The Iris


Photographer, author, and visual artist Anna Püschel

A Layered Reality


CCH: Anna, you are an IASAS Founding Member, and I’m honored to get to know you better. Can you share with our community a bit about your creative projects and academic pursuits?

AP: I am trained as a documentary photographer but have been working more and more on artistic projects and graduated from art school with a project on synaesthesia. In my work, I often investigate into invisible phenomena. I am currently doing my Master of Fine Arts at the LUCA School of Arts in Ghent, Belgium.


CCH: Do you have synaesthesia?

AP: Yes. I have emotion to colour synaesthesia and most people, to me, have a colour as well. Time-space and a light grapheme-colour and grapheme-personality synaesthesia. When I am really tired, I see three-dimensional sound in my head.

CCH: Are there particular expressions of synaesthesia that you find interesting from a creative perspective?

AP: Definitely! The whole idea of individually perceived reality is something that never stops intriguing me. My last project, Layers of Reality, deals with exactly that: it is an introduction to the phenomenon of synaesthesia but it is also a poetic approach to the idea that reality might be shared by everyone, but is never more than a concept. Reality is subjective. As an artist, this never stops fascinating me. I don´t know if certain forms of synaesthesia resonate with me more than others. Maybe it is the line that we draw between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes that I find the most interesting.

Layers of Reality by Anna Püschel received the award "de best verzorgde boeken 2017"
Layers of Reality by Anna Püschel received the award “de best verzorgde boeken 2017”

CCH: Often synaesthetes believe they are just like everyone else until they figure out their experiences are abnormal in some way. Was this your experience?

AP:  Yes. I was making a film about the staff members of a museum of contemporary arts in the Netherlands. I interviewed the entire staff from janitor to director and I wanted to find something that united them all: the colour art has for them. Out of 12, only one said: red! The others didn´t get it and I didn´t get why they reacted like that. Moment of truth…I was 25. 

I must admit that I first found it a little scary. I felt so strange – what is going on with everybody? What is wrong with me? Up to that point, I thought that everybody felt colours but that – obviously – the colours would be different with every individual.

I read up on it and for a long while, I thought I didn´t have synaesthesia because most literature defines it as  steady phenomenon. To me, people´s colours change according to my relationship with them. Places and situations can change colours according to how I feel in them.  It´s also not the strongest synaesthesia, I don´t see colours all the time. They are quite subtle and I´m not always conscious of them. I rely on them to check on how I feel with something or someone.

During my reseach I have read so many studies and talked to so many synaesthetes that I don´t feel like a complete outcast anymore..:)

CCH: I’ve enjoyed your book “Layers of Reality”. Can you share your process for creating this volume? 

AP:  It started with my own curiosity following that incident with the interview. At some point, I decided to transform my research into my graduation project. I was so intrigued by the communication gap that I experienced when talking about my synaesthesia, especially when presenting my work at school, that I wanted to create some kind of bridge. Which words do you use to describe something that existst solely in your head? How do approach that expansion/limitation of reality from an artistic perspective? I also started to be a little frustrated by the reactions from other people and thought it might be good to take away some prejudices.

This was my starting point. I used my own photographic archive to create some kind of overview over my emotional landscape. My research was based on the synaesthetuic reactions I have to my photographs, and in order to be able to work with data, I created a database from my own images as well as anonymous ones from google. The book is divided into different chapters that each deal with one of the questions that I asked myself, such as “when do the colours appear?” or “are my synaesthetic reactions consistent?”.

I then cooperated with neuroscientists, psychologists and a philosopher to embed my findings into a more scientific dialogue. It´s this combination of arts and science that I like most about the book.

A peek inside Layers of Reality by Anna Puschel
A peek inside Layers of Reality by Anna Puschel

CCH: Does your synaesthesia impact your work as an artist?

AP: I find it difficult to imagine what kind of work I would make if the colours weren´t there. I am a very emotional and intuitive person, so I think my synaesthesia plays quite a role in that. It allows me to trust my artistic choices. When something has the right colour in my mind, I go for it. Over the years, I got more and more used to this checking in. Any maybe, since my reality seems to be more expanded than that of most people around me, I might be more open to perceiving aspects of life that mostly go unnoticed. All my work is about that.

CCH: Can you share an interesting or unusual experience you’ve had with your synaesthesia?

AP: I can´t recall any specific incident. I do notice though that my synaesthesia is strongly influenced by my lifestyle. I have heard a few synaesthetes say the same. I had a depressive episode in my early twenties and the colours were all gone – I only noticed when they started coming back.  On the other hand, regular exercise, healthy food, plenty of sleep and yoga and meditation really amplify the colours. 

