Larks and owls


Dear Artist,

One thing about bumping over a few time zones, your sleep habits tend to get disrupted. Back in Vancouver I’m generally in the studio at 5 a.m. doing one thing or the other. Here in Italy I’ve transmogrified into a night person. I’ve actually been caught sleeping in. I think it has to do with the prevailing “La Dolce Vita” around here, the heat of midday, and the European habit of dining late.

You may have noticed that every time I recommend getting an early start, people write to say I’m losing my biscotti.

Professor Jim Horne of the Loughborough Sleep Research Center in England has come up with some new insights. His “diurnal preferences test” indicates that 15% of the population are morning people, 15% are evening people, and the rest are neither one nor the other. He refers to the extremes as “larks” and “owls.”

Horne traces sleep changes based on genes and age. “Folks tend to be more larkish as children, becoming owlish through adolescence, and are their most owlish in their early twenties. In old age they become more of a lark again. It’s age and habit and, to a lesser degree, genes.”

The fun begins in the world of creativity. It seems that larks have an advantage in concentration and inventiveness, but owls are the ones who hold up the best in the long run. Larks tend to cave in and become dullards when deprived of normal sleep. Owls tolerate sleep-deprivation better. Apparently there are long and short genes called “Period 3” that regulate getting up and going to bed. Some of us are stuck with one or the other.

It looks like larks live for the hormone peaks that pop up after a balanced bout of short-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). On the other hand owls may be steadier and more persistent, and less “hormonal.” But late night sessions also put a strain on the production of the neurochemicals serotonin and cortisol, which are responsible for a number of brain functions, including mood and concentration. Interestingly, jet lag also interferes with normal production of these goodies. Taking a brisk walk in the early morning sunshine is one of the best ways to regenerate the neurochemicals and get the clock back on time.

‘Scuse me, it’s 5 a.m. I’ve been pushing it all night so I’m going to go out and catch the Tuscan dawn.

Best regards,


PS: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Esoterica: The general consensus is that the morning is the best time for many people to undertake complex tasks of creativity. Apparently, more can be achieved in the morning. But I’m seriously modifying my thoughts on the matter. There’s a world of subscribers to this letter who insist that you must simply work when the spirit moves — morning, noon or night. And just be thankful that there is a movement. Grab it. You may be sitting around for a long time waiting for your hormones to pop in.


Habit helps groggy mind
by Judith England

Much as I might like to linger in bed some mornings I’m usually up before the alarm. Round about the time the sky starts to brighten and the birds start singing in earnest the day calls me. I’ve gotten better about lying there, letting a few quiet minutes pass, so groggy mind can reconnect to sleepy body. Sometimes I think about the day ahead and envision myself moving through it smoothly — enough energy, enough time, and no glitches. When feet hit the floor there’s a pretty predictable sequence — put the coffee on, feed and walk the dog, feed the birds, do my morning yoga/meditation. Habit works well when the brain isn’t fully turned on.


Owls have peace and quiet
by Marjo Thompson, Westbank, BC, Canada

Melatonin — many jet-laggers swear by it. I put my little 8 yr old night owl on it once when she couldn’t get to sleep for 4 months, worked like a charm (of course I only gave her 1/3 of a pill and never full dose — it is strong) and she reprogrammed her regular cycle. Unfortunately I am the epitome of night owls and, since having my children, tend to get my best work (homework) and painting done from 11p.m. till 2a.m. Ahhhh the peace and quiet. Had you ever thought of that? Or has it been too long since having your children that you have forgotten all those distractions during the day? Larks don’t get that freedom, and I feel bad for them, for it would be only minutes until the kids too are up and at you. It is far better as an artist to be an owl.

There is 1 comment for Owls have peace and quiet by Marjo Thompson

From: Teresa Gagne — Sep 01, 2008

When my children were young I became a reluctant lark so I could have some “me” time. It does interfere with enjoying live music, most which starts at 10 p.m. or later.

Evenings in the studio are a productive time for me.


Therapy for jet lag
by Kathy Hirsh, Beijing, China


“Crested butte valley”
pastel and watercolor, 9 x 12 inches
by Kathy Hirsh

I’ve been living in China for 6 years. I was a medical illustrator for about 25 years and now am forging a path through the fine arts world. It’s been totally fun and consuming. An artist David Schwindt recommended your letter at the Scottsdale Artist School. I really like it, thanks. I have a recommendation for you for jet lag. Go to Body clock and next time you travel try the light/dark therapy. A good friend of mine who is a circadian rhythm expert did this with me and I have to say cut my round the world jet lag in half. I try to follow the timing as closely as possible and remember that the dark is as important as the light. Probably a good rule to follow in art too.




