Life influencing art, scaring the bejesus out of me


Earlier this week, author Ray Garton (who’s awesome, and you should read all his stories) asked on one of the social networks (the blue one) about sleep paralysis.

For those who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, sleep paralysis, also known as night terrors, is perhaps the scariest thing you could ever imagine. You wake up in the middle of the night, completely locked into place. You can’t move anything, you can’t be heard by anyone else if you decide to scream, and all you can move is your eyes.

Also, as a bonus feature, you have an overriding fear of someone or something just barely outside of your sight. Something sinister, that’s just about to harm you in whatever violent means your brain can come up with. Some imagine it being an “old hag”, others just shadowy figures waiting to do something terrible to you before you can act. All you can do is lay there, paralyzed, waiting for your doom.

Originally published by Apex Book Company, April 2012

So yeah, not the most fun thing in the world. In fact, now that I write this, there’s little chance I will sleep tonight because I’ll be waiting for it to happen. Again.

I’ve been plagued by the phenomenon since I was just a toddler. In all that time, through hundreds of events, all I’ve ever thought of was the fear. But after reading on Ray’s post about them, and the many comments he’s received from others about their experiences, I’ve come to an odd conclusion.

Maybe I wouldn’t have the artistic ideas that I do if those events didn’t happen.

Looking back over my art, over many years, there’s one thing that seems to be terribly consistent. The idea that, in most of my works, the main characters (or creatures) are not completely shown. They are nearly always partially shadowed, or cropped so they are off-screen a bit, or emerging from some dark or abstract area.

Mummy Afire

Mummy Afire

Case in point, on the right is an digitally reworked ink I did recently called Mummy Afire. It definitely has that “coming out of the shadows” vibe, and not knowing what horror awaits. Obviously something sinister, and, as the viewer, we should probably start running.

But looking over all of my art, I can see the influence of those scary events. It makes sense, really, that something so prevalent might affect the things that I do. Especially as a horror artist, night terrors might actually give me an insight into horror that others can only guess at.

It’s something that comes up a lot actually, the idea of “writing what you know”. In most cases, that’s just a start, but with strong life events that idea becomes much more overt. I’m not actually painting night terrors per se, since, being more or less invisible and personal, there’s not much there to show. But the emotions that I feel when they happen, the darkness that seems to creep into my very soul, is something that I can try to convey in the art.

That’s not to say horror is the only way to create something. Other, very strong events in life can certainly give more positive feelings as well. Those can easily come across in different kinds of works, even with stories of fantastic actions and otherworldly creations.

Any parent can come up with dozens of stories of how their children (especially when they are very little) are fascinated by something in the world. Everything is so big to them, so cool and amazing, that it rubs off on the parents at the same time. They feel so tiny that even things that adults take for granted, like walking around near skyscrapers in a big city, fills them with wonder.



In my piece at right, called RabbitField (think of the film Cloverfield, only with rabbits), that creepy sense from my night terrors is gone, replaced with the sense of being small. Without having kids, I certainly could have created a similar work. But having been with them in these huge cities, their wonder worked its way into my own psyche, and I chose an idea that shows just how little we are, and how large everything else might seem.

It’s easy to dismiss life’s events as simply being things that happen to us. They aren’t art, they are just the things that we see in our lives. That we can create anything we want, and it’s just research and practice that make the art look the way it does.

That’s simplifying though, and frankly it’s the easy way out. Everything we do in our lives, every day, alters our perspective in our work. Sometimes it’s small, like seeing a film like Cloverfield and thinking a rabbit would be funny. Other times it’s the horror of something that haunts us our whole lives. In my case, that’s the night terrors, and they most certainly have an effect on how I see horror and how I create my more terrifying works.

I don’t think creators necessarily have to acknowledge these ideas. I think they will manifest in our work whether we like it or not. But we should embrace those changes, these things that pop up in our lives, and let them change us. Over time, they help us to create a style, and to help us produce consistently better, more heartfelt work.

Those night terrors, so aptly named, might keep me up tonight. But tomorrow, they will help my new works be frightening, hopefully inspiring, and at the very least hopefully cause some emotion. As as artist, that’s all I really want and can hope for.

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