Something that might be a bit of a superpower is that I can really see how someone in my close surrounding is doing. I can see how my boyfriend feels the moment he enters the room. If his colours is way darker or patchy, I know something is wrong. I guess it´s my subconscious reading his bodylanguage and my mind giving me an emotion that goes with it. Really interesting!

CCH: Please tell us about your academic background, and what inspired you toward your creative endeavors…

AP: I studied documentary photography at the AKV St. Joost in Breda, The Netherlands and then worked as a freelance photographer for a bit. Last year, I started my Masters in Fine Arts at LUCA in Gent, Belgium. I always wanted to be a photographer but surprised myself by going more and more towards the freedom and richness of Fine Arts. My underlying motivation is a deep curiosity about human interaction.


CCH: Anna, how can we find your creative projects online? And via social media?

My website is, and there´s the crowdfunding site for Layers of Reality that I used to realize the financing of the edition. On social media, you can find me under Anna Püschel Photography on facebook and I´m annapuschel on instagram.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.



April Zanne Johnson in the studio

April Zanne Johnson: Synaesthete Artist

The Iris showcases the talents and endeavors of our international members. I’m honored to introduce April Zanne Johnson, a multidisciplinary artist. April is a founding member of the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists, and part of our global IASAS community.

CC Hart: April, I’ve enjoyed following your creative projects on our IASAS Facebook pages, and I have to confess I’m a huge fan of your vivid and evocative art. Can you share with our community a bit about your creative projects and pursuits?

April Zanne Johnson: Thank you CC. I enjoy participating in the IASAS. It makes me feel less alone and provides so much information. My paintings are developed through the process of amalgamating my own neurologically produced synesthetic forms, saturated chromatic plains, and cipher threads to create dreamscape worlds.

I think of my work as portals into possibilities. Although my visual vocabulary is made up from synaesthetic forms and colours, these painted works do not exist in the physical world. They are also a product of my need to communicate, restructure and control what I see. Controlling what cannot be controlled. In the past few years I have been collaborating with “post-human composer” Jeff Morris (Texas A&M). You can read more about our experiments with his creation “Ferin Martino” at



Meeting of the Keys (Sound Experiment 2), 2016, oil paint on drafting film, 40”H x 36” W x .005”D, April Zanne Johnson. This work reflects the results of collaboration with music composer Jeff Morris and his interactive sound creation “ Ferin Martino”. Read more at

CCH: Do you have synaesthesia or do you create from your interpretation of the synaesthetic experience?

AZJ: I have synesthesia in a few different forms. I have it with the way I store memories. I see very translucent colour and patterns with sound all my life. Some sounds create a “snow-like” vibration. Some sounds are brighter than others. If a sound hurts my ears (literally) it can become opaque. My colour range and patterns are more consistent with physical sensations. I do not see colour and pattern with all physical sensations, it has to be extreme. It can be a nuisance to see through. As soon as the sensation is gone, so is the opaque colour/form.

I build new environments from the multitude of forms, patterns and colours I experience. I am definitely creating an interpretation from what I perceive. I am not trying to simply duplicate the sounds or sensation I see. Basically, I am utilizing my synaesthetic forms and colours to create a visual alphabet. From this “alphabet” I build surreal landscapes and imagined places. I suppose it all comes down to reorganization and manipulation of a very personal experience. I like to think of it as a symbiotic relationship I have with the paint, with the sound and with my imagination.



Periphery1-10,7, 2017, oil paint on wood panel, 8” W x 8”H x 1.5”D,

April Zanne Johnson


Screaming Demons (Resistance and Dissent series), 2016, graphite, sumi ink, gamsol and pork fat on drafting film, 28”H x 36”W x .005”D,

April Zanne Johnson

CCH: Are there particular expressions of synaesthesia that you find interesting from a creative perspective?

AZJ: I find it fascinating that other synaesthetes taste words or see letters in colour. I do not experience this aspect of synaesthesia so of course it is way more interesting to me. I had never heard of it before I became involved with the Synaesthete group.

CCH: Often synaesthetes believe they are just like everyone else until they figure out their experiences are abnormal in some way. Was this your experience?

AZJ: Yes, definitely early on. Of course I assumed people see the way I see, like everyone does. I was a schoolgirl when I really realized that people did not see sounds or pain. You learn fast when you make a comment and receive a confused look (or worse) in return. I did not like feeling odd and just didn’t talk about it. My parents just said I was highly imaginative, and that is true as well. I spoke to some doctors. One told me (back in the 90’s) “Don’t tell anyone else that.” Later, another doctor said, “So you see things?” The implication being “seeing things” is the equivalent of “crazy”. I decided not to see her again. A few years later, I spoke about it to a doctor with whom I developed trust and respect. He gave me some information about synaesthesia. I am no longer fearful of discussing synaesthesia when it is appropriate to do so, although I definitely evaluate my surroundings first. I gravitate toward people that I perceive to be less judgmental, and musicians for obvious reasons. I live very isolated for the most part.



