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Drawing It Out: Befriending the Unconscious
by Sherana Harriette Frances
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies 
Reviewed by dogbreth, 3/25/2006

In 1963, Harriette Frances went to the International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, California, to explore whether a legal substance being used at that time for psychotherapy could straighten out or enrich her life. She had been suffering from serious depression and had attempted to commit suicide. This mother/wife/artist was desperate, yet also searching for something more to enrich her life.

At that time, the mass media had been telling the general public about an “amazing” substance that had the potential to do just about anything and everything: LSD. Various articles claimed it to be a wonder medication, while others said it brought about insanity. At that point in her life, Harriette was on the edge of going either way, so she decided to give the new medicine a chance.

She was prepped for her experience by knowledgeable staff, and underwent her experience with her eyes covered, lying comfortably and listening to music. What was supposed to be a “dream drug” brought her nightmares. The staff requested that she write out a report of her experience and for six months she returned to the foundation for testing and questionnaires. Harriette Frances, being an artist by nature, found words to be inadequate to explain her experience, so she drew out a series of eighteen pen-and-ink drawings that flowed slowly from her subconscious, each full of imagery.

I found these initial eighteen drawings to be the most significant in the book. They are full of the surrealistic archetypes that one can sometimes (though all too rarely) encounter while on an LSD trip. Changing scenes, visions of body deformity, altering surroundings, archetypical hieroglyphs, pressing forces of her personal life along with imagery of assistance and triumph, all flow through these remarkable works of art. They are truly the highlight of this book.

The second series of drawings followed hypnotic therapy around the end of Harriettes’ marriage. Drawings 19 to 37 explore different aspects of her current life as well as return to her LSD experience which, by this time, she realized had significant aspects of “birth trauma.” Again, the images are full of archetypes, many stemming from her Greek heritage, but as with all archetypes, they cross the boundaries of culture and “normal” everyday existence.

The third set of drawings, done in 1974, was completed following an unsuccessful relationship that brought to the surface many of the subconscious aspects of life which Harriette (now calling herself Sherana) had faced in the intervening time. Drawings 38 to 61 return to some of the archetypical themes found in the earlier works, but also are more elaborate at times, as well as being both more whimsical and/or violent. At the end of these drawings, Sherana decided that she had completed her visionary sketchbook directly related to her experience at the foundation, and ceased using this sketchbook (like most artists, she has multiple sketchbooks).

The text has a very brief introduction by Dr. Stanislav Grof, but it also has a prologue and an afterword written by Tanya Wilkinson, Ph.D., that is full of insights, explanations and descriptions of archetypical imagery found within Sherana’s drawings. Wilkerson’s afterword is particularly informational and engrossing. Sherana’s text, which is interspersed between the sets of drawings, mainly is indicative of her need to “draw it out,” as she is able to express her ideas better with her artwork, with the text merely providing some context.

The bibliography is sparse, but this is not a book in need of a substantial bibliography. Rather it is a book that explores the artistic expression of psychedelic imagery and its archetypical influences. Drawing It Out inspires readers to take the time to express their visions and experiences. Creativity as a dynamic force is well documented in this book.

Drawing It Out: Befriending the Unconsciousness is available from MAPS with bulk-rate discounts, with the profits going towards ongoing research in psychedelic therapy.

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