Photo of Artist Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux, Artist,

Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux is a Saint Louis, Missouri Artist who creates large-scale abstract paintings in acrylic on wood. Her work is ornate and full of life and movements. Mary is an artist who likes to tell stories, and many of her paintings are inspired by poetry, literature or iconic figures. Each painting has an original handcrafted frame which is built by Mary's dad, Michael Radcliff. Mary agreed to share her story, her work and experiences as an adult dyslexic with Headstrong Nation.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

"Four & Twenty" - Acrylic on Wood - By Mary Radcliff- Harnetiaux

Photo by Robert Bullivant/Bullivant Gallery

Dyslexia as a child

I struggled in school. I never received support as a student nor was I understood by my teachers. I was unable to connect to my work, which made me feel helpless and isolated. I was viewed as lazy and unmotivated. When I look back at my educational journey, I remember all the things my parents had to do in order to protect me, and I'm incredibly grateful they never gave up on me.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

“The Kaleidoscope” – By Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Discovering Art and the Creative Process

I discovered I was an artist when I was six years old. I won a coloring contest in my community and that smidgen of recognition felt so right and reaffirming that I gave myself the title, “artist.” At the start, my creative process with painting served to pacify my feelings of inadequacy in other areas. I always looked to tell a story and the stories in my heart inspired me the most. During a typical school day, or later in life while working at my job, I would see the painting I wanted to paint in my head and I would come home and try to capture it. I intuitively knew that I had this other “thing” that I was really good at. I’d dive into my paints and I would find myself.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

“Eve” – Acrylic on Wood - By Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Photo by Robert Bullivant/Bullivant Gallery

What My Dyslexia Looks Like

I forget passwords all the time and find myself locked out of accounts—very frustrating. When I put things away, I can’t find them. I stack things neatly and within sight. I get rid of clutter. I have large glass apothecary jars that I keep pencils and crayons and paint brushes in. I would say that my days of working in retail actually helped me learn how to “display” items in an “artistic” way around my house—no one would know that I have problems with organization.

Paperwork/forms in doctor’s offices (or anywhere) is very hard for me to fill out. I have trouble staying on the right line and I always have to draw arrows indicating that I reversed lines. My dyslexia also reveals itself at times through my speech. People who know me well will attest to hearing me say on occasion, "I can't get my words out." If you have ever seen me in a yoga class or witnessed me dance, "The Electric Slide," during a wedding reception—you’ll notice that I have profound left and right issues. I work around these problems directly, without apology, and through humor.

Painting by Mary Harnetiaux

“Unexpected Journey” – Acrylic on Wood – By Mary Radcliff-Harnetiaux

Photo by Robert Bullivant/Bullivant Gallery

Tools Which Help Me to Be my Personal Best

GPS is my closest friend. Voice to text is also a close companion. Spellcheck is my secret weapon. I ear read like a fiend. I have a voracious appetite for books and information. Ear reading is by far the most important tool in my life. People ask me if I miss the feeling of a book in my hand—like I’m missing out on something. I’m just fine with my Learning Ally or Audible apps, and tech. I wonder if a typical reader can paint their bathroom while eye reading? You see, my reading experience is pretty 3D. For instance, I planted all of my tulip bulbs while ear reading the novel, “The Signature of all Things.” I completed my most recent painting as I listened to, Neil Gaiman, narrate his own book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” I would never view my ear reading experience as lacking in any way. These tools help me live a better quality of life as they help me accomplish more than I ever thought possible.

Success and How I own my dyslexia

To me, success as a dyslexic adult is understanding how I work—how I tick—knowing my areas of weakness and strength. My success is not about success in other people’s eyes. I've spent years battling that internal dialogue that constantly tells me I can’t do something, that I’m not good at anything, or that I shouldn't be a part of something important. Success is learning to control that negative narrative. It is being brave and curious enough to do that thing that fills me with a sense of accomplishment and purpose. It’s writing without worrying about the red line that highlights my errors. It’s painting that story inside of me without asking anyone for permission. To me, success is understanding that struggle and failure are a learning curve and that the bigger picture is owning it all while honoring my true nature in the process.

“Your road may be a jagged uphill trek, but you have heart, brains, and courage. If you look closely, you'll realize your purpose in life has been with you all along—sort of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers.”

Words for the Young Adult Dyslexic

Understanding your limitations is a form of intelligence, it's not a weakness. Own your personal story—even if it's not a success story right now. Believe it or not, your failure story is a blueprint for your success story to follow. Own it all. Find your joy and creativity. Don't allow others to fill in the blanks of what they think you are capable of. Fill every blank with your own personal narrative. You are no longer that voiceless, powerless child in the classroom. You are supposed to be here, and your perspective is wanted and valued. As long as you're trapped in a place of silence and shame, you are missed. Surround yourself with other adult dyslexics whom you feel are positive mentors. Never give up.

