The Imagery of My Subconscious, part 1

Sometime during the Zombie Years, around 2013, I attempted to begin art journaling as a way to not only get some artistic expression going in my life, but also for its therapeutic value.  I had seen numerous friends and other people on the internet producing beautiful art and essentially administering self-therapy in the process.  I was captivated by the beautiful tones of watercolor paints, so I picked up some inexpensive ones and a mixed media notebook from Michael’s to get started.  My prior experience with art was limited to mehndi art, which is all line drawing, and charcoal drawings, which is a very different form of artistic expression from watercolors, so my first pieces were all learning attempts, not all of which I was happy with.  Nevertheless, I got some happiness out of the act itself of painting, and in my now Jungian-tinged hindsight, I can see how it was a valuable subconscious act, one that may have made my more recent efforts at doing art more successful.  Then as now, they were largely color explorations that were illustrative of my emotional states.

This was my very first piece, and shows my fondness for rainbow gradients.

These three pieces actually had descriptions that went with them: “racing thoughts”, “thoughts that trail off”, and “thoughts that enflame”.

It was these two pieces that spoke the most, though:

The first one is brightly colored but talks about things I hate about the world and myself (waiting, being put off, being presumptuous, being selfish): the second one speaks for itself, both in word and color.  I felt about as gray and ugly inside as this painting.

The ability to do anything remotely creative was slowly being sapped by my medication, so the art journaling was abandoned shortly after it was begun, with only a couple of more unsatisfying pieces being done after the ones above.  I kept the book, though, which still had lots of empty pages, and I would eagerly fill them in the year or so following my awakening in May ’18.

The fire to do art would have to be rekindled before that could happen, though, which I did with a phone app called Sketcher that allowed me to do rudimentary yet fun color explorations as I had done with the watercolors, only I was getting a lot more satisfaction out of these, either as the result of an easier method or my post-awakening state of mind, or both.

I look at these pieces and they look like something coming to life, with all of the color, fire, and electricity in some of them, and indeed, I was feeling myself as though I had come to life again after a very long period of feeling, well, dead inside.

Fall 2018 was a busy time for us for a lot of reasons, so I didn’t get any art done, although it was frequently on my mind.  So for Christmas that year, I asked for some inexpensive supplies and got them: a set of Conte crayons, which I used when I took drawing in college, and a set of watercolor sticks, which one used just like pastels, but then took a wet brush to in order to get a watercolor painting effect.  I usually buy something for myself at the holidays as well, so I splurged on a set of professional markers that were on sale, something I had wanted for a very long time.  With them, I was inspired to do this over the New Year holiday:

I had never done anything like it before.  While the curving lines are generally suggestive of the mehndi art that I’ve done for 20 years, the intuitive use of color and the general flow of the piece surprised me since I had never used the markers before or done anything so colorful, aside from the Sketcher pieces.

Around the same time, I also did a piece I call “Incubation”, because it looks like a womb full of eggs.  I found it to be symbolically important as I was trying to make my life a “fertile”, creative place again.

I also did the first of many pieces with a fire-and-water motif:

Following the holidays, I was in a bit of an emotional slump, but I still did quite a bit of art, playing with the watercolor sticks a lot.  Water was a common feature of my paintings and drawings, and continues to be.

I was also continuing to do pastel art in the same notebook as “Incubation”, trying to capture my emotional states artistically.  One day I wound up drawing what looked like a cage made of black bars, and indeed, I had been feeling like I was in a cage of sorts.  Sometime later, I got tired of feeling that way, so I drew over the entire thing with a motif that reminds me of something musical:

Around the Spring Equinox, though, I picked up the old art journal I had started several years before and began doing art in it on a level that, again, surprised me as I’d never done anything like it before.  I did the following piece on the birthday of my favorite painter, Vincent Van Gogh (March 30).  I call it “The Mother”.

I consider this to be the first piece in which it was obvious to me I was channeling subconscious archetypal imagery in the same sense as theorized by Carl Jung.  I started it as I start most of my pieces: with a color, zero thought, and whatever shape my intuition tells me to create.  So I had no idea this was going to be the outcome when I began drawing that day in the coffeeshop.  Since that time, I’ve learned a bit more about the collective unconscious and the imagery associated with it, and so I now recognize the multicolored tree done with markers as an archetypal image as well, though when I began it, I definitely had the idea of a tree in mind.

