Case Study - Stephanie Roberts

World Dyslexia Awareness Day, Dyslexia Awareness Week 2017 5.10.17

Case Study – Stephanie Roberts


Hosted by The Riverfront Gallery, Newport.

Funded by The Arts Council of Wales.

Topics – Language articulation, Art as therapy, health and well-being, regression therapy, healing.

Exhibition description – Multidisciplinary art, painting, assemblage, contemporary mosaic art, installation and sculpture.


From word blindness to blind drawing, Case Study explores the affective layers, dimensions and personal assaosiations of one person's journey.

Case Study – An exhibition of a new body of work that forms an investigation into whether I can come to terms with the tension I feel communicating with words, or find a new way of communicating by combining making and language, to aid my understanding of the composition of thought to language.


This project has enabled me to find understanding of self, comprehend my dyslexia and embrace self-acceptance. I have explored old and new ways of working through process led techniques, spontaneity and automatic responses to create multidisciplinary artworks. This 9 month journey supported an investigation into honesty, my emotional relationship to dyslexia, which has combined making with language. I have developed a new relationship with language that allows me to compose using a template process and mindfulness techniques.


To have 'difficulty with words', dyslexia defined by the dictionary, is not just about 'word blindness' which is clearly explained in the diagram below. A dyslexic's brain works differently in many ways by over compensating for the loss it experiences. In my case, dyslexia defines itself as an awareness of missing neuron connections or activity and a heightened emotional and spacial thought process takes its place.



People who become 'sustainable dyslexic' individuals often find ways to divert attention away from their language problems. Often learning techniques of coping, made easier with computer technology and emphasising personal ability. However, almost all of the dyslexics I have spoken to 8 out of 10, over the past 9 months, have had experienced emotional stress and anxiety disorders developed in childhood. These issues are threaded together from a lack of awareness within the education system to the emotional damage that can form with dyslexia. A fear of language needs to be supported with understanding, nurturing and by aiding different approaches to learning. The intelligence of a child should not be defined by literacy skills alone. Dyslexics are often stigmatised as unintelligent or stupid, often become labeled as day dreamers or trouble makers of the class. Consequently forming 'sticky damage', which can influence conscious perception of self.


My dyslexia is defined by -

  • Difficulty with comprehension and understanding of connecting words.

  • Reading aloud.

  • Remembering names and vocabulary.

  • Difficulty in navigating through thoughts and ideas in a linear format.

  • Overactive thought process.

  • Difficulty in defining sensibilities.

  • Problems deciphering visualisations from sensibilities.

  • Fear of being stigmatised.

  • Anxiety of 'broadcasting' all the above in social and workplace environments.


Expectation and pressure to maintain sustainability of self and arts practice is constant.My dyslexia can lead to a lack of confidence in ability often triggered by stigma, causing a 'melt down'. On occasion jeopardising the future of my arts practice, the emotional damage is too overwhelming and painful.

 The most signifiant 'melt down' I experienced took place in January 2017. I was in a non functioning space and this time I needed help.


Honesty and Evaluation of self

I talked to anyone who would listen.

A friend pointed out:

Maybe you need to look at self?

Why are you experiencing this pain?

What is your dyslexia doing to you?

Maybe you need to address this through your art practice?

Utilising this 20th year landmark to explore and release the tension of self.


He was right. Not only was I unhappy with self, I was totally unsustainable.

The enormity ahead of me was overwhelming.


'Summon the forest' is the initial installation viewed when entering the gallery, it represents the emotions of this time. It was inspired by the concept of walking around a situation or sensibilities, trying to comprehend emotions.

The downward spiral of failure

The loneliness and isolation of entrapment

The mental meltdown

The armour and defence system failing

The weeping

The burnout



I knew I had to 'summon' the forest. I was lost and fearful. I needed to address my situation with self. De-clutter my brain, 'empty my raft' of negative energy and memories. My eyesight was inhibited. I was experiencing a 'white fog' that took away my visual clarity, a symptom of anxiety and stress.


