Circadian rhythms in art


Dear Artist,

The activities of most plants and animals are timed to the cycle of day and night. These natural rhythms are called circadian rhythms. The most obvious example is the sleep cycle. As well, many plants and animals are sensitive to other time cycles. “Phototropic” sunflowers, for example, turn their faces to follow the sun’s path. Others make their moves in guaranteed light. Some sea animals time their activities to changing tides. These creatures seem to know such times even when away from their home waters. Yep, if you put clams into your kitchen sink, they will try to feed when the tide is rising down there in the bay.

While I’m a believer in self-management — no matter what the time or tide — I’ve always been interested in the ways that natural rhythms might affect the production of art. For many artists the art-clock has little to do with Standard Time. Artists, as they say, tend to work when the spirit moves. While there are prerequisites for creative flow — clear conscience, bills paid, etc, it also seems that there are times when the good stuff simply happens easier than at other times. There’s definitely a rising tide in creativity — you can feel it. At other times there just ain’t no fish. It may be the moon, but I doubt it. It’s more likely atavistic, (programmed into the DNA, like the clams) or something to do with morphic fields. Habit must be a factor. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that highly-evolved artists are more likely to be aware of these natural rhythms, and are more often in a position to act on them. In my opinion, just being there in the studio has a great deal to do with it. I know of no seasoned artist who has not been in a state of perfect lazy indolence, when suddenly, inexplicably, a tool is grabbed and work gets underway. This miracle can happen at 2 a.m.

Some of my interest in this phenomenon has come about in my coaching of a particular type of artist. These are people, generally in mid-life, who have previously worked in a clock-regulated environment. When they parachute into independent art they sometimes fail to understand the self-sensitive nature of creative time. They may be stuck on the office clock. For these folks workmanlike habits and steady production are valuable legacies, but tapping into their natural tides does not come as easily.

Best regards,


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

Esoterica: Circadian rhythms can be glimpsed and employed with a little planning. On entering the studio — even several times a day — take a seated or lotus pause (do not pace back and forth) and take a few minutes with the question: “What do I want to do now?” Dreams, projects and obligations will float before your eyes. You are tuning in, prioritizing — you may be listening to the “music of the spheres.” After a few minutes you will stand a better chance of extracting your higher capability, or at least what is best for you right now.


The art of chaos
by Sandra Robertson, Australia



“Miami Memories”
mosaic by Sandra Robertson

I re-prioritize on an hourly basis. I’m so busy. Interruptions change the day and night into chaos! It’s all good. I’m standing in a huge messy studio trying to find myself and have 18 school kids that I am mentoring arriving tomorrow and have to sleep some time tonight. How do I get back control? I don’t — I just keep going with the flow (but occasionally run to the verandah and scream silently!) I need 8 arms, 12 legs and 3 heads. Luckily for me, help comes just when I can’t cope — it’s fantastic! I think we are really blessed to have chaos. There’s never time to do enough of our own art, but the joy of teaching and seeing new mosaic addicts born every day is the real thrill. I help them on their journey and then they return to help me. I’m so lucky! I eat vegemite for energy.


Waiting for the signal
by Nina Meledandri, New York, NY, USA


“(trying to) SEPARATE”
oil, wax medium and graphite on canvas
30 x 40 inches
by Nina Meledandri

I have always thought of it as being a radio antenna. There might not always be a signal, but if there is, and the antenna isn’t up, you aren’t going to catch it. And yes, with experience, you get better and better at tuning in the faint ones. I believe in daily practice. I am in the studio every single day. From my life drawing sessions I learned that sometimes you really have to tough out the “no signal” times for a while. I might be there for 3 hours (out of a 4 hour session) before I feel in synch with my charcoal and my pad. One of the three rules I have for the studio is — no matter what — if I get even the tiniest voice in my ear that says “you could paint now,” I stop immediately whatever it is I’m doing and start to work.


Power of the moon
by Lisa McDonald, ME, USA

Your letter about rhythms came on a day when the moon was full. There is time-honored reverence for the productivity (not creativity, but productivity) levels that are related to the moon. People produce more when the moon is waxing (getting larger) and produce less when it is waning (getting smaller). Those in touch with nature know this intuitively, but it’s often lost on city folks. In Linda Greenlaw’s The Hungry Ocean, she testifies that fishermen catch more when the moon is full.