Thus began a series of color and texture explorations for the purposes of enjoying myself, seeing what came out on the page, and learning how to use these new supplies, which now included water soluble wax pastels (don’t ask me what magic makes them work, I just love them).  This is my favorite:

May 2019 was a bit of an intense month for me.  Not only did I develop a blockage in a bile duct, necessitating sudden surgery to remove my gallbladder and clear the blockage, it was the first anniversary of my “awakening”, and like everyone does when a year has passed since a significant event, I was thinking about it a lot.  We took a trip to the beach the weekend after the doctor said I could resume normal activities, and during the 4-hour car ride, I did four very interesting drawings that I still enjoy analyzing.

All are somehow suggestive of flight, with the feathery textures and shapes of wings and birds, with the exception of the rainbow forest.  A tree and eyes can also be made out in the bottom left image, to me anyway.  I also did a couple of pieces that wouldn’t make sense to me until later in the summer, after I had a bad manic episode in August.  It was one of the odd times there seems to be a part of me that knows when something bad is coming.

One night I was fooling around and made this:

And my son said it reminded him of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”.  Sure enough, he was right, so I decided to see if I could copy it using the watercolor sticks.  This was the result:

Shortly after that, I decided to tackle copying one of Vincent Van Gogh’s more famous pieces, “Wheatfield With Crows”, using the same watercolor sticks, and it came out fantastic.

Prior to the manic episode that would send me to the hospital, I would have to go through some more mental gyrations as I dealt with the post-stress of surgery, which was somewhat traumatizing to me since it reminded me of past extremely unpleasant events that have occurred at hospitals.  I was really angry about several things, and it came out in my art, the more of which I did, the more directly it seemed to reflect my inner states.  I also began to notice a tendency to do a piece from one perspective, only to find that the “true” image had to be seen by rotating it by 90 or 180 degrees.  The most striking example of this was this image, done in June, when I was delving into Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, with obvious effect:

I was initially going for a flaming lotus sort of thing, but when I was finished, this was the result, and when I rotated it, I was surprised by the clear facial features suggested by the lines of flow.  I was also a little startled by the clearly angry expression, which was definitely not what I was consciously going for.

I was angry, though.  Seething with a burning rage about a wide variety of things both personal and global that I often barely managed to keep contained.  They were things I had a right to be angry about, though, and some of them were ongoing issues that directly affected my life, so it was hard to let go of.  I tried to channel it into an art journal piece featuring lyrics about anger from a couple of my favorite bands, Rush and Marillion:

The trend towards more obvious imagery and harder lines continued in late summer.  One was another lyrical art journal piece using yet more Rush lines:

I also did a vivid watercolor piece based off of the imagery of “The Star” from classic Tarot imagery, in this case from the Aquarian Tarot.

Coincidentally, I read later the same day I finished the piece that spirals are indicative of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent of air, intellect, and knowledge.  They were not part of the initial inspirational art, they were something I seemed motivated to add myself.  As I have Gemini rising, an air sign, in my astrology chart and have associated myself with phoenix imagery since an early age, I found it apropos that similar themes would show up in the piece.

Regrettably, not long after this, I suffered from a severe manic episode that landed me involuntarily in the hospital, which I found to be a terribly traumatizing event for a wide variety of reasons.  My mind was filled with some terrifying images, I was gripped with the fear that any number of awful things had happened (they hadn’t), and in some ways I genuinely felt as though I had “died” and come back to life.  Not literally, obviously, but the entire experience was so life-changing that it’s the kind of thing that prevents one from ever going back to life the way it was before it happened.  All of these things, mental and physical, came out in the art I did in the hospital (twice) and after I came home.  I also came to understand the imagery in some of my earlier pieces, which were fun to do, but seemed to be completely random at the time.  In retrospect, they made much more sense.  I will cover this in my next blog post about the next major phase in my artistic and therapeutic progress, which saw me shift from the watercolor sticks and pastels to brush paints in watercolor, acrylic, and oil, and in doing so, allowed a veritable explosion of creativity.

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