“Your road may be a jagged uphill trek, but you have heart, brains, and courage. If you look closely, you'll realize your purpose in life has been with you all along—sort of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers.”

You may visit Mary's website at to enjoy her beautifully intricate artwork and read her personal blog.

Headstrong Nation is a movement dedicated to a radical new approach to dyslexia. We empower adult dyslexics to own their dyslexia, to understand it, and to develop new ways of learning and working based on their individual profiles.

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Jim McCarthy realized that his true passion was found in creating art. He’s a self-taught artist, and is currently pursuing a degree in art at Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork, Ireland. Jim agreed to collaborate on an interview for Headstrong Nation and the following are responses to questions about his life, both past and present, as a creative dyslexic man on a mission to spread awareness and change how dyslexia is viewed by the public.

photo of artist Jim McCarthy with paintings

(Artist Jim McCarthy in his studio - Copyright, Jimmy McCarthy -

Early Years.

My early years in school were very challenging and not a very pleasant experience. Corporal punishment was very prevalent, and I often found myself on the receiving end. I don’t think dyslexia or other SpLDs were fully understood. There wasn’t any specific help given to a person with dyslexia at that time. I enjoyed certain aspects of school, but always wanted to leave and find a job as early as possible. I left school at the age of 14/15 and then worked in construction for over 30 years as a carpenter/joiner.

Jim McCarthy's sculpture entitled fighting with words- Sculpted image of man cut out of pages in a book arms raised in fighting stance Portrait of a grieving mother wearing veil, dust covered painting of antique Morris automobile entitled "Redundant Morris" by Jim Mccarthy

(From left: Fighting With Words - Medium: Paper Sculpture, Grieving Mother - Oil on Canvas 40cm x 40cm, and Redundant Morris - Oil on Linen 240mm x 300mm -

Self Evaluation and Higher Education.

In 2012 due to a major recession in Ireland, I found myself out of work for the first time. I applied for jobs in everything I could, but never had any luck in securing long-term work as the lowest qualification for work in factories was a degree. Looking at my skills, I decided that the best path to get a degree would be in the arts. I have always had a passion for art. In order to achieve my goal of getting accepted into art college. I first had to attend a college of further education due to my leaving school so young. I found I was strong in the practical subjects, but found the academic subjects to be a serious challenge for me.

Inspiration and Information.

After about two months, I attended a lecture and viewed a documentary about the artist Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg spoke openly about his dyslexia. I could relate to everything he had to say. After this lecture I went and spoke to staff at the disability support service, who sent me for an educational psychology assessment. The assessment confirmed that I had specific learning disabilities that significantly affected my ability to access the college curriculum. The psychologist congratulated me, stating my IQ was well above average and this was probably the reason why I wasn’t identified earlier.

Painting entitled The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - (What do you see?) - Oil on Canvas 200mm Diameter - )

The Truth Can Set You Free. The Education System Let Me Down.

Truthfully, I suppose I always knew I was different and suspected I had dyslexia. When I got the results, I found the information freeing and liberating. It was like my past life made sense and everything fitted together. In addition to feeling liberated by understanding my dyslexia, I also felt angry and betrayed by the education system because it had not acknowledged that picture thinking people learn differently than linear thinking people. I had only wished that all of my old teachers were there to witness the results. After figuring out how I learned, I used this information to study my academic subjects. At the end of my time at this college, I had achieved top grades and was later accepted as a 2nd year direct entry student into a Fine Art Degree course at Crawford College of Art and Design.

Daily Challenges and The Need for Public Awareness of Dyslexia.

As an adult with dyslexia, I have found that there are still major challenges for me. I have found that society and education systems are designed specifically for the linear thinker. I believe it is essential for the public to be educated about dyslexia as this would help to alleviate any misconceptions. Dyslexia is not just about reading or writing. Dyslexic people tend to have a different perspective of the world. They have a gift of viewing problems from multiple angles. I find I can visualize the end product and most of the time, foresee any problems that might occur, even before any work has begun.

Tools I Use.

I use certain tools to help me work more efficiently. I use Dragon Dictate, Read and Write Gold and a LiveScribe Pen . I would recommend any of these to help dyslexics. Because I am a visual learner, I also use documentaries to learn the information I need.

Hand cut image of a distorted fountain entitled Distorted Fountain by artist Jim Mccarthy

Distorted Fountain - Hand Cut Image -

Art as a Constant and a Solace.

Art has always been a constant part of my life, and no matter what life had to throw at me, it has been my solace. My earliest memories of doing art are when I lived with my grandparents, sitting at their kitchen table drawing what I saw in books or around me. Later while going to school I would get disciplined by teachers for drawing on my copybooks or school books.