April Zanne Johnson in the studio


CCH: I’ve enjoyed following you on Facebook where you occasionally post photos of your creative projects. What media do you work with?

AZJ: I work mostly with oil paint on plexiglass. I also use drafting film and smooth gessoed wood panel. Graphite and ink is a favorite for black and white work. I am always up for experimentation and collaboration. Currently I am sketching out some ideas for an installation with projection and light that is in the early stages of development. This is for a proposal so hopefully it will be funded.

CCH: Does your synaesthesia impact your work as an artist?

AZJ: Definitely. Long before I was showing my work in galleries I would paint colorful people with lots of patterns and forms around them. It was my way of trying to communicate my perspective. I still have most of them. I imagined that Klimt might have seen the world the same way that I do. Now, I use my synaesthesia to develop forms and colours. I try and match the impossible mixtures I perceive (an example: during an acupuncture session, a tiny pinch, calming soundscape music playing, I see pale violet with pale yellow. When the synaesthetic colours flow into each other they create a pink. This does not happen with paint. Paint does something quite different when you place violet near yellow).


Vomeronasal Tale (What Gives Your Intentions Away), 2017, oil paint, acrylic polymer on drafting film, 40”H x 72”W x .005”D,

April Zanne Johnson

CCH: Can you share an interesting or unusual experience you’ve had with synaesthesia?

AZJ: The most unusual experience I can think of, off the top of my head, is when I was experiencing a loss of my sound/colour/pattern while I was suffering a flare up of a separate and serious health condition. It was pretty terrifying. When I am in pain I can hardly see through the colour fields as they become opaque. That can be equally as awful and terrifying. Thankfully at this time that is not often.



Periaqueductal Gray Constructing Magenta Wall, 2016, 72”W x 24” H x .25”D, oil paint on plexiglass,

April Zanne Johnson

CCH: Please tell us about your academic background, and what inspired you toward your creative endeavors…

AZJ: In 1987, I spent the summer in N.Y.C. studying painting at Parson’s summer program for high school students. This was the point of no return for me. I went back to high school and graduated in 1988. I was accepted to Parsons and began in 1989 after a yearlong medical deferment. I have a B.F.A . in Illustration from Parson’s School of Design, The New School for Social Research and an M.F.A. in Studio Arts from Montclair State University. I have always loved creating with my hands and I have never seriously considered another path. I enjoy sharing my ideas and experiments with others. I’ve been painting all of my life.

CCH: Do you have any mentors or artists you look up to?

AZJ: Yes, many visual artists. Some include Ernst Haeckel, Hieronymus Bosch, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Vasily Kandinsky, Wangetchi Mutu, Katherina Grosse, Inka Essenhigh, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Cecily Brown, Pipilotti Rist, Masami Teraoka, Albert Oehlen, Francis Bacon, Sue Williams, Marilyn Minter… so many more. And that is not mentioning musical artists.

CCH: April, how can we find your creative projects online? And via social media?

AZJ: I love visitors so scheduling an in-person studio visit is the very best way to see my studio. Instagram is best for a quick peek in. My personal website has samples of my work. I am an independent artist and, unfortunately, have no gallery representation.

However, Saatchi Art is best for shipping international or large pieces because they manage the shipping arrangements. Saatchi Art also has prints of some of my work available and are affordable to most everyone. I like that aspect.

Web site URL:


ArtMaze Mag:

Create Mag:

SaatchiArt: (some prints and originals available- best for large work shipping and international shipping)

SaatchiArt- One To Watch:

Saatchi Art : A Day in the Life



Dr. Joel Salinas, MD, MBA, MTS

IASAS has so many fascinating founding members including Dr. Joel Salinas, an author, polysynaesthete, and medical doctor. Dr. Salinas is the Keynote Speaker at the upcoming IASAS Synaesthesia Symposium, October 19th and 20th in Los Angeles California.

CCH: Joel, it’s been a busy year for you with the publication of Mirror Touch: notes from a doctor who can feel your pain. Can you share a bit about this exciting book launch?

JS: I never imagined I would write a book. From elementary school all the way up through college, I was always drawn to writing and was encouraged to pursue it seriously. In medical school and residency, it inevitably took a backseat so I could focus on technical scientific writing, and becoming a clinician. Though, after finally feeling confident enough in the research around synesthesia, I was comfortable enough to share my story and to write about it. It’s a story I couldn’t have told without bringing synesthesia into it.