Research and Development

A friend told me about a regression therapist that might be able to help.

While I thought about making an appointment, I began to find courage in being honest about my dyslexia and emotions. Discussing my situation and making it real. I have always felt dyslexia clearly defines who I am but needed to stop bowing down to the 'word disability' and take ownership of its control. It was difficult to be honest. It is embarrassing to admit that quite often word comprehension is misunderstood therefore response to a question is challenging.

I had become aware of a dyslexic coach, who was an artist and professional colleague. I called to see if she could support me. She guided me through a process of utilising theories and templates, while working in a spacial environment to approach word comprehension. She aided my completion of an application to The Arts Council of Wales for a Production Grant. The intention to create an exhibition to be held at The Riverfront, Newport which was to coincide with World Dyslexia Awareness Week 2017.


Regression Therapy

While I waited for ACW's response, I commenced with the research and development of the project. I contacted Patricia Maddalena, who came recommended, who practised regression therapy. I put my trust in her, I had to, I was desperate. I arranged to see her.

What happened next was the most incredible experience of my life. Through a series of questions directed to me and from behind closed eyes, I was transported calmly back to the most painful of situations. The time where I had been most humiliated and experienced the most intense sense of being a disappointment and failure. What you pull from memory is very intriguing. Many scenarios and situations were revealed. One insight led to white light flooding down from a family member, I had created him as 'role model' 'my hero', call him what you will, 'his light' flushed away all negative attachment to my past.

I opened my eyes. I was back in the room, after 2 1/2 hours. The fog had gone. I could see clearly.

I could literacy see 'space' in my brain for the first time in 35 years.

Only one issue remained. But it had space around it. I could see it clearly and from all perspectives. 'Difficulties with words' stood alone, like a tree in a empty field. Now I had clarity to address my dyslexia on its own, with no emotional attachments.

Patricia taught me to walk around situations in my mind and see them from new and every perspective. Change the colour of the memory and welcome the change. This was the inspiration for 'Summon the forest'. I was trying to develop a way of understanding my cognitive behaviour and learn to communicate visually my feelings and thoughts.


Reunited to blind drawings through mentor Marega Palser.

I rekindled my fascination for automatic drawing and blind drawings. I previously drew music to observe the pencil line responses. This mindful process was both calming and creative. I wondered if harnessing this technique would allow me to connect my conscious thoughts to subconscious responses, therefore reveal a visual thought. Using this blind artistic process, linked to regression therapy when a closed eye and spontaneous technique are practised.

Now, for the first time in my life I was seeing my thoughts and emotions on paper. They were translated into a new dimension of visibility. They were exhausting and intense moments of drawing. Focusing deeply into the theme, breathing into the thought, to become more absorbed and find its clarity, allowing the pencil to move instinctively.

To find understanding of these complex drawings, I drew a 16' continuous blind drawing of my emotional life. This exercise clarified my emotions during each period of my life. It was a breakthrough moment. I began to decipher my self and understand. I was building up a library of visual understanding of my mark making and patterns. Able to ask myself questions and receive answers.


I began to investigate aspects of my work, meetings, projects and responded through drawings. My observations were honest spontaneous subconscious breakdowns of the balance, pressure, anxiety, collaboration and creativity involved in my working practice. Providing me with visual evidence to formulate words. The drawings were practical and had a beguiling beauty.

However, noticeably revealing certain pattern formations that I did not understand.


Combining making and language with funding from The Arts Council of Wales.

What were these patterns communicating?

How was I going to communicate through materials?

These patterns formed in very particular places and occurred in incidences where I was exploring anxiety or stress. I came to discover that they were a complex network of emotions and memories connected to family. An Art Therapist friend advised my thinking process, while I guided myself through understanding what was being revealed. I was creating my own art therapy process. What was being unveiled was personal and private but now I had understanding.

