Digital Illustration
exacting and expressive

Belfast in My Colours: A Synesthetic Exploration of My Temporary Home (2011)

This project explores my synaesthetic connections between colours and personalities. During two months living in Belfast, as the international artist in residence at Digital Arts Studios, I collected symbols of the surrounding atmosphere, attitude, and history that stood out most. When drawing each of these things in Illustrator, based mostly on my own photos, I applied the colouring that most suited each item's reputation, history, and character by matching the personalities that I synaesthetically perceive when describing different hues. For the traditional instruments, I drew upon my synaesthetic perception of colour when hearing sound.

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Firman - Belfast in My Colours
Firman - Belfast in My Colours
Firman - Belfast in My Colours
Firman - Belfast in My Colours

Notifications (2012, 2015)

When I had recently joined the ranks of iPhone users, I found it interesting that the phone presents you with notifications where you must choose, rarely leaving you a "gray area." What if life did that? As this technology becomes more and more embedded in our lives, culture, and decisions, I'm basically just waiting for one of these to become real. Made in Photoshop (2012) and Illustrator (2015) with freely available iOS interface resources.

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Firman Notifications
Firman Notifications
Firman Notifications
Firman Notifications

Comparing with Kandinsky (2015)

Wassily Kandinsky (b. 1866, Russia; d. 1944, France) is widely believed by researchers to have been a synesthete. Among his writings, we have records of his thoughts on the relationship of multisensory connections in art. He presented and taught these concepts as fact during his career, demonstrating their absoluteness in his mind. In his 1912 text Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky writes several pages filled with detailed attributes of personality and presence for several of the basic colors.

From this passage and several examples of his abstract artwork, I created a personality profile for each hue. I compared this to my own perceptions of the same type, noting similarities and differences. Then, I created two pieces of digital artwork for each color–one interpreting Kandinsky’s perceptions and style, and one representing my own. This short visual catalog of two synesthetic experiences shows both striking overlaps and disagreements, which are experiences well-known to synesthetes and researchers yet rarely studied outside grapheme-color and sound-color types.

The first image of each color is my interpretation of Kandinsky's writings in tribute to his distinct abstract style. The second is my own visual description of the color in my own imagery.

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Kandinsky Red

Kandinsky wrote about Red, visually described above:

  • inner, highly vivid, lively, restless appeal
  • does not possess the irresponsible and self-dispersive character of yellow
  • in spite of all energy and intensity, it creates a strong note of almost tenacious immense power
  • glows in itself and does not radiate much vigor outwardly
  • achieving a manly maturity

Medium Red

  • gains in the persistence of intense feeling; like a relentlessly glowing passion
  • a solid power within Itself, which cannot easily be surpassed but which can be extinguished by blue, as glowing iron is put out by water
  • glows but within itself
  • the somewhat mad characteristics of yellow are almost completely lacking
  • it is dangerous to mix red with black because the dead black subdues the glow and reduces it to a minimum

Lighter Reds

  • (warm) arouses the feeling of strength, energy, ambition, determination, joy, triumph
  • sounds like a trumpet accompanied by the tuba, a persistent imposing, strong tone
  • (light) It wounds like innocent, youthful joy, the glad innocence of a young girl
  • high, clear singing notes of a violin

Colder Reds

  • it reminds us of an element of deep and middle tones, of the cello played passionately
Firman Kandinsky Red

My Thoughts on Red, visually described above:

  • cello, bass, and bassoon are shades of medium to dark red
  • pure "fire engine red" is a somewhat pushy person in a fitted business suit who only wants to talk business
  • soft reds (not pink) are home–still, open, constant
Kandinsky Grayscale

Kandinsky wrote about Black, Gray, and White, visually described above:

Black

  • sounds like an eternal silence, without future or hope
  • in music, It is as a final pause, which precedes the beginning of another world, yet signifying a termination as the circle is completed
  • immobile, corpse-like
  • has no connection with any occurrences, and accessible to all things
  • the robe of greatest, deepest sorrow
  • outwardly, It Is the least harmonious color yet, for that reason, any other color, even the weakest, will appear stronger and more precise In front of It

Gray

  • without appeal and immobile
  • a different kind from the repose produced by green which lies between two active colors and is their product. Grey is, therefore, the immobility of desolation.
  • darker this grey becomes the greater the predominance of desolation, of suffocation
  • lighter gray: lighter, airier breathing more freely as if in relief and with a new hidden hope
  • a similar grey is produced by an optical mingling of green and red which achieves a spiritual blend of passive self-satisfaction and a strong glow of activity

White

  • white is a symbol of a world from which all color, as a material quality and substance, has disappeared
  • this world Is so far above us that we cannot perceive any sound coming from it
  • great silence
  • graphically represented, appears to us as a formidable, indestructible wall, though infinitely cold, reaching up into eternity
  • it sounds inwardly and corresponds to some pauses in music, which, though temporarily interrupting the development of a melody, do not represent a definite end of the musical sequence
  • it Is not a dead silence but one full of possibilities.
  • used to color pure joy and infinite purity
  • all other colors are minimized in their appeal and some are dissolved completely and retain but a mute, weakened shadow of it
Firman Kandinsky Grayscale

My Thoughts on Black, Gray, and White, visually described above:

  • humble, workaday, organized
  • often taken for granted
  • capable of great feeling
  • the ultimate support for color
  • sounds (as opposed to music) often have gray forms, though they are dominated by shape and motion rather than taking the identity of the color

That Which Cannot Be Said With Words 2 (2021-present)

Inspired by a series of digital photographs that demonstrate the vibrance, delicacy, flow, and form constants of synesthetic photisms, these drawings are recordings of experienced mental imagery while listening to music. Created quickly on an iPad with an Apple Pencil and Adobe Fresco, and some with minor Photoshop for refinements.

View the whole project here (opens a new tab).

Firman Synesthesia Drawing
Firman Synesthesia Drawing
Firman Synesthesia Drawing
Firman Synesthesia Drawing