Night owl benefits
by Andee Wasson, Clackamas, OR, USA


“MobiusFlow Applique”
mixed media, 24 x 24 inches
by Andee Wasson

I have always been an owl; I function better than most on 4-5 hours sleep obtained between 2 and 9 p.m., my ‘pay the bills’ job is in health care, where night shift workers who function well on an owl sleep schedule are cherished. Artistically I always get my best ideas and do my best work creatively between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. (the ideas wake me if I am sleeping), my second best function time is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

One of the best advantages to working at night either for employment or artistically is the reduced number of distractions. My thought processes are not interrupted by life, because life is sleeping and the quiet solitude of the night is glorious. I get more done in less time, and no one is awake making demands on me that imply I need to justify my time for artistic endeavors. It is a slice of life uninterrupted.


It’s Nice To Get Up In The Mornin’
by Jim Cowan, New Westminster, BC, Canada

If I were in Tuscany I’d be up at five also… Well, maybe not five… Eight maybe.

It’s Nice To Get Up In The Mornin’

O’, ye’ll never, never, never thrive, lying in yer bed,
Early risin’ makes us wise, I’ve often heard it said,
I believe in that mysel’, but as far as I can see,
If early risin’ makes us wise, ye’ll say the same as me —


O! it’s nice to get up in the mornin’ when the sun begins to shine,
At four or five or six o’clock in the good old summer time.
When the snow is snowin’ and it’s murky over head,
O! it’s nice to get up in the mornin’, but it’s nicer to lie in bed.
O! there’s lots o’ folks that never work, they hate the very name,
And others would be idle if it wasn’t just for shame.
They say we should rise wi’ the lark, well I believe that when,
The lark we should rise wi’ doesn’t get up till ten —


O’ my brither Jock’s a baker, and he sleeps along wi’ me,
In the winter morn Jock has to rise and start his work at three.
Before he gets his troosers on, his legs are nearly numb,
So while he’s standin’ shiverin’, I lie in bed and hum —

(song written by Sir Harry Lauder)


Extending the day
by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA


“All is calm”
oil painting, 17 x 14 inches
by Dyan Law

I’m convinced that whatever the reason for my being an “owl,” I don’t give much of a “hoot” (sorry for the pun) as long as my creative juices are flowing well. I’ll admit that I’ve wondered about compromising my brain power, but have succumbed to what appears to be my natural (or learned) tendencies. Obvious to me is that I have a strong need to extend each valuable day by recording what I can on canvas (or my mind) before the day fades TOO quietly into the next. Each day’s grand finale appears to be more stimulating to my 5 senses than hitting the pillow early to “call it a night.” I’m content when I finally “hit the pillow” and call it “a new day”!


A real owl at the easel
by Jim van Geet, Australia


Night-time visitor

Your recent posts have been both coincidental and timely. Firstly, your observations on Italy resonated with me as I was there in December exhibiting at the Florence Biennale, thereafter extending my visit through Europe to gauge their current art scene. Although some of my work is carried out through the day, I find there are too many distractions and prefer the quiet peace and solitude that nighttime brings.

My studio is a converted workshop 40 meters from the house in a rural setting with the only sounds being that of nocturnal animals and the occasional bellowing cow. Imagine then my surprise when I returned to the studio from a short break around midnight to find an owl had flown through the doors and was perched next to the painting I was working on. Highly unusual (although bats do it occasionally) and something I would have missed were it not for my own nocturnal habits.


I’m a woodpecker
by Roger Asselin, St. Petersburg, FL, USA


“Sly squirrel”
acrylic painting
by Roger Asselin

I’m a Woodpecker

Five AM is the magic hour for me
I start by flicking from tree to tree
If there is not breakfast I see
Coffee and donuts it has to be
It’s then that brush and paint do call
I’m an artist so I must not stall
Holding tight that I may not fall
Finally there’s the tree that’s tall
Quickly, the foundation to prepare
Here and there a dab is all I care
Look, after all, there is something there
Neither heights or time for me will scare
I’m a woodpecker, who the heck cares
(Roger Asselin)


Wishing for a routine
by Alicia Chimento


“With the wind, Cape Cod”
original painting
by Alicia Chimento

For me, getting in the zone to paint has much more to do with where I am in my own head than what time it is. If my mind is free of clutter, obligations, daily responsibilities, I am much more apt to paint in the early hours of the day. Before the phone starts to ring, the dog needs a walk and I feel guilt about not exercising myself. On the other hand, I have been known to paint until the wee hours of the morning if the aforementioned distractions prevent me from getting to my easel early on. Hours fly by either way. But there is something so comforting about the possibility of having a specific time, every day, to do nothing but paint. Wish I could get there. . .


