Creative peaking


Dear Artist,

We artists experience a phenomenon called “creative peaking.” There are two main types: “macropeaks” and “micropeaks.” The first are the big ones, the life ones — like Mozart was said to have peaked at age 16. Micropeaks are daily, even hourly. Where you are in your cycle is useful knowledge. A lot of it you can control. For example, a concert pianist must time “rehearsal” with “concert pitch.” Anyone who has ever made an art out of writing exams knows the delicate upward path from study time to exam time. Bringing maximum creativity to easel time presents a similar problem. Preparation, research, assembling the elements of desire — the entire “get ready” mode is important. It can be a real downer if it’s not working. We all know, for example, how creative peaking may not coincide with exhibition delivery dates. Being able to get on top of peaking is a useful business.

Many artists report that creativity “comes in waves” — some waves a long way apart, other minor wavelets coming thick and fast. Tiredness or overwork are generally negatives, as are interruptions. Pressure — from within or without — may or may not be valuable. Coordinating innate and natural rhythms with practical needs is an acquired art. Slip out of synch and there can be fitful nights, ineffective days.

What to do about it? For some, a placid, relaxed mode ripples gently and patiently toward the deep lake of creativity. Others prefer the coffee-jangled last-minute euphoria before taking the dive. The eternal question is: “How do I extract maximum quality — regularly?” It’s done by knowing and understanding yourself, your motivations, moods and your dearest bugaboos.

My friend told me that the best solution is to simply push yourself to “keep peaking.” Nice work if you can get it. It seems that grabbing the mountain goddess is a mind thing. I’ve found that professionals have a dedicated determination, a momentary shot at peaking over and over—often brought on by a private vow. I’m sure there are many such vows. This one has been shouted around a certain studio. Her highness, the goddess, bless her, sometimes hears, “Whoa there, back up — make art for all time.”

Best regards,


PS: “Work to perfect the mind. There is no certitude but in what the mind conceives.” (Georges Braque)

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken upon the flood, leads on to fortune.” (William Shakespeare)

Esoterica: Creativity works in mysterious ways — but technology can be depended upon to keep on peaking. Today’s clickback pioneers a brilliant new connection with the help of Google. With this tool you can access anything you want on our Painter’s Keys site. You can find out where all of an artist’s letters are, see a variety of opinions on the same subject, get information on specific problems. Please take a look and give it a whirl. Wonders will never cease.

The following are selected responses to the above and other letter. Thanks for writing.


Had creative peak ten years ago
by Paul Kane

My creative peak occurred about ten years ago. It was in one painting that I had been working towards my entire life. Since then I have been feeling my way towards something else, but hampered by having to work too much. That creates a struggle oriented around maintaining continuity between short creative periods separated by extensive interruptions.


The measure of talent
by Bonnie Hamlin


painting by Bonnie Hamlin

In the sports world the person who works hard and perseveres will almost always pass the person who appears to have a natural ability and does not work at developing their skills. I would think art is the same. Also, is it possible to measure talent before a person has developed their abilities to the maximum? Perhaps the “no talent” person just needs a good instructor, or a more positive self image, or new glasses, more time, etc. It seems to me that the only consistent thing about talent is the person who gets to the “top,” no matter how they got there, will be referred to by some as “talented.”


Long recovery times
by T D Yandt, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


painting by T D Yandt

Fluctuating waves of creativity are definitely the case for me. I find I’ll have a month where I’m turning out four or five pieces a week. Working twelve hour days at my easel. This December was a good example. Then there are times that I will go several months before picking up a brush. It’s now April, and I haven’t done more than four pieces since December. I do wonder if this is a case of disability infringing on my life, or if it’s really just a matter of creativity coming in waves.

I find I burn out much easier than others. So when I’m feeling well, I make as much use of that time as possible… however, I then need several months to recuperate. My body just gets drained during those times when I’m working my hardest. My focus gets disrupted, and I just need time to relax and seek out quiet moments for reflection. When my body finally tells me I’ve had enough rest, I’m back to working at a furious pace.

Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off trying to maintain a calmer pace. Perhaps aiming to finish one piece every week, instead of working as I do now. To be honest, I really enjoy the times when my mind is pushing me to paint more, and to do it now. Inspiration hits, and I’ll be planning my next piece while I’m still working on the one before it. I just hate that it takes me so long to recover from those times.