Frustration - Holism Art painting of man covering his ears screaming out in frustration by Artist Jim McCarthy

(Frustration - Oil on Canvas 405 x 557 -

Holism Art and Concepts as Related to Dyslexia.

“Holism Art” is a name I came up with for my art. People with dyslexia think and view the world holistically and are primarily picture thinkers. Rather than using self-talk (words, sentences, or internal dialogue), they specialize in mental or sensory imagery. This method of thinking is subliminal. Since dyslexic people think in pictures or imagery, they tend to use global logic and reasoning strategies. looking at the big picture to understand the world around them. Thinking primarily with images, dyslexic people also tend to develop very strong imaginations. They use a picture or feeling based reasoning process to solve problems rather than a verbal one. If they are at first confused (or intrigued), they will mentally move around an object and look at it from different viewpoints or angles. From this thought process, they develop many unique abilities and talents. For this reason and others, I believe ‘Holism Art’ is the appropriate name for my art.

Painting of English Market - Cork Painting of Paul Street by Artist Jim McCarthy

(From left: Margadh Bearla, Sraid an Phrionsa, Corcaigh 2011 (English Market, Princes St., Cork) - Oil on Canvas 20" x 24", and Sraid Pholl, Corcaigh 2011 (Paul Street, Cork) - Oil on Canvas 20" x 24"-

The Power of Art and Success as an Artist.

Art is more than something on a wall or a sculpture, it has the power to change things and bring joy. Art can also start a discussion and educate. If you can gain some material wealth, experience job satisfaction and also help to change a person's outlook on life or help highlight an injustice, what more can you ask for of life? When I conceive an idea for a piece I never consider whether it will be successful or not. My first protocol is the concept and if it’s relevant to me. The second is how relevant it is to the world in which I live. Thirdly, do I have an emotional contact with the piece?

Of course it would be a dream come true to be a successful artist and to have a steady income to support my family. I have had a certain amount of success in which I have sold my art and have received commissions. I've also had my work in group exhibitions in Ireland and Brittany in France and have pieces in private and corporate collections in Ireland, England, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, New Zealand and United States. All of this has been achieved with no formal education in the arts.

Some of my art is inspired by my own life experiences. By using myself, I hope not to offend others. Many dyslexics can relate to this work and its emotional content. Through my work I have highlighted the injustices and discrimination against dyslexics and have been successful in creating discussion to challenge misconceptions.

After setting up my website earlier this year, I received thousands of views and much feedback from dyslexics, parents, families and friends of dyslexics from around the world. Some of my work has been used for educational purposes and through this work I have spoken to teenagers who dropped out of school early and are now going to return to college. If I had been told in 2011, while still working in construction, that I would find myself out of work, that I would return to college to pursue a degree, and that my art would help in some small way to change the perception of dyslexia, I would never have believed this.
What the future looks like.

Painting of Craftsman's Tools on table entitled "The Craftsman's Tools" by artist Jim McCarthy
(The Craftsman's Tools - Acrylic on MDF 455mm x 400mm -

It is quite hard for me to think of the future, as like many dyslexics I have a problem with the concept of time. Since 2012, I have found myself back in the alien world of academia, where each day brings new challenges. I hope to achieve my goal of getting a degree, but where this will lead, I’m unsure! I really hope that along the way some doors will open for me and I might get that lucky break of becoming a successful artist. If not, I hope to secure a permanent job and continue making art as I have done previously. No matter what the outcome, I will continue to promote the positives of dyslexia through my art.

I believe it is very important for anyone who may be having problems or falling behind in school to get an educational psychology assessment. Because I really do believe dyslexia is a learning difference. Getting assessed for dyslexia has opened up a new world to me. Understanding and acknowledging my dyslexia and why I have to work so hard to achieve, has given me a better understanding of myself.

I think dyslexic people will always have to work harder to achieve in the linear world. However, with advancing technology and the help of science this may become an easier process in the future. Science, with the help of MRI scans, has proven that the dyslexic brain is different and is wired differently. Dyslexia is an invisible disability which needs to be understood completely, and until this occurs discrimination will continue against a portion of the population. Society needs holistic viewing people to enhance the world and help in the future of our society.

Jim McCarthy, September, 2015

Jim created a video entitled -This Apple Doesn’t Fall Too Far From The Tree - (SpLDs and what can happen), illustrating what can occur if Specific Learning Disabilities (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia/DCD, ADHD, 2e-Twice Exceptional) are not identified early and whose needs are not met.

You can view Jim's uniquely personal and meaningful artwork and read his blog HERE.

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math test with red F

Failure and the growth mindset - It’s OK to Fail...Really!

