Meet an artist who creates his art only when fast asleep

Imagine getting out of bed each night to draw and paint while still fast asleep. That’s exactly what Lee Hadwin has been doing since he was a little boy

artist painting a portrait of woman / art

It all started when I was about four years old. One night, when most children in my part of the world were fast asleep, I woke up and started to work on my next painting. I am “gifted” with a unique sleep-related condition—a rare form of parasomnia.

Parasomnia is a disorder characterised by unusual behaviour of the nervous system during sleep. Although it affects millions around the world, there is a stark difference between others and me. While most people perform normal day-to-day tasks in their sleep, I produce art.

You might think that there is nothing unusual about that. Except for the fact that what I produce when I am asleep, I cannot produce in my waking life. Yes, I have never been interested in art and have tried on many occasions to replicate some of my own works but have failed miserably. Some people call it a gift; others say it is a scam.

Some of the art that Lee created while he was asleep at night

From scribbles to works of art

I remember most of my childhood as being pleasant and cheerful, and unlike most people I felt in touch with the spiritual side of life. My night-time habit would normally start with me getting out of bed after falling asleep and searching my bedroom looking for my school crayons or pencils. I would then start drawing on the walls of my bedroom or in my school books. In the beginning, my drawings were nothing but scribbles and circles with no real theme or meaning attached to them. This went on for years. But when I reached my teenage years, I started to produce more than just unfathomable doodles—I began to draw what most people now classify as art.

One morning I woke up at a friend’s house and discovered that I had drawn four life-size portraits of the late icon Marilyn Monroe the night before. While everybody else was in shock, I was rather amused at what I had done because up till then all my “work” was just random scribbles. From that moment onwards I have produced hundreds of different pieces of art and continue to do so.

The sleepy artist
Lee wants to sell the above drawing to raise money for an 18-month- old baby named Oliver Anstey who is suffering from cancer and being treated in the US

The turning point

It was back in 2006 that my life took a sharp turn. I was trying to raise money for a small cancer hospice in North Wales and decided to exhibit a few of my drawings at my local library. It was a small turnout but nevertheless people enjoyed the evening. A few days later, the local newspaper ran a small story on the event. Following that, I received a call from a TV company from South Korea that was interested to come over to film my art. At first I thought it was a hoax but then I decided to meet them at my parents’ house. True to their word, they turned up and shot for a few hours. In return, I asked them for a donation to the hospice for my time, and they were happy to oblige.

Barely a week had gone by when I received another call, this time from The Sun, one of the leading newspapers in the world. They informed me that they were planning to telecast my story the following day. The next day I received about 80 calls from different media outlets, from TV, news channels magazines to radio stations from all around the world. And that was the moment my life changed for the better.

I went straight down to London to be signed by a management team who looked after some great TV personalities in the UK. They managed to get a few TV companies to do several documentaries on my life, which was great.

Dealing with sceptics

After the sudden success, I went through a period of emotional turmoil as I was accused of being a fraud and a scamster. It felt particularly hurtful given the line of work I was in at the time—of caring for people with terminal illnesses. But in the following years, I quietened most of the sceptics. I underwent a battery of tests at the renowned Edinburgh Sleep Clinic and was also tested by scientists in Japan. They are still baffled about my ability to produce art while asleep even though I can’t create anything when I am awake. Luckily for me, I have my old school reports from primary and secondary school to prove that the highest grade I ever got in art was a “D”!

The art world, however, is a fickle place to be in. Many art critics believe that I am not a real artist but most of the general public believes that I am, and that is what counts in the end. The sad trend in the art field is that most art critics appreciate only the so called “political art” or art with a message. Maybe my art has both?

Continuing my journey

I recently appointed a new manager Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, owner of London Rise Gallery, a renowned gallery in Croydon, England. Kevin has supported me over the last year and has opened up many doors within the art world. I had my first UK exhibition at his gallery earlier this year which turned out to be a roaring success with a large number of media representatives present. I have also exhibited overseas and was in Hong Kong last year for a few weeks displaying my art for a special promotion on Sleep!

I now put all my energy into my art and help different charities here in England and overseas as well. I believe that no matter what you do in life, if you have enough to give something back to the universe and do your bit to make the world a better place, then you’re privileged.

This was first published in the December 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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