No socializing for owls
by Ruth Addinall


“Female torso II”
oak sculpture
21.2 x 4 x 2.8 inches
by Ruth Addinall

Picasso hated getting up early and he often worked in the middle of the night. There’s at least one wonderful image where he’s pulling the sheets over his head whilst a woman opens the curtains and lets bright light in. I console myself with this fact as I am unable to get going early. I envy those who can start early, get their hours in and then socialize. I generally get more and more into my work as the day progresses, which makes socializing tricky.






Time warp of creativity
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA


“Departure of the muse”
oil painting, 39 x 26 inches
by Warren Criswell

I am an owl and nothing if not hormonal. So much for that theory. My method seems to be studied procrastination. The studio tasks and Google searches I can come up with are legion. Anything to keep from painting. Around noon, usually after lunch, I have gotten up the nerve to approach the canvas. Once I start painting, some kind of time warp occurs. What seems like a few minutes later four or five hours have passed. After food and wine I can keep going into the night, return to creative procrastination or pursue some other hormonal activity.



There is 1 comment for Time warp of creativity by Warren Criswell

From: Gwen Purdy — Aug 15, 2008

What a wonderful painting, the idea of it, but also the startling composition and action, then the color, well, just everything about it. I suppose it struck me so strongly because I just wrote a poem about the Muse is free to come and go. Though I had the artist chained to the easel….. Will look at other things you have done.


Adapting to sleep disruption
by Edward Berkeley, Portland, OR, USA

I would like to add that hormone activities that we don’t quite understand play a role (see Melatonin), as well as personal attitudes and lifelong training. I can attest to the latter as for forty years of neurosurgical career I rarely slept without being awoken at night, having to attend emergencies at any time, and sometimes working for 36 hours without sleep. One’s state of mind alters and provides a different pace of life. I rarely get jet lag and I rapidly adapt to the new environments and time zones within 24 hours.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Larks and owls



From: Katherine S. Harris — Aug 11, 2008
From: Randy Bosch — Aug 11, 2008

Lucca and vicinity will/has certainly filled your time – and only a small corner of Tuscany. IF you get southeast toward Siena, among the 1000 other great places, I recommend Castello de Volpaia, just north of Radda in Chianti for great subject matter, great people and great vino and mangia!!! (both Lucca and there next month for us–paintings to follow!!) All the best.

From: Wayne Cooper — Aug 11, 2008

I loved the article and found most of it very appropriate…being a 60 year old owl that is! For myself I find most of my ‘preferred’ time to paint is in the early afternoon when the sun is at its most intense if I’m painting from a photo and later on…perhaps 6 or 7 if I’m doing a plein air attempt or a sketch. The late hours however are where my most critical observations are made of COMPLETED or partially completed work and I find myself more capable of honestly evaluating the paintings….and roughing out what I see as corrections but leave the actual correcting for the best light of day.

Cheers from Canada North

From: Elaine Bailey — Aug 12, 2008
From: DJohnson — Aug 12, 2008

I have so much enjoyed your letters from Luccca. What a fabulous place. I have always been a lark and do my best work or just thinking in the hours between 6 and noon.

From: Carol — Aug 12, 2008

Well I have always been a lark and usually poop out about 3 in the afternoon and need a nap to get me through. But of lately I seem to be moving over into the owl territory or some where in between! Can’t seem to get going in the morning and when it is bedtime I am wide awake.

Italy! wow I would love to travel there some day. I am from Italian heritage. Both grandparents were from Silicy and came to America. I understand there are distance cousins there…hmmm might be a good excuse to go visit!

Robert thank you for the great tour and I really enjoy the newsletters. I am new to this site but really like it.

From: Bill Petrie — Aug 12, 2008

I am thinking about a trip to Tuscany and am wondering if any readers have had problems transporting art materials by air. I believe that tubes of paint may burst or leak at high altitudes while in cargo, and taking tubes of paint as carry-on is likely a no-no these days. Any words of wisdom?

From: Terry — Aug 12, 2008

Early to bed, and early to rise;

And your girl goes out with other guys.

– Anon

From: Roger Davis — Aug 12, 2008

I am a “lark” but often spend mornings on errands, reading or dithering in my garden, shop or studio. My best, most focused time for painting is from 2 to 6 or 7 p.m. Bed by 9, sleep by 10 p.m.

From: Ron Grauer — Aug 12, 2008

Robert, after thirty-five years in the graphics and adv. biz (been painting full time since then, sort of, for twenty) …in the ad biz…I learned the real work happened after everyone went home and the phones went away…’til the wee hours. So now it’s ingrained. My wife goes to the studio around 7 or 8 am and we meet around 3 or 4 pm as I go to work. We, do, do lunch together. So it’s not all genetic, some of us learned it the hard way.

