in a style that matches the visual experience. Maybe it’s painting the colors and textures of feelings and emotions. Intuitive painting, I guess?


This is a new concept to me, I’m a little late to the game. I think a lot of artists do this without realizing it, or maybe they do, but I just discovered this possibility in the last few months. 


A fun print by Sarah Hart Landolt showing feelings as paintings.



Using my feelings to guide my creativity is giving my art a purpose, it’s giving me something to tap into that I didn’t know was there before. I don’t have to paint how a song looks, I can paint how a song makes me feel. Again, as an artist you might think I would have figured this out ages ago. But at 32 it feels like a whole new world!


I write this whole blog post to say that I feel my art evolving a lot right now. It almost seems unrecognizable to my past work; like I’m taking a hard left. That’s not to say that I won’t come back to sneakers or painting in the style that I took years to develop, but it’s to say that, at my core, I’m still using this strange cross-wiring of information to guide my art practice; it’s just now going to be expressed in a different way.

Also, to be clear, I don’t believe that feeling emotions in color and texture is what Synesthesia is; it’s a very common tool they use with children to get them to identify how they’re feeling. However, I think it’s a really valid way to communicate and I think, more often than not, people are able to read an emotion visually in a painting, even if they aren’t entirely aware that they’re doing so. Like an unspoken alien language. :)

I haven't ever talked too much about about Synesthesia in my art; mainly because it’s just another sense like smell or taste, but also because I don’t want it to appear as some sort of trick or slight of hand to make you think the art is more compelling than what it really is. It’s not a marketing tool for me and it’s also not something I see as particularly special, it’s just how I experience the world.

Enough on this for now. I think the next post will be less about me and more about the tools I use to structure my days as an artist! With links to all the fun things for all the small business owners and freelancers who struggle staying on task like I do.


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