I remember when I was still staring at a blank screen in front of me… wondering about how I didn’t have any formal training in writing. How was I supposed to write an entire book?! But I quickly realized that all throughout medical school and residency I had been writing the entire time—so many patient notes, reams and reams of them, perhaps enough to fill a small library. I also had a deep well of tragic and beautiful experiences to draw from: a mysterious tumor over my brain, how I survived a devastating 70mph car wreck, a wild expedition into the heart of the Amazon rainforest for the sake of research, even a dance-off with a voodoo shaman.

In fact, my very first rough draft of the book, the draft manuscript as it’s called, ended up being the length of two books. And now, it’s one book, Mirror Touch.

In writing this book it quickly became clear that my story wasn’t just a reflection of me and my life. It was also an undeniable reflection of all the people who have helped shape me professionally and personally. Throughout, I share the stories of remarkable people with atypical bodies and brains—many of them patients—and go into bits of the most relevant history and current research for each. I also highlight some of the researched ways to increase empathy and compassion when it’s low, and—when that emotional empathy is too high—how to cope with and prevent burnout, essentially learning how to get empathy into a healthy “green zone”.

CCH: According to your book, MTS has had a big impact on your career in medicine. Are there particular expressions of synaesthesia that you find interesting from a creative perspective?

JS: I think synesthesia is endlessly fascinating in how it serves almost as a separate perceptual channel that interprets what we sense, think, and feel in unexpected and provocative ways.

Synesthesia also seems to tap a little deeper into the root of the typically unconscious brain processing that we all have and which plays an active role in shaping how we perceive and process the world around us—from basic percepts to more complex social concepts. In getting closer to this core of personal identity—this “me”-ness—I think synesthesia provides a more direct channel to expressing our messy, yet authentic, inner voice. This inner voice draws from all of our past experiences that have somehow imprinted themselves onto our brain cells. And, it helps us to better communicate and reflect our rich internal landscape as we interact with and mold our external world through what we say, do, and create.

CCH: Often synaesthetes believe they are just like everyone else until they figure out their perceptions are abnormal in some way. Was this your experience?

JS: Definitely. Thinking back to my childhood, more than just being a very geeky first-generation kid of Nicaraguan immigrants, I’d always had a sense there was something different or odd about me compared to others. Though, I just chalked it up to being a really weird kid.

As a child I was incredibly particular about how I colored letters and numbers. They had to be their “right” color. A had to be red. B had to be the right shade of orange. The number 1 had to be light yellow. Fussing over these things, I’m sure you can imagine how often my parents rolled their eyes…

Watching television, and I watched a lot of television, I felt the contortions of the television world I was immersed in: Road Runner sticks out his tongue, I feel my tongue sticks out. Wile E Coyote gets hit by a truck, I feel like I’m hit by a truck. I even felt what it was like to be Dorothy from The Golden Girls patting her perm and throwing shade at Blanche with her amazing eyebrows.

It was only until medical school that I learned that synesthesia was a thing, let alone that my sensory world was different from anyone else’s.

CCH: Was it challenging for you to write Mirror-Touch, and to essentially “relive” some of the sensations you reflect upon in your book?

JS: Reliving experiences was challenging at times, but it was only when I was vividly reliving these experiences that I knew that I would be able to share it with readers, being as specific as possible to let the reader deep into my internal sensory world. Sure, some of those experiences were brutal, but some of them were also beautiful. It was nice to be able to revisit all types of experiences and reflect on them again, but this time with the luxury of knowing that I had made it past them.

CCH: Can you share an interesting or unusual experience you’ve had with your synaesthesia?

JS: Recently, during one of my rounds, I’m consulted to see a young woman who started acting combative. She was born with cerebral palsy, and because of it she couldn’t speak. She had been admitted for diarrhea a few days earlier, but on the day of my consult she suddenly awoke agitated. She’s restless, attempting to climb out of the bed and swinging at her nurses and nurse’s aides. The primary medical team caring for her wants me to recommend a medication to calm her down.

I walk onto the hospital ward she is on and it’s easy to find her room. I just follow the sound of moans and screeches echoing in the hallway. She had kicked her blankets off and is tugging at her bedrail, rattling the bed with each forceful heave. Sweaty strands of dark mahogany hair stick to the sides of her face. I step in to perform a neurologic exam, careful to avoid her clawing. As I go ahead with the standard exam maneuvers to test her level of arousal and attention, my body mirrors her movements—her beads of sweat, her furrowed brow and grimace. This is a normal experience for me, but I notice an unusual feeling in my chest that I can’t shake. My chest feels as though it’s rising and falling much faster than my own body’s respiratory rate. I’m having a hard time keeping up with my body’s mirrored sensations.

