Psychedelic Art Influence in My Art Style

This is the first article of a series of art styles and subjects that influence and inspire my own artwork.  Included in this article is the definition of this particular art style as well as how and why it influences my art styles, and even my site name.

What Is Psychedelic Art?

According to this Wikipedia article, psychedelic art is a visual art style that is inspired by the hallucinations that are experienced when taking psychoactive drugs.    The word psychedelic means “mind-manifesting”.  Specifically, this art style refers to the art movement that was started in the 1960s.

Psychedelic art has common features associated with it.  It includes the following:

  • Fantastic, metaphysical or surrealistic subject (often called “visionary art”): this is often the case but is not a requirement, can have any subject
  • Kaleidoscopic imagery, fractals, or paisley patterns: this is especially reflected in modern mandalas
  • Bright and highly contrasting color scheme: Full saturation colors, full spectrum colors and side-by-side complementary colors are common features
  • Extreme detail that covers the entire page, also known as the Horror Vacui style
  • Geometric shapes such as: phosphenes, spirals, concentric circles, diffraction patterns, repeating patterns

In most artwork of this style, one or more (or all of the above) features are used in combination.

Well-known psychedelic artists include M.C. Escher, H.R. Giger, and Alex Grey.

How It Influences My Artwork

So, now to answer the first part, how does this art style influence my own style?  Well, this one is easy.  Besides the first feature (metaphysical or surrealistic subject), I use all of the features of psychedelic art.  Bright, bold full-saturation colors, paisley and spiral designs, geometric patterns, highly contrasting color scheme, and lots of details.  These features can be found in almost all of my artwork, even ones that I did not intend to be “psychedelic”, exactly.

I have always been a huge fan of music from the 60s and 70s. As I grew up, I started liking more contemporary music.  Then I “re-discovered” my appreciation for classic rock, and all the culture and art that goes with it.  It inspired me to create art that was more colorful and experiment with mandalas.  The more I got into it, the more I realized how much I enjoy creating this kind of art, and it persisted.

Geometric Shapes to Create Movement

I have always found drawing geometric shapes, especially spirals, to be very relaxing and centering.  Who hasn’t doodled random little shapes in their notebook, especially spirals?  Spirals are a very fundamental and natural shape.  They are found throughout the natural world, and my love of spirals mirrors my love of nature.  Snail shells, pine cones, rose petals, succulents, and even pineapples have spirals in their base patterns.  Fractals are also a foundation of nature.  The branches of trees and even the network of veins in our own bodies are all examples of fractals.  Nature is geometry, and geometry is nature and I think that is beautiful.  I love incorporating geometric shapes such as spirals, into my artwork.  It gives it movement and a unique sense of style.

Creative Freedom of Using Colors

Another reason I enjoy this style is that it gives me much more creative freedom in my art.  As much as I love and admire photo-realism, I personally find it very restrictive as an art form.  I love the freedom of using bold bright colors and random spirals in my artwork if I feel like it.  Although I usually try to still have my subjects (the animals) drawn as realistically as possible as far as anatomy and proportion is concerned, I am less concerned about their color.

I enjoy creating them with a stylized nature, with bold line work and bright colors to create a sense of depth and movement.  Also, sometimes I just want to draw a random mandala or really stylized tribal type drawing.  There is not as much pressure to make the animals look like a photograph, because that is not my aim.  It is more liberating for me and more enjoyable.  Doing artwork in this style is very therapeutic.  The bold shapes and bright colors hearken to the days of childhood.  My artwork does not take itself too seriously.

What Does “Psychedelic Zen” Mean?

Many people have asked me about the meaning behind my site’s name – Psychedelic Zen.  I hope this article can answer that question and provide some insight about why I named it that and also the shift in my art style that prompted this name.

Honestly, this isn’t as deep as people probably make it out to be.  The name was proposed by one of my friends, who said my artwork was psychedelic and zen at the same time.  Meaning vibrant and colorful, but also strangely peaceful and relaxing to look at.  I don’t remember who suggested it, but one of us suggested that I re-brand my site with that name, and it happened.  That was about 10 years ago and the name stuck ever since.