Way back in the 1950s, before draconian sanctions were placed upon psychedelic substances (such as psilocybin and LSD) research into their effects was much more freewheeling. Some of it was really just putting the magical, trippy, effects these drugs provided through their paces. Because apart from their therapeutic powers — and we don’t need to tell you this — psychedelics can be fun. Crazy, trippy, hilarious, euphoric fun. And also weird, sometimes really, really weird. 

No experiments show this more than those conducted by Oscar Janiger (1918-2001), starting almost half a century ago. Janiger, a psychiatrist at California-Irvine University, is best known for his research into LSD between 1954 and 1962. An area of study he focused on was how LSD affects creativity. During this research, over 250 artworks were produced by artists who volunteered to create work under the influence of the psychedelic. In this article we are going to look at a series of 9 drawings made by an unknown artist, completed during a psychedelic experience whilst under the watchful eye of Janiger. 

9 Portraits on LSD

This is how it went down. The artist was given two 50-microgram doses of LSD, one 65 minutes after the other. They also were given an activity box of pencils, and crayons, and all manner of artsy materials. The artist’s portrait subject was to be the assisting doctor who administered the drug.

During the experiment, the artist reported his experience, and how the LSD was affecting him as he attempted each portrait. Things begin normally enough, but it doesn’t take long for the artist’s perception of reality to start to warp, and his drawings to become progressively more trippy, as you can see below…

20 Minutes After 1st Dose of LSD

Portrait #1

Doctor’s Observations: ‘Patient chooses to start drawing with charcoal”.

Artist Reports: “Condition normal… no effect from the drug yet.”

85 Minutes After 1st Dose, 20 Minutes After 2nd Dose of LSD

Portrait #2

Doctor’s Observation: “The patient seems euphoric”.

Artist Reports: “I can see you clearly, so clearly. This… you… it’s all … I’m having a little trouble controlling this pencil. It seems to want to keep going.”

2 Hours 30 Minutes After 1st Dose

Portrait #3

Doctor’s Observation: ”Patient appears very focussed on the business of drawing.”

Artist Reports: “Outlines seem normal, but very vivid everything is changing color. My hand must follow the bold sweep of the lines. I feel as if my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that’s now active my hand, my elbow… my tongue.”

2 Hours 32 Minutes After 1st Dose

Portrait #4

Doctor’s Observation: “Patient seems gripped by his pad of paper.”

Artist’s Report: “I’m trying another drawing. The outlines of the model are normal, but now those of my drawing are not. The outline of my hand is going weird, too. It’s not a very good drawing, is it? I give up I’ll try again …”

2 Hours 35 Minutes after 1st Dose

Portrait #5

Doctor’s Observation:The patient follows quickly with another drawing. Upon completing it, he starts laughing, then becomes startled by something on the floor.”

Artist Reports: “I’ll do a drawing in one flourish … without stopping … one line, no break!’

2 Hours 45 Minutes After 1st Dose

Portrait #6 (Wow!)

Doctor’s Observations: “The patient tries to climb into the activity box, and is generally agitated responds slowly to the suggestion that he might like to draw some more. He has become largely nonverbal. Patient mumbles inaudibly to a tune (sounds like “Thanks for the Memory”). He changes medium to tempera.”

Artist Reports: “I am … everything is … changed … They’re calling … your face … interwoven … who is…”

*Psychonaut Notes: When a shroom or LSD trip peaks, it is not unusual for the tripper to become less verbal and more abstract in communication. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong — rather what the tripper is experiencing may be too enormous or transcendental to put into words (or drawing). 

4 Hours 25 Minutes After 1st Dose

Portrait #7

Doctor’s Observations: “The patient retreated to the bunk, spending approximately two hours lying, waving his hands in the air. His return to the activity box is sudden and deliberate, changing media to pen and watercolor. He makes the last half-a-dozen strokes of the drawing while running back and forth across the room.”

Artist Reports: “This will be the best drawing, like the first one, only better. If I’m not careful I’ll lose control of my movements, but I won’t, because I know, I know.” (The artist repeats “I know” several more times.)

5 Hours and 45 Minutes After 1st Dose

Portrait #8

Doctor’s Observations: “The patient continues to move about the room, intersecting the space in complex variations. It’s an hour and a half before he settles down to draw again he appears to be over the effects of the drug.”

Artist Reports: “I can feel my knees again; I think it’s starting to wear off. This is a pretty good drawing, this pencil is mighty hard to hold.” (He is actually holding a crayon.)

8 Hours After the 1st Dose

Portrait #9

Doctor’s Observations: “The patient sits on the bunk bed. He reports that the intoxication has worn off except for the occasional distorting of our faces. We ask for a final drawing, which he performs with little enthusiasm.”

Artist Reports: “I have nothing to say about this last drawing. It is bad and uninteresting. I want to go home now.”

*Psychonaut Notes: Although the artist seemed pretty despondent and tired after his 8 hour journey, in later interviews Janiger explained that after their tripping experience:  “99 percent (of the artists) expressed the notion that this was an extraordinary, valuable tool for learning about art and the way one learns about painting or drawing. Almost all personally agreed they would take it again.”

So, this experiment has gone down in history — not least because the drawings created by the tripping artist are so iconically weird, and strangely beautiful. But it is also because this relatively simple concept gives us a peek into the mind of a tripping person, in a way that is much more tangible to us than fMRI scans of glowing brain regions. 

Can You Try This At Home?

Additionally, if you’re of the creative bent, or want to spice up your next shroom trip, you can actually try this at home. If you’re responsible, of course. 

Stock up on drawing materials — the more the better. As you may have noticed the artist in the experiment switched from charcoal, to crayon, to tempera, to watercolor, as the mood took him. Next, get a good friend to be your trip sitter — and your artistic advocate. They can do all that good stuff a trip sitter does, while also encouraging you to make some art as you go. Just a gentle reminder to put pen to paper and get squiggly, noodly, and wiggly.

And it doesn’t have to be their portrait! You can draw anything. If your mood changes and you no longer want to draw, they can also leave you to your inner world.

Practice Makes Perfect?

The art people make under the influence of psychedelics can range from inspired, mind-bending masterpieces to well, rather childish doodles. But either way, looking at the physical marks your altered mind poured onto paper is a fascinating thing to do. Interestingly, Oscar Janiger found that with practice, the artists he studied became more adept at working under the influence, suggesting that they grew more able to harness the explosion of new perspectives that psychedelics can bring — and actually get them down on the pad.

So, next time you trip — why not leave a pen and paper out? Who knows what you might create…