Even when our eyes are closed, and even when it is dark, we see, or appear to see, spots and shapes of light. These are mostly white, although they can seem to be coloured. In my case they are often a dull purple or silvery-orange. But really the colours defy a proper description. The shapes themselves are unstable, they vary and fade, morph into others and float around. Talking to friends, it’s reassuring to know we all see these lights – they are known as phosphenes. These also make up after-images, but if you keep your eyes closed for a few minutes, the after-images disappear and these amorphous phosphenes appear.

Here are five small sketches, based on some of my phosphenes. To make a picture, I sit with my eyes firmly closed and with a pencil or a pen draw lines and shapes on paper that correspond as nearly as I can make them to the floating images I see with my eyes shut. I use my fingers on the page to roughly keep the image in bounds. The square ones here are 11 x 11 cm, the other is A4 size.

A drawing takes perhaps only 10 to 15 minutes, and although a short time, I find it surprisingly energy-consuming in its heavy concentration. Afterwards, I use the line drawing as a basis for what you see here. Not much more is to be done, but I fill in some spaces with dark pencil, sometimes a bit of shading. Or I add a wash of watercolour.

Phosphene I
11 x 11 cm
Phosphene II
11 x 11 cm
Phosphene III
Ink + watercolour
Phosphene IV
11 x 11 cm
Phosphene V
11 x 11cm 
These drawings are not meant to be anything other than a catching of floating lights in the eyes.

You might say these are nothing but scribbles and squiggles, even the type of doodles you might make during an enforced session in a conference chamber. Having had my share of experience of the latter, I can tell you these, at least for me, are very different.

Why not try it yourself?