The A to Z of Sex and Disability is what graphic artist Paul Pateman (a.k.a Pâté, whose excellent posters we’ve covered here before) describes as a “raunchy and light-hearted look at the loves and lusts of disabled people in Britain today.” He was commissioned by British charity Scope to create the vibrant alphabet as part of their End the Awkward campaign, a project that seeks to break the assumption that disabled people don’t have fulfilling sex lives and relationships. And what better way to challenge conventions than by creating a sex-themed alphabet? Each letter is an authoritative drop cap with a sex-related blog post, film, or image behind it, one that’s been submitted by a disabled person living in the UK.
Creating an alphabet from everyday objects is no easy task. The most successful A-Zs are the ones that make the letters legible without being too obvious, and which use fresh and unexpected combinations. “I approached the alphabet in the same way I approach all my alphabets, which is to cheat as little as possible,” says Pateman, who’s known for his bright, rounded visual puns. “I find the letters in objects and scenarios that need as little manipulation as I can get away with, and they must always be simple, relevant, funny, and original.”
For his sex and disability set, the best letters are the ones that most cleverly and surprisingly shape a character, but which also look like they’ve always been there: an “M” unravels from the lace of a corset, an “A” from the poised legs and underwear of a stiletto-clad amputee leg, and a bold “T” from the bright yellow G-string of a Tinder profile pic. “Some of the letters came easily, some were super hard, and others went through multiple ideas before we cracked it,” recalls Pateman.
The alphabet is primarily purple, yellow, and charcoal because they’re the colors of Scope’s palette, and Pateman selected the rest of the shades to complement the brand and to vividly stand out. Although Pateman is a self-confessed color fanatic (“I was happy to make the whole thing vibrant and punchy!”), he decided that restriction was best for keeping the compositions simple, eye-catching, and effective.
While he’s in no way a novice when it comes to creating alphabets (other recent commissions include a set for British Airways and another for London Transport), this particular A-Z resulted in some of Pateman’s favorite email exchanges with clients. “I had some of the best feedback I’ve ever received, my favorite being: ‘Can we make the dildo more cock-like.’ Not something you hear often in commercial work!” The alphabet is example of a project that combines honest, real-life accounts with graphic imagery in order to break with the status quo, using illustration and stories to question and probe assumptions. London-based Anonymous Sex Journal and Ladybeard magazine also publish candid sex stories side-by-side with deliberately explicit and colorful imagery—it’s a titillating and fantastically provocative combination, and Pateman’s graphics boldly contribute this to Scope’s storytelling venture.