“Hallucinations” Turn Masterpiece

McCandless painting. Photo courtesy of Lauren McCandless.

She could always envision more than what was directly in front of her. 

The hinges on the door creak and a bell rings as her foot breaks the barrier from the outside into the laundromat. The sounds of machinery operating and coins hitting the floor fill her ears but these aren’t the details she noticed. She’s drawn to how things look, what else they could be and how she can turn them into something new and more her style. 

She makes her way over to the washing machine. It looks like a box from the outside but the cylindrical inside is what piques her inspiration. It spins around and around and around. She thinks it can be a symbol for the way waves work. 

As a surfer, many of the paintings she draws and pictures she sees bring her back to the ocean and cultivate new ideas. 

She draws a quick sketch to remember what it looks like at the moment and makes her way back home and into her drawing room. Windows cover three of the four walls, natural light pierces in and a pile of paint waits to be used. This is where her ideas begin to come to life. 

She starts with her initial sketch of the washing machine, simple and in its original form, but she doesn’t stop there. Her mind runs. 

“I could put a surfer inside it,” she thinks as she begins to add to the paper. “It could be funny to call it a wave pool,” a new dimension is introduced. “Always bright colors,” a consistent theme if you were to see the radiating orange-colored surfboard she rides. Each addition to her sketch builds on one another as the thoughts fly through her head. It is as if they are part of a snowball rolling over itself, clinging to all its surroundings and ultimately, expanding.   

A washing machine turned into a wave pool. 

By definition, she has “hallucinations.” A hallucination is “a sensory experience that [appears] real but [is] created by your mind,” wrote  Chitra Badii on the Healthline website. Yet, her “hallucinations” aren’t medical, just out of her own creativity. She looks at items and sees more with her eyes than the rest of the world. This is just one scene. 

Lauren McCandless, a San Diego painter and Point Loma Nazarene University alum (‘23), has had an eye for painting since she was in elementary school. Her grandpa said she used to stare outside his window and effortlessly recreate what she was seeing. He encouraged her abilities from that moment on. Her abilities didn’t stop there, they built on each other as did each idea for her paintings. 

After deciding against attending Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), McCandless put artwork on the back burner until being named creative director for her high school’s associated student body (ASB). While it wasn’t the artistic outlet she anticipated, she used this time to continue boosting her painting skills, even if it was in the form of an informational banner hung up around her campus. 

It wasn’t until McCandless moved away from home and began college at PLNU that her artwork truly became her own. Relocating to San Diego provided McCandless with a well of endless inspiration. With a view of the ocean from her living room, the touch of sand just a five-minute drive away and waves to surf every day, her ideas once more began to flow. San Diego is where she began growing confident in her artwork and putting it out for others to purchase. 

Wave pool original painting by Lauren McCandless. Photo courtesy of Lauren McCandless.

“Fun and dynamic” are two words Gigi Garbarino, a second-year graphic design major and customer of McCandless’ 2024 calendar, uses to describe the piece she has chosen to hang in her room. 

“She has built a distinct brand for herself,” said Garbarino. “Her illustrations are lighthearted, playful and brighten up my space.”

McCandless’ gift, though it seems to be a magic trick from the outside, is more logically attributed to what can be found in her DNA.

“Creativity is related to the connectivity of large-scale brain networks,” said Szabolcs Keri of the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions in Budapest in an interview with The Guardian. “How brain areas talk to each other is critical when it comes to originality, fluency and flexibility.”

Nancy Locke, professor of art history at Pennsylvania State University, also believes that this skill is born and can’t necessarily be created over time. 

“There is no question in my mind that artists are born,” said Nancy Locke in an interview with Lisa Duchene, a Penn State journalist. “Someone who really wants to be an artist and is less talented … can be a follower, can be a technician, can learn a craft and can turn out something that looks like an Impressionist painting. But that person will never have the vision of a Seurat, Van Gogh or someone who’s a real innovator.”

This string of ideas. This line of thought. This ability to create a picture out of an event that has never happened before is a talent, one that not everyone is born with. 

“Her brain is one of a kind,” said Cami Landreth, one of McCandles’ roommates. “That is what sets her apart for sure: her ability to create crazy imaginary worlds that combine reality with her own imagination.”

McCandless returns to her chair once again, looking out the windows that surround her and begins. Her paint-crusted long sleeve scrapes against the desk as she begins her initial sketch. Slightly placing her pencil on the paper, her marks are light, but they won’t be for long. 

Her inspiration this time was what most would see as just a waterfall. She didn’t see that. 

Original painting by Lauren McCandless. Photo courtesy of Lauren McCandless.

“What if a wave can form from the base of this waterfall,” she thinks as her process starts from the beginning. “A man could be surfing on the edge of the wave,” another addition. “If the man is on the end of his surfboard he could be hanging over a campfire while roasting a marshmallow,” the thought that turned the sketch into her own. 

The initial sketch rolls over itself, building, growing and forming into a new creation as it always does. Unrecognizable from its origins but she could see the plan from the start.

More of Lauren McCandless’ recent work can be viewed by visiting artbylaurenmccandless.com or @art_for_choppers on Instagram.