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.

Be Creative By Going Beyond Tradition

I wrote this one page article in 2001 and spent the morning today revising the syntax (proof that I’m a different writer now). I also added two books to my list of recommendations to get creative, be creative, and maintaining your creativity. If you know of any good books not on my list, please share.

Have you ever considered the possibility that as you’ve matured you may have become less creative than when you were younger? That isn’t good news if you make a living creating. Consider how I had taken a Creativity test in high school that catalogued me in a high percentile. I assumed that I would stay there because I was regularly drawing and engrossed in many aspects of art. I never thought I could lose my creativeness. However, another test taken almost fifteen years later showed that my score had fallen by almost thirty percent. Had I become less creative than when I was a teenager? It appeared so, but how?

Creativity is the ability to tap past experiences and come up with something new, whether it is new to the person or the entire world. By that definition, we should continuously become more creative as we get older. Unfortunately, we don’t. We become controlled artists, willing to let others pave the way and then follow the leaders. Some of us are afraid of being the creative geniuses with new ideas about art, and so we make our living as artists in their shadows, not being inventive, not taking expression to a higher level, not being original, and unwilling to break the rules lest we sever the safety net beneath us.

But I believe we should always be changing, always experimenting with our art. After all, artists today have tools that never existed. We no longer need to make the same salable art repeatedly like automatons. We’re humans with fantastic minds. Why would we want to stifle that?

If I’ve sparked a creative urge inside, here is a list of my 3 favorite books along with some others to help rejuvenate your creative mind.

  • Edwards, Betty. Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1979. “The classic art book in the field of whole-brain education.”
  • Gelb, Michael J. How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Seven Steps To Genius Every Day. New York: Delacorte Press, 1998. “The ultimate self-help book. This is one of my absolute favorites because it deals with more than art.”
  • Maisel, Eric. Fearless Creating. A Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Completing Your Work Of Art. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1995. “A truly motivating book.”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Leland, Nita. The Creative Artist. Cincinnati: North Light Books, 1990. The New Creative Artist. New York: F+W Media, Inc.; Revised edition 2006. “Fun activities to exercise your creative muscle.”

After you have found and read these books, try using these following 5 steps to regain some creativity in your next art project.

  1. Be expressive, spontaneous and free. Skills, originality and quality are unimportant.
  2. Be inventive. Look at various things possible. Show ingenuity with materials, techniques and methods.
  3. Be innovated. Modify the basic assumptions of aesthetics (the nature of the artist, the role of the art, and the relationship between the viewer and the work of art). An understanding of the principles of art leads to new ideas and methods of working.
  4. Be productive and non-judgmental.
  5. Be emergentive. Discover uniqueness by going far beyond tradition.

Do not let old habits or society alter your course as you pursue the journey of rethinking and rebuilding your creativity. Perceive the thrill of creating something distinct and feel a degree of mastery of your environment by going beyond tradition.