I had been collecting materials and objects that resonated with me during my research. Daffodils where in full bloom and I had felt compelled to purchase and collect them especially as they began to lose their life. Their vulnerability and delicateness was alluring. I touched materials and embraced the memory of the first time I had felt them. This is how the process began. From past to present. Slowly through process and experimentation, sculptures and artefacts were formed. Resin became my substance to capture memories. Textures, qualities and densities of found materials connected me to place. Hand made tesserae informed my narrative, while plants symbolised a delicate and emotional language.

Exploring my childhood formed the collection of artworks displayed in glass cases in Case Study and at the supporting exhibition at the Newport Museum and Art Gallery, running simultaneously. Their creation allowed me to recall, release and abandon.

I knew from the automatic drawings and using a spontaneous process my artistic language was giving my art a new sense of freedom and creativity. I needed to put this concept of spontaneous process into other artworks.


'Regression' (4'x6') was created to reconfirm as a visual response, my regressive healing experience. I did not think, I just made. I created what ever I felt I needed to explore, day by day. Writing. Collage. Painting. No concept of a finished article, it was a piece created to heal. If I started to think, I walked away. My conscious self was influencing me, but my subconscious was directing me. Images appeared and went. Affected layers and dimensions were formed. Colours changed. With loss, came gain. Nothing was precious. The girl bowing down to the torment and memories was leaving.

To disconnect I poured clear resin over the artwork. It was captured. A process that allowed me to find self-forgiveness and self-acceptance.

The addition of glass and mosaic was the only element of aesthetic judgement used in its creation.


The following two works were created using the same process of layering and concealment, using collage and painting with oil, gouache, ink, stains and emulsion. Blind drawing, spontaneous writing and mark making were interwoven with print techniques as responses to the thematic of each piece. Adornments, made artefacts and objects were added to support the framework of each narrative.



'45 minutes allocated' (3'x5') I knew I had to release my anger toward dyslexia and situation related issues connected to education and language. The stigma I felt needed to be abolished. I began releasing my internal anger towards my situation and self. Spontaneous written dialog and shouting formed a narrative and the outline of an old ill fitting article of clothing represented my discomfort with self. This image appears in the first two artworks I created and was my first visual expression of my discomfort with dyslexia. The layers transported me through time and situation. Each layer transferring from self to artwork. The glass crescent is a representation of the entrapment and isolation I felt during my education. It was a emotional piece to create and at times harrowing, it really did feel and sound like a exorcism at times. This piece however is beguiling and is suggestive, to me, of the contained poetic beauty within dyslexia.



Reframing a landscape.

'No apologises' (4'x8') The space. The light. The toolbox. This image symbolises a new found space. I needed to glance across my journey of loss and self discovery, to guide myself into this new delicately framed future. A future where opportunities seem approachable and communication is accessible. Where space, colour and image support positive associations with language. Mile stone moments of a journey can be guidelines. The collection of boxes in this artwork provide me with a memory of guidelines that aid my journey to 'positive ability'. Objects, artefacts and glass strips adorn the artwork held by a layer of resin that forms the skin of the work, illuminating its many colours and layers.



All the art created during this project was created allow me to find a methodology They have allowed me to find safety in acceptance, find communication of language and most of all encourage me to be confident, to speak up and be heard. With no apologies.


Daffodils and flowers became a metaphor for my emotions

 My use of flowers, mainly daffodils, came from the seasonal changes occurring during this project. They were the first rays of hope that grew sharply through the ground and then flourished into explosions of sunshine. Their short lives and quick demise resonated with me and they became a metaphor for my emotional awareness and state of mind. Aiding my artistic language and understanding of self.

I could not have gone through this process without so many people's support and guidance. Sometimes we can not achieve without an exchange or collaboration.

Regressive Therapist - Patricia Maddalena,

Dyslexic mentor/Artist/professional colleague - Victoria E Jones.

Artistic Mentor - Marega Palser, performance artist, dancer, artist.

Artistic Mentor - Nathalie Vin, mosaic / fine artist.

Emma Wheeler, Skomer Art - Art therapist.

Ismael Velasco - Story Teller.

Eugene Dupenskij - PhD Researcher/word guru.

My mum and ultimately my children for being so understanding and allowing me the space to weep, cwtch and create.



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