These phantom movements in my chest are coupled with another subtle—almost negligible—feeling. I feel the reflected sensation of my shoulder muscles contracting with each mirrored rise and fall in quick succession. I focus on the movements in her body, trying to figure out what is wrong, then I check her vitals to see if anything else was abnormal. Her body temperature hovers just below a low-grade fever. Her heart rate is elevated. But I’m not convinced that this is related to her agitation. On their own, her vitals can’t explain her discomfort. Even though she can’t speak, her body is letting me know that there is more here than just “routine” hospital-induced delirium. I have to trust my body, my mirror-touch synesthesia. I recommend a special CT scan of her chest to get a closer look.

Not long after, her study results come back. They reveal blood clots in her lungs. She isn’t acting combative out of anger or delirium. She is literally fighting for air.

Without my mirror touch, I would have likely missed it.

CCH: Please tell us about your academic background, and what inspired you to pursue a career in medicine…

JS: I think mirror touch is partly what drew me into medicine and has helped shape me as a doctor. I think my decision to pursue medicine really began to solidify itself after studying the interaction of biological health and how we relate with one another while I was in the Amazon rain forest. The beauty and marvel of the brain—the motherboard of our reality—inspired me to neurology.

I graduated from Cornell University with a major that combined biology and sociology and from there went to medical school back home at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. After my third year, I did a year of neuroimaging research as a Doris Duke research fellow at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, studying how brain structure and function interrelate throughout human development. I returned to Miami and completed the business school portion of my joint MD-MBA degree, then finished all of my required medical school credits early enough that I could spend the remainder of my final year of medical school working on a health app start-up in Seattle before starting my residency training in neurology at the combined Harvard Medical School program at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. After residency, I completed a clinical fellowship to subspecialize in Behavioral Neurology & Neuropsychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and am now a faculty neurologist at Harvard Medical School and see patients at Massachusetts General Hospital. I’m in the process of creating my lab where my work focuses on performing social epidemiology research, studying how social relationships influence brain health using the most cutting-edge tools available in measuring brain structure and function. In combining my love for art and science, my hope is to ultimately help us all thrive and live more fulfilling lives.

CCH: Do you have any mentors in medicine you look up to?

JS: I’m inspired by how Oliver Sacks, VS Ramachandran, Richard Cytowic, and Atul Gawande were able to combine their various passions in medicine and art. I revere their writing as much as resources for living as I look to them as my informal instruction in writing.

In terms of the people who I am in contact with frequently, I have a village of clinical, research, and career-oriented mentors and guides who have been an endless source of support, including Merit Cudkowicz, Lee Schwamm, David Caplan, Alice Flaherty, Brad Dickerson, Reisa Sperling, Jonathan Rosand, and Sudha Seshadri.

CCH: Joel, how can we find you online? And via social media?

JS: I’m on all of social media with the same username:

Twitter: @joelsalinasmd

Instagram: @joelsalinasmd

Facebook: @joelsalinasmd

I love receiving questions and thoughts from others, so I encourage anyone to reach out without hesitation. I especially love handwritten letters (I have a post office box address listed on my website –

I’ve received so many questions and thoughts that I’m considering doing a regular YouTube vlog or Facebook Live. I’m still thinking it through, but if there’s enough interest I’ll probably go ahead and take that leap!

Allison J Bernadotte Barclay-Michaels: Art+Science+Synaesthesia=WOW!


One of my favorite roles as the IASAS secretary is interviewing our members for The Iris. I’m honored to introduce Allison J Bernadotte Barclay-Michaels, a multidisciplinary artist and synaesthete. AJBBM is a founding member of the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists, and part of our global IASAS community. She truly embodies the IASAS mission of uniting artists, scientists, and synaesthetes in support of the synaesthetic experience.

CCH: Allison, you are an IASAS Founding Member, and I’m honored to get to know you better. Can you share with our community a bit about your creative projects and academic pursuits?

AJBBM: Thanks, CC, for inviting me to interview for the Iris. The honour is mine.

CCH: Do you have synaesthesia?

AJBBM: Yes, I have chromaesthesia (sound->colour synaesthesia). I also feel some frequencies physically.

CCH: Are there particular expressions of synaesthesia that you find interesting from a creative perspective?

AJBBM: Definitely. My practice fuses fine art, gemmology, metallurgy, and the chemistry and physics of traditional materials and pigments from European, Middle Eastern, and Indigenous Canadian culture. I’m always excited to meet other synaesthetes and compare notes, especially if they’re artists, scientists, or can otherwise communicate their experience. I’d really like to cultivate my animations skills, and have recently begun working with chemigrams and cyanographs.

