Automatic Drawing and Painting
The phenomenon of artistic expression without control of
the conscious self belongs to the same category as automatic
writing, but neither necessarily involves the other.
Mrs. William Wilkinson, the wife of one of the pioneer English
Spiritualists, could draw, paint, and play music automatically,
but she could not produce automatic writing. Her husband
developed both gifts. An interpretation of the flowers of
joy, love, humility, faith, and the architectural designs emanating
from under his wife’s hand was forthcoming in his automatic
scripts. After many weeks of vain trial, the power of automatic
drawing burst forth on William Wilkinson in the following way
‘‘After waiting less than five minutes it [the pencil] began to
move, at first slowly, but presently with increased speed, till in
less than a quarter-of-an-hour it moved with such velocity as I
had never seen in a hand and arm before, or since. It literally
ran away in spiral forms; and I can compare it to nothing else
than the fly-wheel of an engine when it was run away. This lasted
until a gentleman present touched my arm, when suddenly
it fell like an infant’s as it goes to sleep, and the pencil dropped
out of my hand. I had, however, acquired the power. The consequences
of the violent motion of the muscles of the arm were
so apparent that I could not for several days lift it without
In most cases visions are being presented to the automatist,
and the idea to sketch then comes to him naturally. Georgiana
Houghton in Evenings at Home in Spiritual Séance (1881) wrote
of a Mrs. Puget who saw upon a blank paper ‘‘a lovely little face,
just like a photograph, which gradually disappeared; then another
became visible on another part of the sheet, and they arrested
her attention so much that she thought she would like
to catch the fleeting image, which she did with a piece of burnt
cork, thinking that a piece of pencil would be too trying for her
sight.’’ William Blake sketched his spiritual visitants as if they
were posing. He drew them with the utmost alacrity and composure,
looking up from time to time as though he had a real
sitter before him. If the vision disappeared, he stopped working
until it returned. He wrote ‘‘I am really intoxicated with vision
every time I hold a pencil or pen in my hand.’’
Héléne Smith painted in trance a series of tableaus on biblical
subjects in colors. Her fingers moved incoherently over the
canvas, executing different details in different parts which later
merged into a harmonious whole. She was very slow. The execution
of a big picture took more than a year. The vision always
Elizabeth d’Esperance saw a luminous cloud concentrate itself
in the darkest corner of the room, become substantial, and
form itself into the figure of a child. Nobody else saw the figure,
but she could sketch it in the dark, being unconscious of the extraordinary
circumstances that she could see the paper and
pencil perfectly well. Spirit sketching became a regular phase
of her mediumship for a considerable time, but the power
waned; the luminosity of the apparitions decreased as soon as
she began to study sketching and became more self-conscious
of her work.
Dr. John Ballou Newbrough, the automatist of Oahspe,
could paint with both hands at once in total darkness. SusanEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Automatic Drawing and Painting
nah Harris, being blindfolded on a platform, executed in two
hours an oil painting upside-down.
There are various degrees of such automatic activity from
inspiration to obsession. The fantastic designs of Victorien Sardou—scenes
on the Planet Jupiter, the House of Mozart, the
House of Zoroaster—were inspired, as he felt it, by Bernard
Palissy. In the celebrated Thompson-Gifford case, the impulse
amounted to obsession (see possession and obsession).
Heinrich Nusslein, a German automatist of the 1920s, developed
his powers of painting under the effect of the suggestion
of a friend. In approximately two years he painted 2,000
pictures; small pictures took three or four minutes and the largest
works took no more than 30 or 40 minutes. Many of them
were painted from visions and in complete darkness. Nusslein
made portraits of distant sitters by psychometric rapport or by
concentrating on a name. His paintings have considerable artistic
merit. Augustine Lesage, the French miner painter, produced
his first work in 1918 at the age of 35 after attending
some séances. In 10 years he produced 57 canvases, the conceptions
of which are harmonious and suggest an innate genius
for color. He always began at the top of the canvas and worked
his way down. Lesage, who believed himself to be the reincarnation
of an old Egyptian painter, experienced an inner prompting
before he began to paint. In 1926 the Society of French Artists
exhibited some of his works.
Marjan Gruzewski, the Polish painting medium, experienced
a preponderant subconscious life from early childhood.
At school his hand would write something other than what had
been dictated; if he tried to write what he was told to do, the
pen dropped out of his hand. When he first came into contact
with Spiritualism, he was discovered to be a medium for telekinesis,
ectoplasmic phenomena, and trance mediumship in general.
His gifts of automatic painting were discovered at the age
of 18 or 19 after the end of the war. In a state of trance and in
full daylight, he could produce pictorial representations of anything
suggested—scenes from the spirit world, historical
events, striking portraits of dead people whom he did not know
in life—the compositions were often interwoven with grinning
demons and weird faces. In Paris at the Institut Métapsychique,
he drew designs and painted portraits in complete darkness, although
these were inferior to those produced in light. The
quality improved with red light, even if it never reached the
table where he was working. Gruzewski also painted portraits
under psychometric influence. Before his automatic activity developed,
he knew nothing of designing or painting.
