Friday, September 7, 2012

85/365: Art for Insomniacs

Today (in the wee hours) I made:

a blind painting...

Insomnia- that unwelcome visitor- she wakes me out of a dead slumber, usually after about four hours of REM. She steals my sleep and fills my head with anxious thoughts. She comes a few nights in a row, until I am too exhausted to entertain her. I lie there restless and frustrated until I can't stand it any longer. I usually get up to read or research on the Internet. I heard recently that the ambient light from computer screens wakes up our brains and makes it harder to fall asleep, so no more of that.

Early this morning as I tossed and turned after my four hour "nap," I contemplated my options. Then it occurred to me: I should paint, right then and there, in the dark. It's not like I was doing anything else productive and I couldn't possibly stay in bed another minute. I didn't want to move my art supplies from my bedroom art space or turn any lights on for fear of making myself too alert, so it made perfect sense to paint in the dark. 

So at 3:47 a.m., (according to the digital clock, the only light in the room) I climbed out of bed and put on my art apron to spare my cute pajamas. With my husband and my very spoiled dog snoring in the bed two feet behind me, I rummaged through my stack of blank canvases, pulled out a chunky paint brush and reached for what I hoped were analogous paint colors (colors that harmonize with each other and don't make mud when mixed.) Luckily I keep my paint pretty well organized in an old Coca-Cola crate on my art desk, so I was fairly certain I was in the area of blues and greens. The one color I was sure about was white. It glowed the brightest as my eyes adjusted somewhat to the dark. I began applying dabs of paint to the center of my canvas. A few sweeping strokes with the brush and the small space was covered- I imagined the colors streaking and blending together. Soon my hands were involved, feeling their way around the space, moving the paint, swirling and dabbing with my fingers. The tip of something pointy was useful for etching a rough self portrait, facial features arranged on blind faith. I scrawled in a word, like a third grader learning cursive for the first time, unsure of my letter formations. I didn't think about it. I let my hands do the work. I didn't question when to stop. I stopped at the first yawn.

At 4:09 a.m I crept to the bathroom to wash out my brush, and pleased to find my hands covered in white, blue, green and teal paint, I decided to have a peek at the canvas.

"Insomnia 9-7-12, 3:47 a.m." acrylic on 8x10 canvas; (Yellow crescent & charcoal shading added after sunrise.)
There they were, the circle and the one-eye-open girl- those personal symbols, those familiar gestures- that keep showing up in my art when I don't know what else to paint. There was a crescent moon etched above her shoulder and a setting sun below. The white finger prints, perhaps they were the sheep I counted? I liked how the etching came out so stark white in the wet paint, how the colors gradiated from dark to light (left to right) in a sleepy haze. Those were happy surprises. But mostly I liked how for twenty-two minutes I painted with no regard for the end result. I released control. It was the most fun I've had and the most freedom I've felt in my art space in a long time. I didn't care what it looked like in the light. I was willing to make bad art at four o'clock in the morning. This was just a midnight expression.

Later today I allowed myself to go back and assess my blind work of art. At first I hesitated to alter it in any way, as it was such honest work, born out of the moment, untainted by my inner critic. But in the end I decided, part of my job as an artist is to step back and decide where a piece can go and when it is finished. Last night I layed down the basis; today I added a cut paper crescent moon inside the original crescent etching for a pop of color, and some charcoal shading to the left side of the sun sphere. I decided this was enough and left it at that. 

The downside: I'm a tired girl with a sloppy art desk.
The upside: If the insomnia continues, I may be able to start a new series.
Can't believe I'm actually looking forward to the next sleepless night. 


  1. What a fabulous piece! While I think the idea of a collection is wonderful, I would be afraid that it would lead to extreme insomnia and the art would become forced.
    Keep going though I can't wait to see what's next

  2. hehe thanks! So silly! If a series happens at all, it will span several months. It takes a lot to get me out of bed that early- only under extreme tossing and turning circumstances. But what if I made blind art in daylight hours? hmmmm...
    Thanks for the support darlin!