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Creativity and Sleep

abstract life as an artist parc andré citroën Jan 22, 2022

January 22, 2022 - Creativity and Sleep

Until recently, I resented every minute of sleep. I felt it robbed valuable time from learning new skills, reading books, time spent with loved ones, having adventures, playing music and staring up at the stars. I rarely slept more than four or five hours a night. My brain never felt like it shut down. As the decades passed. I resisted the messages my body sent me. I refused to give in to spending more time in bed ... until I began to learn about how our brains function.

I read that we need at least seven hours of sleep for the events of the day to be processed properly into our memory reservoir.  This information I ignored while my memory was still very much intact.  At around sixty years of age, I could no longer track back my actions as I once did.  This had been my method of finding objects I'd misplaced.  Around this same time I was experiencing my father beginning to suffer from ever-increasing dementia.  

He had taken care of his body and his brain.  He walked seven miles a day throughout his eighties and into his early nineties.  He read constantly, was very active in the community and challenged himself with projects on a daily basis.  This is how he had always lived his life.  It's also what is recommended by physicians to minimize the onset of dementia.  Just as longevity runs in the Carter family, perhaps dementia does, too.  My father's condition might have been caused by a blood clot in his leg that may have led to vascular dementia.  Though tested over and over again, he was never diagnosed with alzheimer's. My worst fear is to fall victim to dementia in the same way my father did.  I, too, have taken care of my body. I interact with friends worldwide, and challenge myself constantly.

Though I'd been getting between six and seven hours sleep each night for the past ten years, my memory was not what I wanted it to be, nor was my creativity flowing with focused gusto.  I rarely dreamt, nor had I experienced my Morning Visions in many years.

Thanks to reading a book given to me for Christmas by my neighbor, Irene, not only am I dreaming every night, my memory is greatly improved and my creativity is raging.  I'm able to focus and make clear decisions. My reading comprehension has improved and my energy level has skyrocketed. I know this sounds ridiculous.

I now give myself the opportunity to sleep for between eight and nine hours!  The reward is that I'm creating art in a way that I've always wanted to, but rarely ever did.  I'm creating art that expresses what I feel as I move through life, not just what I see as I move through life.  I've finally blasted through the wall, the barrier, that I felt was impenetrable for me.  

What I've experienced is a bit like the perfect storm.  A number of occurrences lined up over a period of six months and impacted me simultaneously upon reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD.

What came together to create my perfect storm?

1. 100 Days Painting En Plein Air in oils

2. An afternoon in Parc André Citroën in Paris at the end of August

3. A month of painting in Jill's Cottage Studio in Wales and watching online courses on abstraction together.

4. Experimenting with oil and cold wax medium

5. Taking Sally Hirst's online course Approaches to Abstraction

6. Reading Why We Sleep

7. Tracking my deep sleep and my REM (dream) sleep on my FitBit

I've changed my process of creating studio art (as opposed to travel sketching, morning scribbles, dala art and daily drawing). My new process cracked open the door for me to dig deeper into what I want to express and how I might be able to express it other than as large watercolors in my Orb and Strata Series. 

Both the Orb and the Strata paintings were created without any initial intentions.  I layered paint until the painting took on a personality or a feeling.  At that point I nurtured the feeling and/or the story that the painting was suggesting. 

I desperately wanted to be able to express my own feelings and emotions, to nurture my own stories as told through paint.  Sally Hirst's process of Collecting and Considering before Creating works well for me.  In my younger years, I think I was far too impatient to take the time to collect and consider as much as I find is necessary to be able to intuitively express my intention.

Just reading the sleep book was not enough to change things.  Even staying in bed longer was not enough.  My FitBit informed me that the quality of my sleep was dreadful.  I spent hardly any time in Deep Sleep and hardly any time in REM sleep.  No wonder I wasn't dreaming.

I've made significant changes in order to achieve more of the two most important levels of sleep, Deep Sleep and REM.  I drink no more than two cups of coffee a day and both are consumed prior to 10 o'clock in the morning.  I'm not drinking alcohol.  I don't look at monitor screens past 8:30 at night.  I wash my face every night before bed ... not so that it's clean but so that my face is dampened, making it easier for my internal temperature to drop enough to fall asleep more quickly.  I drink a cup of warm Moon Milk before going to bed by nine o'clock.  Generally I read for about a half hour, a real book, not a digital book.  As I go to sleep I listen to an hour of sounds from Centerpointe Research (The Divine and Immersion).

The results have been astounding.  I now experience at least an hour of Deep Sleep and Two hours of REM sleep most nights.  I awaken refreshed, energized and able to focus on just about anything immediately.  What excites me the most is the experiences I'm having in the studio while painting.  I'm tapping into my past memories in a manner that reveals a common thread with what I'm currently feeling and trying to express.  It's as if a veil has been lifted and I can access information, inspiration and visual memories that guide me to express my feelimgs as rhythms, syncopations, patterns, harmonies and disharmonies ... the language of visual abstraction.

What prompted me to write this odd blog post is a recurring visual that has been appearing in almost every dream I've had over the last two weeks.  It is a pattern of lines made up of dots and dashes of different lengths.  This appears as a pattern on clothing, a reflection in water, a shadow on a road sign, sunlight through a forest of trees and clouds in the sky.

Set Three in my Parc André Citroën Series of 100 Paintings is inspired by the groves of bamboo surrounding the meditation platforms beyond the wild grasses. As I worked on this set of panels, I had difficulty maintaining their connection to my intention.  When I bring to mind the pattern of dots and dashes, clarity returns and I move forward.

The experiences I'm now having in my studio are mysteriously wonderful.  Yes, I miss sipping red wine and drinking coffee past 10am. It's a small price to pay for creating more expressive art that rings true to my inner artist.

Thanks for reading my blog.


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