CCH: Often synaesthetes believe they are just like everyone else until they figure out their experiences are abnormal in some way. Was this your experience?

AJBBM: Oh yes, I just assumed everyone else saw what they heard. Nobody knew what I was describing, so lost interest or just thought I was a weirdo. I never related my experiences to anyone else again, until I read an article about synaesthesia in Time magazine 20 years ago. Finally it was a thing, and I didn’t have to keep it private any longer! It turns out one of my sisters has a very similar synaesthetic experience to mine, and we’re both convinced that our musician-biochemist grandfather was also a synaesthete.

CCH: I’ve enjoyed following you on Twitter where you sometime post photos of your creative projects. What media do you work with?

AJBBM: Thanks, CC, you’re very kind to say so. I was classically trained in fine art, so worked with synthetic versions of pigments at college. Then, during my gemmological education, I learned an incredible amount about light, matter, refraction, reflection, and the elements which make up and colour gemstones geologically. This lead me to learning about the traditional genuine pigments and how they were created from metals, gemstones, and organic material. I feel very fortunate to have gained such a deep and broad understanding, which means I have a lot of options to draw from when I wish to duplicate my synaesthetic visions as accurately as possible. For example, using Azurite Hue paint will give you a similar colour to genuine Azurite pigment, but as it’s made up of various chemicals it won’t give you the dispersion or complex play of colours of actual Azurite. I also work by laying coloured glazes over different precious metal leaves, some of which are allowed to oxidise or some which have been smoked. Recently I’ve been experimenting with “mutant materials”.


CCH: Does your synaesthesia impact your work as an artist?

AJBBM: Only if I choose. I appreciate and enjoy representative art, and certainly some things I “see” from sound remind me of things that exist in the world. But I’ll never run out of ideas, because I can just paint sound. I’m inspired by peoples’ emotional response to colour, both the seen and the unseen, and the variations of light and matter which evoke them. I’m researching human tetrachromacy as part of my MA. I had tinnitus for a month last winter, and although it was really annoying to always have these sounds in my ears, each day the different visuals I got were really pretty and delicate. I may paint a tinnitus series, who knows?

CCH: Can you share an interesting or unusual experience you’ve had with your synaesthesia?

AJBBM: Luckily I’ve had very many, but a recent one occurred when I was at CERN a few months ago. I was in a particle physics class given by Dr Piotr Traczyk, one of the experimental physicists who helped discover the Higgs boson. He thought it would be interesting to put the collider data to music, so he composed a sonification and played it on guitar. The music produced was not only of the Metal genre, it looked amazing to me. I was inspired to create two multimedia paintings, one for the melody and the other for the bass line, and an animation.

CCH: Please tell us about your academic background, and what inspired you toward your creative endeavors…

AJBBM: I attended the Victoria College of Art in British Columbia, earned my accreditation at the Canadian Institute of Gemmology, and am a member of the Hand Engravers Association of Great Britain. I’m currently a postgraduate student at Central Saint Martin’s, University of the Arts London, doing my MA in Art and Science. I’ve worked as a professional artist and designer, a gemmologist, a college-level jewellery design and gemmology teacher, calligrapher, and a Medieval manuscript conservatrix. I’ve always been artistic, from a very young age, and come from a family of artists, musicians, and scientists. I love to understand the Universe, as much as possible, which includes physics, and the inner embodied world, which includes medicine. I’m a relentlessly curious person who never tires of learning and making sense of things. Everything fascinates me, which has lead me to combine my love of the arts and sciences, because they really aren’t separate from each other.


CCH: Do you have any mentors or artists you look up to?

AJBBM: My mentor from art college was James Gordaneer, RCA. He passed away last year, sadly, and I’ll forever be grateful for his teaching, and in his debt. The great calligrapher Izzy Pludwinski: many of his lively letterforms remind me of how music can “move” and “look”. Also master bookbinder and printer Seamas McClafferty. Robert Rauschenberg (the sounds of his “Mud Muse” look incredible!), Wassily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, J. M. W. Turner. Synaesthetic jeweller Poppy Porter. There are too many to mention, because I appreciate other peoples’ experiences and ideas and how they choose to express them. I’m eternally fascinated by the writings and work of Benvenuto Cellini, which has helped me formulate some of my recipes for colour.

CCH: Allison, how can we find your creative projects online? And via social media?

AJBBM: Patreon:


Twitter: @AJBBM

Instagram: ajbbm_art


E-mail: ajbbarclaymichaels [at]

Richard Roche: Synaesthete, Artist, Scientist


The International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Scientists is fortunate to have Richard Roche as a founding member of our organization. IASAS aims to unite people who have synaesthesia, the artists who create from a synesthestic perspective, and the scientists who study cross-modal perception. Dr. Roche is all of these and more, a synaesthete, an artist, a researcher, and a founding member of IASAS.

