Hypnagogia Painting

I awoke today with an intention to write something profound. Then I got out of bed.

There are moments between sleep and consciousness when our minds are busy creating. For me, whether when I’m falling asleep or awakening, that’s when stories play out and I see artwork happen in my mind. Psychologists call this stage “hypnagogia,” a borderland between sleep and wakefulness characterized by surreal visions and strange sensory occurrences.

I learned to use hypnagogia to my advantage when I was a teenager, which sometimes resulted in “trippy” art while I was in high school. I also used it to form story ideas. The best times to do this were those waking moments, which left imprints in my mind that I recorded as best as I could into drawing pads and notebooks I kept by my bed.

Cloud Ruler
Cloud Ruler, Acrylic Painting

A routine sleep schedule helped me to have hypnagogia occurrences during the same time every morning. I was most creative with my art and writing during my school years and later when I worked a routine 9-to-5 day job. But when my sleep schedule was everything but routine, my creativity was at its lowest. This occurred when I worked as a steward, baker, cook, mess hall manager, truck driver, bartender, and housing manager in the Navy, and again when I became employed in retail.

My current retail employer insists but doesn’t demand that I make myself available to work at any time and day … except Christmas (subject to change, I’m sure, by a growing mental illness among CEOs called Wealth Accumulation Disorder). Luckily, my department is a “day department,” so I have been able to stay away from what the company used to call third shift. I’m a “day person,” which means I don’t have to work past midnight, but I should be available to begin working at 6am. Luckily (and I’ll take all the luck I can get), my department doesn’t open until 9am, which means my days begin at eight thirty. Quitting time is 10pm, so each day is fractured into two shifts: 8:30am–5:30pm, and 5:30pm–10pm.

Hypnagogia rarely occurs when I’m scheduled a 5:30pm–10pm shift followed by an 8:30am–5:30pm shift. I’m certain the lack of hypnagogia happens because I’m used to going to bed at 10pm and waking at 6am. When I go to bed later than 10pm, I struggle to fall asleep and end up reading until midnight or later. My mind is blank at 6am on these nights, and so I spend the hour reserved for recording ideas hitting the snooze button before I have to take my morning dose of Synthroid before I can eat a proper breakfast.

Without hypnagogia occurrences, especially right before I awake, I find myself less alert on the job as well. Perhaps it’s because experiencing hypnagogia is a condition I’ve grown accustomed to. When I miss out, I’m like a junkie without his fix. I need my moment to be creative. And when I’m feeling creative, I do more than make art or write stories, I function better at socializing. My brain’s gears are working best and in full throttle. I’m that smiling guy who greets you with a friendly hello because I got a night of good sleep bookended with hypnagogia.

Maybe someday big pharma will sell it over the counter. For now, I’ll take it when I can get it, and call myself lucky on the days—I mean nights—it happens.

Rock Paintings

It was time to be a visual artist again, so I spent a couple days getting my artist’s eye back in shape by working on some sketches. I decided to look at rocks and study their shapes and colors. I’ve chosen 3 better ones to share.

They’re all acrylic paintings on paper and cardboard—something I started doing years ago when I painted field studies of wildlife. Paper and cardboard are cheap and easy to find around the house, and they’re lighter to lug around outdoors than canvas and canvas boards.

Rocks study, large rocks, 8×10

I love earth colors. But they can be a bit dull, gray and dark, so I punched the colors up a bit. One facet of art is the exaggeration an artist puts into their artwork. I had fun with color and tried to be as painterly as possible too.

When I’m a bit rusty with my craft, I tend to draw with my brushes instead of painting with them. Squinting at my subject blurs the image and keeps me from seeing edges. Then I load my brushes and lay down paint and color, mixing values on the paper. That way the objects look like they haven’t been cut and pasted on.

Rocks study, creek rocks, 8×10

I exaggerated the colors in the above illustration with reds, blues and a spot of green, which was a lot of fun to do. No masterpiece here. But, oh well. I needed a break from writing and this was the perfect escape.

Rocks study, more creek rocks, 8×10

I have always enjoyed going to the local creeks and wading with bare feet over the large flat rocks and turning them over to see what aquatic life lay underneath. Good times.

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Throwback Thursday Art

While I have been busy working on my latest book project, I come up for air every few days to post here and at Facebook. Today I posted two events from my past. The first is from 1974; the second is from 1984.

It is fun, interesting, and painful to look at works from the past. But it also reminds me of the arduous work I have done to get this far.

The first illustration below is a colored pencil drawing from high school. I was 17, hooked on surrealism, and everything I drew had a fantasy dreamscape look to it. My mom covered it with plastic wrap and kept it hung in the kitchen, though it clashed with her kitchen knickknacks and décor.

Colored pencil on paper, 1974

Ten years later, I was drawing wildlife. But I wanted to paint, so I bought watercolor and gouache paints and set about learning to illustrate the deer and wildlife in my backyard. This is one of my earliest attempts.

Watercolor and gouache on paper, 1984

In 1984, I was also developing my talents as a cartoonist. While going to Art Instruction Schools, I studied cartooning under Charles Schulz, an alumnus of the school and the creator of Peanuts. The illustration below was my final assignment for that class.

Pen and ink on paperboard, 1984