I’m my own worst enemy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to fail. Don’t like to be revealed. It’s like hanging dirty laundry out for others to see. But I fail daily and so often that I now realize that my failures are part of who I am, my individual learning curve. I know that it’s important to accept the fact that I will fail, and to learn from these failures and move forward. If I don’t, the feelings of anxiety and shame associated with my failures, whether large or small, will begin to consume me and erode my self-confidence. These negative feelings and scripts are of no benefit to me, and it’s up to me to meet them head on, and change the messages that I give to myself.

I’ve read many articles on the value of failure as related to learning and growth in an individual. No one likes to fail, but some of us will fail more often than others. Dyslexics often experience their fair share of failures in the classroom, and in the workplace. The types of messages that we give to ourselves after we've failed at a given task will determine our desire to keep going or to quit, These scripts, if negative, will remain with us and will affect how we view ourselves, how we interact with others, and will influence the future goals we set (or do not set) for ourselves. This type of self-talk is limiting.

Why are some dyslexics more successful than others? Might it be that those who are successful see their failures and setbacks as opportunities for change and growth? How about those dyslexics who do not feel they have reached the level of success that they desire? Can these individuals change the messages that they give themselves when they fail, and in turn, experience positive growth and future success?

Let’s also consider the individual who generally performs above average and is constantly given the message by others that he is gifted or smart, academically or otherwise. Do these “positive” messages foster growth in this individual, or might they cause this person to hit a wall when he encounters a problem that he cannot solve? Will he avoid future problems or tasks that he cannot easily solve or complete? Will he only work at a comfortable level, play it safe, and not take any risks that could lead to greater success for himself?

The work of Carol Dweck has helped me to see the value in making mistakes. It’s o.k. to fail. Really! It’s how I will grow. But what I say to myself when I fail is equally important. My “self-talk” affects my motivation and desire to keep moving forward. Carol Dweck, Ph.D is a leading researcher in the field of motivation and a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She is the author of the bestselling book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. Below is a You Tube video of Carol at Talks at Google discussing the growth Mindset:

I was first introduced to Dweck's work while taking a free online MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Stanford University taught by Jo Boaler, Ph.D Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. As a child and later as an adult, I was one of those people who would describe herself as "Stupid in Math". I felt that I would never be able to master mathematical concepts, and it was by necessity that I explored Boaler’s course “How to Learn Math for Teachers and Adults”. I needed to help my son learn 5th grade Mathematics. I realized I had “hit the wall” with my less than desirable, Subpar math skills and was unable to fully assist him in his daily work. Boaler's course helped me to challenge the stereotypes I had about myself as a woman learning math, and her subsequent course for students helped my young son to learn the value of perservering through tough open ended math problems. Boaler's work involves teaching with a growth mindset in mind. Boaler promotes mathematics education reform in schools and challenges the myths and stereotypes surrounding learning mathematics. You can read more about Jo and her courses here at her site,

So what does it mean to posess a growth mindset? – According to Mindset Works, of which Carol Dweck is co-founder, the growth mindset focuses more on individual improvement and less on worrying how smart one is. The big idea is in understanding that intelligence can be developed with hard work and persistence, that it is not fixed. Students who can foster this mindset in themselves show greater motivation in school, and have better academic outcomes.

We can all learn from our failures, and it is important for all of us to challenge how we view ourselves as learners. As we age, many of us get more rigid in our thinking. Young children can often serve as guides because they are learning and making new mistakes daily. Developing a growth mindset is knowing that learning is not just about producing the right answers all the time. It’s about giving yourself permission to improve constantly, to make the effort, to think outside of the box, to create, innovate, and to stretch your brain and grow.

I often need to catch myself in interactions with my young son, as I begin to tell him the “right” way he should be doing things. In many instances, there are many “right ways” to approach problems. As a parent, it is important for me to get out of his way and let him explore and find his own answers and praise him for the hard work and effort he's making. For myself, it’s equally important to get out of my own way, to keep an open mind and let myself search for new ways to do things. If I fail, instead of making the typical statement, “I can’t do this”, a growth mindset statement would be “I can’t do this….yet.” That’s empowering, and indicates there is always room for improvement with persistence. Tieing praise to effort, hard work and persistence, not to intelligence, is what will ultimately keep us moving us forward.

The bottom line? Let's learn from our failures and let them guide us. Let's confront our fears and go beyond them. Let' get unstuck. Let's try something new. We can all improve and make progress. For example, I'm learning how to write code. I have no experience with it, and would never have entertained the thought to try it before. but I'm taking a chance on myself. I struggle with it daily, but I am making slow improvement and my brain is making new connections I never thought possible. "I can't do it", becomes "I can't do it.... yet."

What’s between our ears can make or break us, and we have the power to change the tape, and change the path, one encouraging word at a time, for ourselves and those whom we love, by working on developing a growth mindset. Failure leaves us open for new opportunities, and new directions.

Read 10 top quotes on failure from one very successful dyslexic entrepreneur, Richard Branson HERE

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