CCH: Richard, I’m delighted to have this chance to catch up with you. Can you share with our IASAS members a bit about your work at Maynooth University?

RR: Thanks CC, my pleasure! I work in the Psychology Department at Maynooth, where I research both the healthy and the dysfunctional brain – over the years that has included memory, psychosis, stroke, acquired brain injury, and synaesthesia. I’m just about to start a project on reminiscence therapy for healthy older people and later people in the early stages of dementia, and its possible benefits for cognition and also psychological well-being.

CCH: Do you have synaesthesia?

RR: Yep, I’m a grapheme-c0lour synaesthete with coloured days of the week, and I also have a number form with abstract shapes (and personalities) for numbers. My sister and niece are both synaesthetes too!

CCH: Are there particular expressions of synaesthesia that you find interesting from a research perspective?

RR: They’re all fascinating, but the rarer types are definitely really interesting – experiences like tasting visual or auditory phenomena, or seeing shapes or colours in response to music. I think this is partly because of their scarcity, but also because, even for a run-of-the-mill synaesthete like me, the experience of that type of synaesthesia is so difficult to imagine. All forms can tell us something about how the brain works, but these rarer types may reveal even more secrets.

CCH: Often synaesthetes believe they are just like everyone else until they figure out their experiences are abnormal in some way. Can you comment on this?

RR: I definitely had that experience – I had never heard of synaesthesia until my first week of university; in a History of Psychology lecture, the lecturer described some classic types (grapheme-colour), and asked if anyone in the room experienced anything like that; mine was the only hand to go up. So he brought me up to the front of the room to describe my coloured days of the week to a room of my confused-looking classmates. I sat back down and he went on to talk about number forms, and again asked if anyone present had anything similar; again, mine was the only raised hand, so up I went again to explain. Until then, I think I had assumed that everyone just knew that Wednesday is a yellow thing, the same way a banana is a yellow thing. It was an eye-opening first week of college!

CCH: I’ve been fortunate to read your writing; what other creative media do you work with?

RR: I paint a little bit, just as a hobby, though some of the things I’ve painted in recent years have a neuroscience flavour (neurons, brain diagrams, neurological tests and measures). I also produced a brain map – the Isle of Cortica – depicting the brain as an island; that was done largely as a teaching tool, and it ended up winning a prize for Best Abstract Representation of the Brain from the NeuroBureau’s Brain Art Prize 2014.



CCH: Does your synaesthesia research impact your work as an artist?

RR: I wish it did, but not really – I’m envious of projector-type synaesthetes who actually see the colours/shapes, rather than just associating (which I do). It does make me quite aware of colour though, even if it’s on an associational level. Yellow always makes me think of Wednesday.

CCH: Can you share an interesting or unusual experience you’ve had with your synaesthesia research?

RR: By far the most interesting experience was working with the two synaesthetes we describe in the recent EJN paper with Kevin Mitchell and Francesca Farina – we called them AB and CD for anonymity. They were absolutely amazing, and it was remarkable that we should encounter two such rare types of synaesthete (both coloured-music and coloured auras for people) who had both lost and regained their synaesthetic experiences in recent years, for different reasons. Their two stories were absolutely fascinating, particularly AB who had suffered viral meningitis, a succession of concussions, and then– incredibly – was hit by lightning! It was fascinating to chat with both of them and discuss their experiences, and to hear how uncomfortable it was for them (particularly AB) to lose their synaesthesia, and the relief when it came back.

CCH: Please tell us about your academic background, and what inspired you to research synaesthesia…

RR: I did my undergraduate degree in psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, where I went on to do a PhD in cognitive neuroscience, and then a postdoc afterwards. That mainly involved studying learning and memory, using primarily EEG recordings from healthy humans. During my time at Trinity, I was aware that Fiona Newell was working on synaesthesia research – I volunteered my sister for one of her studies – and I was aware that Kevin was also very interested in the condition. So when I moved to a lectureship in Maynooth in 2005, I started work on a wide range of research interests which didn’t include synaesthesia, but when I met AB (though one of my Final Year students who was her friend), it was a good opportunity to link in with Kevin to explore the area again.

CCH: Do you have any mentors or artists you look up to?

RR: I’ve been really lucky to work and publish with some fantastic people in my time in Trinity and Maynooth, and in recent years Twitter has proven an amazing forum for being exposed to fascinating thinkers and artists – for example, some of the science-based art being produced by people like Greg Dunn (, Joni Seidenstein (aka @artcollisions) and Michele Banks (aka @artlogica). In general terms, I always find myself going back to Carl Sagan – as a communicator of science, I think he’s the best I’ve ever encountered, and I always try to emulate a little of what he accomplished when trying to relate scientific ideas, particularly to the public.