Peaking days and learning days
by Lida Van Bers

It has taken a long time for me to realize that creativity peaking takes its own time for each individual. The drive to keep going is always strong but not always the best. I am still learning that deep inside one knows if it is going to work that day or not. It has a lot to do with how relaxed and open we are. For instance one day I decided to do something completely new. I felt calm, excited and meditated for a minute until I was open to receive. That day I peaked in my new adventure. It just took off. It had been a new learning. It is important to listen to your inner voice — which will tell you if you peak, the other days are simply learning days, with lots of frustrations and disappointments.


Reborn with water-based oils
by Karen R Phinney, Halifax, NS, Canada

I have struggled with the “peak” issues, and Roberta Rich’s insecurity things, too! I have been painting for over 20 years, and have been drawing and creating images since I was a small child. I was inventive and happy to create, non-judgmental about my work until high school, when judgment (often from teachers) came into play. There were always others who were better, so I concluded I wasn’t any good and stopped for a few years. I eventually picked it up again, and attended drawing classes. I worked in watercolours, struggling to produce stuff that lived up to my expectations. It was a long haul, with steps forward and back, and peaks and valleys of success and dismal failure. But recently I have become rejuvenated — I rediscovered, after many years, oils — but I now use “water-based oils,” and I love them! I feel almost reborn — the enthusiasm is there, and anticipation of working. I am thrilled to have branched out (and am wondering why I didn’t sooner). My husband, always my biggest fan/severest critic, is fulsome in his praise of this new work. But I know how ephemeral this confidence can be. I’ve been through periods where I just put everything away, so disheartened was I. It’s true, we must find a space within, a well upon which to draw. I am convinced that many artists create out of pain and suffering, a need to somehow overcome the turmoil. But there is also the need to express our joy, and to feed upon the joy we have while doing so! I am in that space now. I hope it lasts.


Peaking and troughing
by Karen Fitzgerald, NY, USA

Yes, creative peaking happens. The daily peaking (and don’t forget the compatriot, troughing — what would a peak be without a trough?) can render a productive landscape (psychologically speaking, that is) into a pock-marked, war scarred wasteland. I agree that it is important to put oneself in the flow, and move with the peaks as much as possible. But I also feel that it is really important to not pay so very much attention to this stuff. It can and will be the source of endless distractions and is ultimately very narcissistic.

I believe you have to work through your anxiety about euphoria/lack of euphoria. The muse/ euphoria/ peaking is not always going to sit beside you in the studio. It’s always a welcome guest. But I no longer court it, because I also know its opposite is firmly attached and will be present one way or the other. The work itself is what is before each of us. The less anxiety I feed into doing the actual work, the happier I am. (It’s clear now — for me ‘managing’ peaking/troughing is a way too self-conscious process that will derail me every time. But that’s just me, it’s what I’ve learned over the years of putting one foot in front of the other and getting in to the studio regularly.)

Regarding the larger issue of peaking across one’s life — if I felt that I’d peaked and there wasn’t another one, how would that affect my motivation to go to the studio and work? I leave all this internal grousing to some curator who will come later and try to sort out all this stuff, and who has the luxury/hindrance of a perspective I will never, ever have.


Rather paint than eat
by David Wilson

Sometimes it tightens me up in my stomach to hear advice on optimizing my creativity! If we think about dancers at a ‘club’ on Saturday night, I don’t think we’ll hear how they either meditated, did push-ups or even prayed in order to optimize their night’s entertainment. I hear all the stuff about discipline, for example, which is especially necessary if you are ‘working’ against the grain in order to impress someone else, if not yourself. I can’t speak to that. But when painting (‘arting’) is, literally, a joy to behold and an opportunity to be/express, who needs to optimize anything whatsoever? My first psychiatrist reminded me: “You’re not a machine.” I didn’t know what he was talking about at the time. I GET to paint. I love to paint. I paint. I do not compete. I do dream. I thank God for the Occasion of painting, and then, like Christopher Columbus /Gengis Khan (told you I dream), I start ‘carving’ away at the white spaces in front of me with the ‘swords’ of my brushes. And, like recently, if I’m not painting, “Good!” Isn’t that where it all began — not painting? Wondering what to do? Except that now I have more art-illery should I determine to approach my primed pieces of board. If I told myself that I could never paint again, you KNOW I’d be defying that ASAP ! But if all you painting comrades out there wish to optimize your energy, time, excellence — fine. As for me, I’d rather paint than eat, and that’s good enough for me.


