In working out the encryptions for my latest series of word puzzle acrylic paintings, there were a number of constraints that were necessary for the compositions to have the desired effect. One of the most important was the emission of the letter “Q” because when that letter is included without the following “U” it looks like something is wrong. The viewer should be able to view the paintings and combine the letterforms to create their own words and expressions easily.

As an example of the methodology used to encrypt the works, I will demonstrate the process used for the painting REASON2. To start with, the letterforms are in upper case only, which makes the decryption a much more limited endeavor. By studying the painting and following the spacing and colors between letterforms, the following encrypted message can be found:


The standard Caesar cipher follows simple rules.

Now that we have our encrypted message, it can be easily decrypted using the title of the painting, which is the clue or key. In cryptography, a variation of the Caesar cipher, known as the Keyed Caesar, is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques. A standard Caesar cipher shifts the alphabet a certain number of spaces, and once that number is known the entire message is simple to decrypt.

The Keyed Caesar uses a word at the beginning, and then rotates the alphabet a certain number of spaces. If there are repeating characters in the chosen word, they are not included in the initial string of decryption.

REASON2, 69″ x 38″, Acrylic on Canvas, 2017

Since the painting is called REASON2, we know that the word at the beginning of the decryption string is REASON and the entire string of characters, including the word REASON, is shifted 2 characters to the left.

Therefore, the initial decoding string is:


When it is shifted 2 characters to the left it is:


And when it is used to decode the message, we end up with:


Oh, such a noble statement, but you worked really hard to figure it out, didn’t you? Coincidentally, the letter “A” ended up in the original position for the shifted decoding string, which was completely by chance. Who knew?

If you are into word puzzles, check out Jim Sanborn’s cryptographic sculptures at:

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Chris Bird is a designer for print and web specializing in the development of marketing materials for a varied spectrum of clients. He currently resides in Santa Rosa, California. His music website is at and his painting and fine arts website is located at