Inspiration, migraine, and colour

I wrote recently about my method of painting a representational painting of hibiscus flowers. That was the traditional method of painting.

Now that I’ve gotten into painting regularly a bit more, I was happy to throw over that representational way of working for something a bit more creative. I dug into the Creative Soup and came up with something pretty scary, elating and healing all in one fell swoop.  Since then, I’ve been puttering at this latter kind of painting, drawing on some former imagery that has stayed, stored in the far reaches of my mind.

Yesterday, as I felt a migraine coming on, I took one of my anti-migraine pills that takes them away. There are side effects to these pills – they make me very sleepy, so about twenty minutes after ingestion, as usual for this medicine, I was feeling a great lassitude that overwhelmed me. I needed a nap in my big comfy chair until the feeling went away. I wrapped up with a big green afghan over my knees and pulled it up under my chin until I started to nod off, or sort of.

A feature of this condition is that I don’t go to sleep, but I do go under into a semi-conscious state where, with a migraine, I seem to focus on my eyes.  Light coming in is uncomfortable. It irritates. Now I pull the blanket right up over my eyes and put my hands over my eyes too. Anything to block the light.

Try it sometime. Not the migraine, but covering your eyes, blacking out the light as much as possible.

The beauty of this state is that, number one, I’m not going anywhere until I’ve recovered so I’m completely still and not thinking about anything but my state of being (is this meditation?) and number two, I’m quite aware of my eyes, those portals of vision, those avenues of inspiration, those passageways to creativity. This concentration is necessary for the process because one needs time to dig into the creative soup. The answers seem to come in a flash of inspiration, but you have to be there ready to capture them and set them down.

It’s like turning on a radio and moving along the dial looking for a station that only comes in faintly until you can catch the signal. Once you’ve got it, you might have to listen intently before you can really hear what is being transmitted. Or you might compare it to fly fishing, where you cast out for fish for a long, long time, being acutely aware of your surroundings and the slightest ripple on the surface before you snag a thought and pull it in.  Oops! That is, you snag a fish and reel it in!

So here is an aside that needs to be stated before I continue on with my explanation of dishing up creative soup.

I am going to tell you about three kinds of colour. One is called additive colour, one is subtractive and the third is the colour you perceive when you cover over your eyes so that no light is coming in to them. That’s quite a simplification of all the theory about colour which no doubt has exponentially changed with the technology of our times, but it’s a simple enough categorization for my purposes.  The first two I encourage you to read about in very interesting detail in Wikipedia. Basically, additive light is the kind of light you use in projecting images through a slide projector, or the kind you use in theatres to project onto an object. It’s primary colours are magenta, cyan and yellow.

The understanding of this kind of light use is completely different from subtractive colour which is the kind of colour you use to mix dyes and pigments. Here the primaries are red, yellow and blue.

A third kind of colour occurs that you can see when you completely cover your eyes and no light can get in. It’s not based on the external world and what your eyes see. I don’t know the scientific basis for it, nor even a name for it, and anyone who would like to enlighten me on this phenomonen is most welcome to add to my understanding.

Since scientifically, I don’t know where to research this kind of colour, I can only say that the colours, for me,  are more like the additive colours  – magenta, cyan and yellow. They dance around in a dark pixellated soup that most often seems a good emulsive mix, no one colour predominating another.

If you look at something quite bright for a long time, then cover over your eyes, there is an after image, usually the opposite colour from what you saw. For example if you look at a green traffic light for a minute or so, then when you close your eyes, you will see a reddish after image. If you look at yellow lamp light, concentratedly, then close your eyes, the after image will be purple/violet.

So when I have a migraine or otherwise, when my eyes are stressed, I find that the colours start to move around in different patterns. They lump into batches of colour and move around much like the motion of lava lamps or, sometimes, a bit like kaleidescopes although not so geometric or organized. It’s quite entertaining.

Yesterday while undergoing this internal light show, I could sometimes see images like those imaginary cartoon-like figures that I had begun to paint in ink and watercolour.  The process is much like looking at clouds and finding imagery – dogs, cats, donkeys, carts, and whatever else your imagination will let you see.

I had a pen with me but not a notebook. I was feeling too zonked to want to get up and change that situation so I just noted down a few of the good ideas I found in that dark and colourful pixelated soup onto the Saturday newspaper.

One interesting image that I captured was of a person’s head that, as it move and morphed ended up with a face on either side of the general round head shape (see the image at the top of this post). Harking back to a certain legal situation with which I am being taxed these days, my punning self named this image the two faced man. Once noted, I no longer had to think about that image and I continued on watching this internal light show. I could have done with a good hug, the rest of me was not feeling so hot, and so, having identified that feeling, I was looking for some huggable image but only came up with a pair of luscious lips in that visual soup, so conceived how that might look with a face that was largely lips and little more. I noted down a little sketch and returned to my internal television program.

That process lasted about an hour before I drifted on into a productive sleep and like many who watch a late night TV program, found that the program had changed by the time I resurfaced. I got up, got a cup of coffee and started a small seven by ten painting.

I think I’ll tell you about that in the next post.  In the meantime, until we meet here again, I suggest that you don’t need to go to the trouble of having a migraine in order to profit from this kind of search for personal imagery. You simply have to take a quarter of an hour to sit quietly and think. Close your eyes and cover them over. Watch your internal television. Look for those images that remind you of something. This process doesn’t have to be for painting alone. It works for creativity in many domains.

Just go fly fishing in the creative pond and see what kind of fish you come up with.


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