Artist Stephanie Bickford-Smith joined neuroscientist Ed Bracey to co-host Psychedelic Life Drawing at The Book Club in April. She took guests through five drawing exercises based on alternative ways that the brain interprets the world, while Ed explained these ‘neuro-differences’ and how they change perceptions of reality. In this blog post Stephanie shares her personal visual experiences which have inspired her view of the world.

Staring out of the car window watching passing landscapes was my frequent backdrop as a child, with dancing magenta, cyan polygons and spiraling streams flitting past my eyes. They would form auras that would flicker and convulse in different rhythms, making it hard to articulate their exact shapes and forms. To follow came excruciating pain, accompanied with frequent vomiting. My childhood migraine auras were my unique perception of the world – they would curtain me off from what I was doing and take me to another reality of euphoria then torture.

While I stood next to Ed holding his model of the brain at our life drawing event, I felt my magical childhood reasoning disseminate, as he eloquently articulated the sensory movements of migraine auras and visual snow. Ed Bracey is a sensory neuroscientist who can translate complex altered perceptions into demystified insights. As a contemporary artist, Ed’s explanations become visual puzzles – what would this look like?

To find out we took the audience through five drawing exercises based on altered perceptions, including: Akinetopsia (the inability to perceive motion only static images), Hemispatial Neglect (inability to be aware of items on one side of space) and Prosopagnosia (the inability to recognise faces). The audience interpreted these scientific segments into vibrant drawings – themselves translating altered perceptions into shareable insights.

In between each exercises, we discussed different artists and art movements that played with perception, such as Bridget Riley with Optical Art and Georges Seurat with Pointillism. A multitude of artists are drawn to challenging perception, but some artists such as Yayoi Kusama, have built their careers from having alternative perceptions. As a child, visual and aural hallucinations prompted Kusama to draw infinite dots, resulting in a career as one the major leading contemporary artists of our time.

Discovering more about the science behind perception with Ed has made me wonder – how many other creators across different practices have benefitted from alternative perceptions, and transformed their unique view of the world into innovative ideas?