Floating for Creativity with Artist Sydney Busskohl

It’s fairly common knowledge among floatation therapy enthusiasts that floating is great for anxiety.  Athletes have long found floating to be a great performance enhancer and key to recovery.  Meditators have known for decades that sensory deprivation advances their practice by dropping brain waves into a relaxed state.  Even those who suffer from PTSD are experiencing a positive effects on their symptoms. But what can floating do for those who work in the creative field?

1/3 Paintings by Sydney after a month of floating.

Floating for Creativity Research

A study conducted in the 1980s found that individuals were able to generate more creativity after one hour of floating. This was compared to spending 90 minutes alone in a quiet office space.  Another study found similar results among college students who floated while their fellow subjects spent time in a darkened room. Subsequently, the students who floated ranked higher on the Guilford test, a standardized test to measure creative ideas.  

Both studies acknowledged that the float subjects also experienced a relief from negative symptoms (e.g. tension, anxiety, depression and fatigue).  It is often the absence of these distracting feelings that researchers credit with an increase in creative thinking.

A similar experience was reported by local painter Sydney Busskohl. We spoke with about what happened to her creative process after floating every day for one month.

We sat down with Sydney, and her feedback was very interesting:
Give us a little background on your art and what inspires it.

“As a kid I was always doodling swirls on everything, but fell in love with painting in my high school art class. Most of my paintings involve people and are very colorful and bright but usually have somewhat dark subject matter. I’m really interested in psychology and am especially inspired by the strength of the human spirit, that we are capable of overcoming so much darkness and in doing so, it makes us stronger and more whole.”

How do you deal with artist’s block?  Do you have practices you typically employ to jumpstart your creativity?

Meditation is the main thing that helps me with art block, but it really has to be a regular practice. Meditation is maintenance for your mind, otherwise you get so blocked up with needless mental static that blocks the way for any creative ideas to flow through.

We also all know that going through a breakup is a great way to jumpstart creativity, but I think there’s a lot to be said for that… almost like comfort is a hindrance to creativity, or maybe we start to lose our creative spark when life has gotten too routine and monotonous.

I really think we need to be constantly developing and challenging ourselves intellectually/emotionally/spiritually for our art to thrive and evolve.

What made you decide to start floating?

Honestly, I was initially way creeped out by the idea of sensory deprivation and had no intention of trying it out. I was reading this book at the time called “The Surrender Experiment” which was an auto-biography about a guy who decided to let go of his personal preferences & surrender to what life presented to him. I was so inspired by his story that I started a Surrender Experiment of my own at the beginning of 2018.

One day my ex and I were walking by Lifefloat, he saw a promotion sign outside and said we should go in and check it out. I begged him to just keep walking but he insisted we go in. Since I was doing my little experiment at the time, I really couldn’t wuss out. After my first float I decided to sign up for a membership and started going 3-4 times a week. I would have never tried sensory deprivation had I not been reading that book at the time and it ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done.

How did you work through the “creep out” factor?  What happened during your first float and what made you continue?

I just kept reminding myself that the creepy-ness was all in my head & so I made it a personal challenge to overcome my discomfort. Honestly, my first time floating was not all that relaxing, I had the hardest time getting into any kind of meditative state or even just getting control over the direction of my thoughts. I continued floating because I know that meditation is a practice that becomes easier the more you do it & I also knew that once I could find peace in the float tank, it would translate into my day to day life.”

You recently floated almost every day for one month.  How did that impact your art?

I feel a huge weight of pressure lifted off of my shoulders. I spent a lot of time in the float tank that month specifically thinking about my creative blocks and I ended up realizing how much pressure I had been putting on myself over the years. After having this realization, I worked on letting go of all the expectations I had for my art which opened up a floodgate of creativity after the month of floating was over.

I feel so much less in my head when I’m painting, which is when I really feel in the flow. I had gotten in such a habit of overthinking every brush stroke and now I’m back to just doing what feels right in the moment and not worrying if I might change it later.. it’s no big deal.

It sounds like floating allowed you to recognize and release a habit of over-analyzing. By doing so, this helped your art flourish.  

Is there anything else you would recommend floating for?

Well I think everyone should try it at least once, you never know how it may end up benefiting you. If you have a hard time disconnecting from technology or find yourself always lost in thought rather than being present, floating would be a great way to give yourself a reset. I found myself a lot less stressed and anxious all the time after floating regularly which also led to me being more productive with my time. Also, if you’re extremely busy and never have a moment to sort out your thoughts or are just generally overwhelmed by life, the float tank a great place to do some mental organization.”    

You can view more of Sydney’s paintings at www.sydneybusskohl.com.