From: Janet Toney — Aug 13, 2008

Don’t know what difference it would make to a creative soul, working in the AM or PM. I’d think one might be just as productive as the other. I think a preference for mornings or nights as the time to be active are simply part of the individual’s personality. Basing this on my two daughters. One hates, and has always hated, to get up in the morning and to go to bed at night. The other loves the morning, and always has, and crashes soon after dark. They were a riot to live with when they were both home. The owl gets up slow and grumpy and the lark quick and perky. Since they are both grown and alive you will know we were successful at keeping the owl from killing the lark! Neither of them is particularly interested in art, but each is creative in her own way. Our son was the smart lark who knew when and where to sing! He is a better artist than his sisters, but it’s not his passion. He’s a Marine, so his preference for mornings comes in handy now!

As for me, I generally like mornings best and get busy, but not on my art. Mom trained me well to get all the chores out of the way first. So generally that’s what I do, unless! I have started a series of paintings that I’m really into! Then, I’ll do very little else and just work on the paintings until they are finished! No matter the time of day. One problem with nights, not dependent on my energy level or preferences, LIGHT! It’s difficult to get enough good light to work after the sun is down.

From: Janice Slattery — Aug 14, 2008

What a kind and inquisitive face the Bird Man has in the photo. I rescued a pinfeathered American Kestrel years ago not knowing of its lineage. I raised her in my home for about a year until I found that it was illegal at which point I studied, took the Fish and Game tests, found a sponsor, built a hawk-house and started to train her to hunt (although at times I had 40 live mice for her). We were very close until a suitor flew at the window to indicate that she would be his alone. I painted her from a photo wishing now that I had spent time drawing her often. Just recently I rescued a house finch who at about four days from snuggled in its egg fell from the underside of the tile roof. It’s about three weeks old now, fully feathered and weaned onto seeds, fruit and vegetables. Monday it will be on its way out of my home and into the garden where I found it. How fortunate I have been.

From: Frances Topping — Aug 15, 2008
From: Ed Hyatt — Aug 15, 2008

So many comments from Owls, so few from Larks. Being a lifelong Lark myself, I’ve long enjoyed the early morning hours. Talk about quiet and solitude! It’s great to have that time to myself while the rest of the world sleeps.

From: Toni — Aug 15, 2008

I am more in tune with Warren Criswell. I tend to wake early but not to work. I brew a pot of java, light a fine tobacco product, and sit on my back porch listening to the morning doves coo and other feathered friend’s call. I admire the “larks” (or “fool’s” as I fondly refer to them) jog or walk around the neighborhood. I spend my mornings in my head, planning, meditating, focusing, researching, reading, writing, sketching on what I will be doing when I get motivated- which is right about noon. Then, without distractions, and the when my room’s lit up, I can work for hours. Around 7 or 8 I’m done. Unwind (some wine is good- more wine is better) and go to bed by 10. Works good for me. (I realize that coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and lack of exercise is not a healthy lifestyle of which I must reply – “I don’t care”. I feel great. The doctor says I’m healthy – begrudgingly. I have all my teeth and hair and besides I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to jog in St. George, Utah before the age of 65.) I don’t believe I’m a lark or an owl – possibly, a nutcracker.

From: Marjorie Turnbull — Aug 16, 2008

Bill, I travel often to France. Fortunately for me, my husband speaks French. I take brushes, Winsor & Newton, Griffin Alkyd, fast drying Oil Colour and Gessoed, cut unstretched canvas (I glue it to boards when I return home). I take two or three pieces of foam core (cut larger than the canvas) to tack the canvas onto – the extra boards are used for drying. I don’t take the boards home and the canvas packs flat. I don’t take solvents as I don’t use them and couldn’t take them on the plane. A bar of Sunlight soap cleans my brushes. I also have a fold-up easel and my pallet is disposable. I put it in a covered plastic flat box used for acrylics. I buy paper towels there and a cheap umbrella, if I need it. The paint never freezes or bursts.

From: Beverly Claridge — Aug 18, 2008

Bill, regarding your question about transporting art supplies. When I flew from New Zealand to USA in 2006, I just brought brushes from home and purchased my oils in the USA. In the rush to pack for the trip back to New Zealand, I tossed my box of paints and brushes into one of the checked suitcases. No problems with bursting or with the airlines, thank God!!! My only recommendation would be to check if it is okay with the airline, just so you don’t go against the regulations. Cheers.






The lost city

oil painting, 12 x 24 inches
by Brian Reifer, Spain


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Michael Stanfield of Armstrong, BC, Canada who wrote, “Early to rise and early to bed, makes a man healthy but socially dead…”

And also Darrell Gardner of Marceline, MO, USA who wrote, “It is said that the early bird gets the worm but remember it is the second mouse that gets the cheese.”

And also Rev Nikolai of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “The early bird catches the worm, but the early worm gets eaten by the bird.”




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