CCH: How can we find your research, art, and writing online?

For research, this is my work webpage:

Also LinkedIn:

And PublicationsList:

For art, here is the brain map:

And here’s a short story about synaesthesia I managed to get published in 2015:

Finally, the first of three co-authored novels –which have nothing to do with science or synaesthesia – is due to be released this year (hopefully!) with Wolfhound Press, Dublin.


Rosy Long: Artist, Synaesthete, IASAS Founding Member

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The IASAS Iris is pleased to focus on Rosy Long: artist, synaesthete and stalwart IASAS suppporter. When our IASAS website was under construction, Rosy was one of the first artists to offer use of her work, which is included in the collage that graces our home page under the “Art” subheading. Rosy continues to support IASAS, signing on as one of our first founding members. She answered a few of my questions about her art, her synaesthesias, and her creative spark.

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CCH: Rosy, I’m so glad to have this chance to interview you. What types of synaesthesia do you have?

RL: I am a Grapheme-Color synaesthete – but I do feel pain with other people in my teeth, nails and groin.

CCH: Often synaesthetes believe they are just like everyone else until they figure out their experiences are abnormal in some way. When did you know that you had synaesthesia?

RL: I have always felt a bit different and remember at infant school my coloured letters in my head. I always thought that this was because I was very special – my twin brother lost his very early on. I really loved all the colour stuff in my head and I found that it helped me to memorise things faster. I discovered I had synaesthesia when my son Joseph found he had it, relating his colours to sound and music. Even then everyone laughed at it and just thought I was quirkier!!

CCH: What media do you work in?

RL: My work has developed from oil painting, to acrylic painting, to 3D papier maché, to 3D Paperclay , finally to bas-relief papier maché/mixed media. I use what I need to express myself and my ideas.

CCH: How does your synaesthesia impact your work?

RL: I have never tried to show my colours in my head because they are not the colours you see around you. I think that my synaesthesia has enabled me to see things in an individual and quirky way and given me the strength to become a passionate artist.

CCH: Can you share an interesting or unusual experience you’ve had with your synaesthesia?

RL: I couldn’t think of anything – so I asked my dear husband. He says that I am useful to take around because I always know people’s telephone numbers without needing to look them up and I always remember appointment dates. This is so easy for me because the colours just come into my head and tell me.

CCH: Do you have an art degree or are you self taught?

RL: I am a graduate of Grays Art College in Aberdeen. The school that taught me the most about myself and my work was teaching children with Special Needs.

CCH: Do you have any mentors or other artists you look up to?

RL: I have the most wonderful artist friend whose work is very different from mine – subtle, beautiful and very perfect. She works on things for months till she is satisfied and hates to be in the limelight. I talk to her for ages on the phone and she is a loyal good friend. I also run a fortnightly group for life-drawing and it is good to keep in touch with the various artists who attend this. I admire most art and artists which I find inspirational.

CCH: How can we find your art online?



Photos from top: Artist Rosy Long with her work Alone, mixed media; Alone; Gifts from the Sea, mixed media; Doll’s Teaparty, mixed media; Grimbriggs, mixed media.


Kevin Mitchell, IASAS Board Member


IASAS is honored to shine its spotlight the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists, and Synaesthetes on Wiring the Brain, a neuroscience blog written and edited by Dr. Kevin Mitchell. Wiring the Brain focuses on “how the brain wires itself up during development, how the end result can vary in different people, and what happens when it goes wrong”. A developmental neurobiologist with the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Mitchell conducts research into the genetic program specifying the wiring of the brain and its relevance to variation in human faculties, especially to psychiatric and neurological disease. Read extracts from his paper presented at the Fifth International Conference Synesthesia: Science and Art, at Alcalà la Real de Jaén, Spain, 16–19th May 2015 here. Additionally, Wiring the Brain has an active and engaging Twitter profile.


Christina Eppleston, IASAS Founding Member


The International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists and Scientists is grateful to Christina Eppleston for her creation of the IASAS logo. Christina is a graphic designer by day and creates cute sculptures and jewelry by night as The Yarb. She enjoys vibrant colors and saturation, incorporating them into her designs. Christina’s work is often clean and simple, but her workspace is far from it! She enjoys surrounding herself with art and inspiration, especially cute animals. A lifelong grapheme-color and time-space synaesthete, Christina is exploring ways to incorporate her gifts into her art. You can see her work at:, Facebook and Etsy.  You can also follow Christina Eppleston on Twitter and Instagram.