Meticulous preparation
by Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, NJ, USA

We all have to learn to live and work with our Muse. Everything will ebb and flow as does our moods for creativity and production. I think the key to success is to accept this phenomenon and “go with the flow.” Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our process and switch gears to facilitate success. At times the goddess demands more spontaneity, sometimes more planning and control. For me, at this time, meticulous preparation is giving birth to positive results. “Plan like a tortoise and paint like a hare.” (Edgar A. Whitney)


Writing on the back of canvas
by Wayne Robert Hall

Thanks for the insights regarding the supply/demand dynamics of support inventories. I hadn’t thought of that aspect, although it has been my experience in watercolour that playing around on a scrap piece of paper, or the reverse side of a “disaster” invariably produces something interesting and uninhibited. I would like to ask about signatures and titles on the back of stretched canvas paintings — I have seen artists sign and date with markers directly on the stretcher bars. Is there a safe and permanent way of putting name, title, date etc. directly on the canvas, either along the edge, or at the back?

(RG note) I use a Sanford “Sharpie” fine point permanent marker on the back of the actual canvas. I have never had a reported case of “creep through.” I always prime my canvases — even though they come primed — with a warm tone generally, so this may be a factor. There is nothing wrong with signing and titling on the stretcher bar.


What is art?
by Jan Canyon, Tukwila, WA, USA

I saw a guy’s paintings that were done on 12″ squares of brown grocery sacks. To me they were the equivalent of kindergarten art – flat faces of cats, no detail, poster paints, etc, yet these “paintings” were highly priced. How do they call this “art” and set the value on these paintings that obviously are done by someone with no training, little skill or even thought? Can you enlighten me on this?

(RG note) “Art is what you can get away with.” (Marshall McLuhan) There are a lot of great quotes like this one in The Resource of Art Quotations. While they may not answer every question, they often shed a little light or cause a smile at some of life’s perplexing questions.


Kicks the demons away
by Jennifer Garant, Naramata, BC, Canada


painting by Jennifer Garant

The Universe was more than kind to me on the day I read The Painter’s Keys. Just so you know I never forget that…whether I am at an opening of a show or getting a cheque or happy painting in my studio.

When I was recently in New York, I met with Jeff Grinspan, president of Sakura Inc. I went to their office and showroom which is located 41 Madison Ave… an impressive location only to be outdone by the products and staff… I was in awe… felt a bit like I was a country hick in the presence of greatness… my low self esteem… (I call it my inferiority complex) was kicking in big time… That whole “I am not worthy” thing… Then out of the blue the president asks, to what do I owe my success… I was completely caught off guard — I had to ask myself was he talking to me and does he think I am successful… He was talking to me — and I blurted out The Painter’s Keys by Robert Genn — Your book has become my best friend — and motivation. My “how to” manual and advisor. It has been for me a good read when fear was approaching. It kicks the reality demons away.

(RG note) Jennifer Garant lives in a small town in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. A couple of years ago, when she read The Painter’s Keys she was teaching art in a prison. She quit her job and took up painting full time. She now has over 500 images under license by several companies in more than 30 countries.


New search capability
by Jan Yeb Ypma

HOW D’YOU DO IT!! I just checked out the new connection you have to ‘google.’ It’s fantastic. I have used ‘google’ for a few months now, find it one of the best search engines and I’m sure I am not alone in this. This must increase everyone’s exposure dramatically. Your inventiveness is inspirational! Thanks on behalf of the Dodge Cove Arts Guild.

(RG note) This “inventiveness” is due to the good fortune that I have people around here who are smarter than me. A lot smarter. Andrew Niculescu figured out and installed the search capability. With one stroke we now have a method of accessing names, subjects, as well as frequently asked questions.







Mohammad Al Jaloos,
Aman, Jordan


painting by
Mohammad Al Jaloos







Goat Island

watercolor on acrylic gesso
painting by artist Don Getz, Ohio, USA


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, 2003.


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