Since talented painters, like Ferdinand Desmoulin and
Hugo d’Alesi, produced automatic pictures, subconscious activity
might well explain the case. But that the explanation is not
always satisfactory is well shown by the case of Marguerite
Burnat-Provins, a very able author and painter. At the outbreak
of World War I, when the church bells tolled out the mobilization
order, she was seized by a great emotion, and sudden
voices impelled her to write. Later the voice was accompanied
by a vision, which she drew with lightninglike quickness. The
visions, which represented symbolical character pictures, were
sometimes felt subjectively but were often seen objectively in
natural colors in space. They developed on some occasions
from a cloud-like formation and assumed a great variety of
shapes and contents. Over 1,000 pictures were produced by
summer 1930, when Dr. Eugèn Osty published the result of his
study in the Revue Métapsychique Burnat-Provins felt anguished
if she tried to resist the temptation to draw the visions as soon
as they presented themselves, and an exhaustion followed or
sometimes preceded the phenomenon. The works produced
during these episodes differ entirely in style and character
from the painter’s ordinary work; most of them resemble caricatures,
which she attributed to an extraneous influence.
John Bartlett produced automatic sketches of Glastonbury
Abbey, bringing out archaeologically verified details with an
amazing precision. Bartlett would begin at the left-hand top
corner and work downward.
The tremendous speed with which the automatic execution
takes place is one of the most puzzling features of this psychic
activity. The Seeress of Prevorst (Frederica Hauffe) drew complicated
geometrical designs. ‘‘She threw off the whole drawing,’’
wrote Dr. Justinus Kerner, ‘‘in an incredibly short time,
and employed, in marking the more than a hundred points
into which this circle was divided, no compasses or instruments
whatever. She made the whole with her hand alone, and failed
not in single point. She seemed to work as a spider works its
geometric diagrams, without a visible instrument. I recommended
her to use a pair of compasses to strike the circles; she
tried, and made immediate blunders.’’ William Howitt, who
had the gift of automatic drawing for five years, wrote on this
point ‘‘Having myself, who never received a single lesson in
drawing, and never could draw in a normal condition, had a
great number of circles struck through my hand under spirit influence,
and these filled up with tracing of ever-new invention,
without a thought of my own, I at once recognized the truth of
Kerner’s statement.’’
F. W. H. Myers observed that independent drawings often
exhibit a fusion of arabesque with ideography; that is to say,
they partly resemble the forms of ornamentation into which the
artistic hand strays when, as it were, dreaming on the paper
without definite plan; and partly they afford a parallel to the
early attempts at symbolic self-expression of primitives who
have not yet learned an alphabet. Like primitive writing, they
pass by insensible transitions from direct pictorial symbolism to
an abbreviated ideography, mingled in its turn with writing of
a fantastic or of an ordinary kind. He often showed to experts
strange hieroglyphics obtained automatically, but he found
that at the best they appeared to resemble scrawls seen on Chinese
The watercolor pictures of Catherine Berry, exhibited in
Brighton, England, in 1874, disclosed the vagaries of mind to
which Myers alludes. Catherine Berry acknowledged, ‘‘By any
ordinary observer they would be pronounced as chaotic, but a
more minute survey of them reveals a wonderful design in construction
and purpose whatever it may be.’’ She was told by her
guide that they were illustrative of the origin of species. Baroness
Guldenstubbe attributed them to the inspiration of a planetary
Mental patients often exhibit an impulse to decorative and
symbolical drawings. Some of their products, like those of Vaslav
Nijinsky, are of decided art merit. As a rule, however the automatist
is of sound mind. Learning and erudition have nothing
to do with the gift. Fabre, a French blacksmith, produced
an almost faultless copy of Raphael’s Bataille de Constantin, the
original of which is now in the Vatican. The symbolic ideas
often disclosed a high moral purpose ‘‘Never has anything
proceeded from these drawings,’’ wrote William Wilkinson in
Spirit Drawings A Personal Narrative (1858), ‘‘nor from their descriptions,
but what has been to us an incentive to a better and
holier life.’’ The phenomenon is even recorded in the Bible
‘‘Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the
porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof,
and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlors
thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat and the pattern of
all that he had by the Spirit, of the courts of the house of the
Lord, and of all the chambers round about it, of the treasuries
of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated
things. . . . All this, said David, the Lord made me understand
in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern’’
(Chron. 28).
Modern psychic artists include the Brazilian Luiz Gasparetto.
Painting in the early 1900s at lightning speed and in semidarkness,
the entranced artist produced more than 6,000
paintings, some of them in the unmistakable style of such dead
masters as Picasso, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin, Modigliani,
Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Tissot, Manet, Monet, and Matisse.
Automatic Drawing and Painting Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Among British psychic artists, radical magician Austin O.
Spare (1888–1956) portrayed fantastic and demonic spirit
forms. In 1927 he exhibited a collection of his ‘‘psychic drawings
and others of magical and occult manifestations’’ at St.
George’s Gallery, London. He also published several books of
his powerful drawings.
Another British psychic artist, Coral Polge, sketched people
who had passed away and wanted to communicate with members
of her audience. At such public demonstrations, Polge
often worked in a unique partnership with such clairvoyants as
Doris Collins, who passed on messages while Polge sketched
the communicator.
Some of the most remarkable examples of psychic art have
come from the contemporary British medium Matthew Manning,
who has produced automatic drawings in the style of
many great artists.
d’Esperance, Elizabeth. Shadow Land; or, Light from the Other
Side. London, n.d. [1897].
Flournoy, Theodor. From India to the Planet Mars A Study of
Somnambulism. New York and London, 1900.
Manning, Matthew. The Link The Extraordinary Gifts of a
Teenage Psychic. U.K. Colin Smythe, 1974. Reprint, New York
Holt, Rinehart, 1975.
Spare, Austin O. A Book of Automatic Drawing. London Catalpa
Press, 1972.

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