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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Drawing under Hypnosis - Session One

I have formed a collaboration with Devin Terhune a psychology researcher in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University who specialises in hypnosis, consciousness and suggestibility. In many ways my existing drawing processes, particularly drawing in response to sound, are forms of suggestion. And in a practice where I view each drawing as both a visual and psychological journey, hypnosis felt like a natural progression. Over a number of sessions I will be drawing whilst under hypnosis and documenting and discussing what happens. This forms an important part of my Arts Council England funded research and development project 'Drawing as Experience'

Prior to our first session Devin and I talked about how hypnosis works and what I might expect to happen (I had never been hypnotised before) Devin also asked about my current drawing processes and what drives me to make a drawing. These conversations formed the basis of what we chose to explore in the first session.

In a tiny lab I sat in a huge squashy black arm chair, a desk with my paper and materials on was positioned in front of me. Devin asked me to concentrate on his voice and to keep focusing on the knot in the wood on the wall above me. He talked and I listened, focused and listened........Then I drew.

Over the course of the day I was under hypnosis four times, and produced five drawings. Here are some of the drawings and (an abridged version) of the notes I made immediately after the session.

Drawing under hypnosis - Drawing One

Drawing One  (Just Hypnosis)

I remember feeling amazed that this was actually working, I felt so heavy, my hands, arms and head, were almost motionless and I held my face very, very close to the page as I drew. I moved my hand (slowly I think) and drew small circles, loops and lines. I knew I had to draw loops and did this, without hesitation. And remember at one point happily noticing that I was 'inside' the drawing completely, I was nowhere else. 

Though I was still aware to a certain extent and thinking about what was happening, it was as if I was literally distanced from it, 'I' was at the back of my mind, the front was doing or maybe watching what I was doing on the page. And all of it happened as if under a layer of heavy water.

Drawing under Hypnosis - Drawing Two

Drawing Two - (Hypnosis with hand moving independently suggestion)

I had thought earlier that when Devin suggested my arm move independently of me, that It would fly around as if belonging to the conductor of an orchestra. What it actually did was almost the opposite.

My right hand held the charcoal very, very loosely, just barely balancing in my hand, the side of my hand and forearm would not move from the paper, they were firmly planted there. And so my marks were initially limited to this point on the page, as far as my fingers could stretch. I thought the whole drawing would happen in that top right hand corner of the page until my hand lost 'grip' on the charcoal and it rolled down to the bottom of the page. It took a lot of will power to respond by picking it up, and to begin drawing again where it had come to rest (Devin confirmed afterwards it took me along time to make this move).

Scale was strange as if there were new rules, the (A2 sized) paper felt huge and each tiny fragile mark significant.

I wanted to change pressure and make a darker mark, but it was an effort, the light loose looping marks prevailed. Some kind of internal rhythm? Towards the end of the drawing I felt like I couldn't stop it, and was stuck within one repetitive mark, I had to really tell myself to stop drawing. This was not an entirely unfamiliar sensation, it happens when I  draw in response to music sometimes, stuck in the rhythm, though this was far harder to come out of.

It was like pulling marks out from thick treacle at times. And I enjoyed the idea of working  within these perimeters, what can happen? What did I make the effort to get out onto the page? And what was left behind?

Drawing under Hypnosis - Drawing Three
Drawing under Hypnosis - Drawing Four

Drawing Three/Four -  (Hypnosis with suggestion to draw without constraints and less self criticism, to draw freely)

Saying I have been drawing without hesitation, and observing the drawing happen in front of me can sound as if I had been reduced to an 'unthinking drawing hand'. This is not true. A part of what happened with each drawing was me straightforwardly drawing i.e responding to the situation, putting in marks what I was sensing, thinking, feeling in that moment. The other part of the process is the hypnosis - the collaborator I cant predict. Which is the greater part or whether they are indeed equal, is currently unclear.

What happens if you purposefully, and successfully turn off criticism all together and are given permission to draw with total abandon? I distinctly remember that as Devin was placing me under hypnosis (suggesting I would draw expressively and without restraint) I felt really excited, the freedom of it! I was gagging to start drawing and, bizarrely, even felt like laughing. I then proceeded to make two very quick, almost violent drawings, creating definite marks and shapes and  enjoying what was growing on the page, the simple possibilities of the material. Afterwards Devin and I talked about what this meant, and how hypothetically I could be hypnotised before one of my live drawing performances, to remove my nerves and make me 'more expressive'. A compelling and I think potentially dangerous thought. Is it not precisely that adrenalin, backstage nerves, and the whole environment of the performance that shapes the drawing? Perhaps even as much as the live music I am responding too? I would like to explore this suggestion more, acknowledging and addressing the tension between abandon and constraint and the role of both in making a drawing.

N.B Using a pen (Drawing five) did not work as well as the charcoal that picks up and shows every tremor and nuance of the drawings process, which is important. The pen simplified too much.


These few small drawings are important to me, they represent a long awaited and incredible journey but they are just the start. I am learning a process and there is much more work to be done. the 'independent hand' and 'drawing without constraint' suggestions should be explored further as they have each raised some really interesting questions.

I would also like to try suggestions with specific visual subject matters, can I imagine, occupy and draw from a recognisable landscape in my mind, for example? And what would I bring back from there through the drawing?

And most importantly how can these drawing experiences be fully expressed? Will it be achieved through the drawings alone, through words, recordings and other documentation or a combination of these?

My time with Devin is limited but the desire to explore this is not. Should I, can I, continue beyond the lab? Beyond the moment?

Please feel free to leave a comment on this post, your thoughts and suggestions are very welcome as I negotiate this new way of working.

Please note it is important to only ever work with a trained hypnosis professional.

View more images of my recent work here Gallery

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