Have you ever had days when you were inexplicably tired — huffing at the top of the stairs, reaching for that extra cup of coffee, taking a little nap? Couldn’t figure out why no one came to an event? Chances are the moon was waning. Have you had other days when you can stay up forever, jump energetically around the house, and get more things done than you thought possible? Chances are the moon was waxing. Never schedule an opening when the moon is waning. The ocean’s tides are higher on the full moon — and to think it doesn’t affect we who are 90% water? You can fight it with caffeine or you can go with the ebb and flow.


Moon does more than you think
by Anonymous

If the moon can be responsible for pulling the tides, as well as governing the monthly cycle of women, it seems likely to me that, as a man, the moon may be having an effect on my daily production of more than one type of creativity.


“Timeless time” to self-actualize
by Teresa Hitch

We are affected by several circadian rhythms simultaneously. While sleep is a most precious one, possibly my most profound circadian rhythm, artistically, is the one associated with the lunar cycle. When my monthly “cleansing” is in synch with the full moon, my inner spirit breathes creativity. Having a sense of “timeless time” then to self-actualize is a gift. It occurs to me that this time might also be used for idea and concept generating, and stockpiling — to be capitalized on during the remainder of the month.

(RG note) At various workshops (and as noted on page 73 of The Painter’s Keys book) I’ve asked women to report their degree of creativity before, during and after their periods. Most women report creative activity to be highest prior to the onset of periods.


Morphic Fields
by Lorne Smith, London, UK

The concept of Morphic fields is well explained in the excellent British book When Dogs know their Masters are coming Home and other Unexplained Abilities of Animals by Rupert Sheldrake.

(RG note) A letter and responses on the subject of Morphic Fields is at Morphic fields are perhaps a plausible explanation for some of the unique capabilities of animals and may give clues to the actions of humans. Termites, for example, while blind, seem to have a collective knowledge of how to rebuild their knocked-down nests — and they do it quickly and efficiently. British studies discussed in the book mentioned above have videotaped dogs at home alone waiting for their masters — along with simultaneous tapes of masters out and about, shopping, etc, and then randomly returning home. At home, the dogs go to the window and begin to wait when the master starts to think about coming home. These tests were done under rigid conditions. Cats have this ability too, but cats perform less well on the tests because, apparently, cats don’t care as much. Tests also indicate that some humans have the capability, although it’s weak and sporadic through perhaps lack of use. The concept of morphic fields is a sort of a Jungian collective consciousness idea that may be of some value to artists.


Work done in “Random Time”
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Mosquito Lagoon”
original painting, 30 x 40 inches
by Eleanor Blair

I had a neighbor named Richard. He worked as an engineer — a regular nine-to-five, five-days-a-week job. He told me he was amazed at how much I accomplished with what seemed to him to be no structure in my day at all. He’d look forward, all week, to the free time he could enjoy on the weekends, planning to get all kinds of things done. Then, without rigid time constraints, he managed to get absolutely nothing done. He wondered how anyone ever got anything done in what he called ‘random time.’ I think one of the essential characteristics we must have to be happy and productive artists is the skill to navigate our way through random time; so that even without a clock for a compass, and without a clear destination, we still know what direction to go.


Rearranging her schedule
by Christie Zwick

I have been getting up 15 minutes earlier and just sitting still. I ask myself what I feel needs to be done first and then act on it. Something that I have noticed is what I think needs to be done first is not necessarily what I feel needs to be done first. The days that I make the effort to take my “thinking time” and act on it seem to go more smoothly and creatively. My mind is not whirling with a thousand little details and I can settle in to painting with nothing pulling at me.

Knowing the best time of day (or week, or month) to work helps to maximize and spur on my creative efforts. For instance, early afternoons result in nothing but dross. However, early mornings and evenings are prime working time for me. Before I paid attention to this, I was scheduling painting time in the afternoons and nothing was working out. Rearranging my schedule has helped me to produce work that I am happier with. This has been a hard learned lesson and I deeply regret the years I wasted.


Muse kisses her at night
by Faith Puleston, Wetter, Germany

It’s so comforting to know that there are others out there who can’t get to bed at night because their easel is in the way. I can spend all the daylight hours procrastinating. There’s so much to do here. I couldn’t possibly paint when my computer is stacked with translations or music arrangements. But in the dead of night, when all is black and still, my easel jumps around and my brushes seem to be waving at me, and at the latest when I am actually nearly getting into bed, that’s when the muse kisses me. Many a midnight have I taken this turning — in fact, if I don’t have to get out of the house early in the morning, it’s the rule rather than the exception, and I am amazed at what I can actually achieve while “overcome” by this creative spurt of energy.


Night shift most productive
by Karen Alldredge

From my earliest years as a serious painter, the wee hours of the morning have consistently been my most productive. Perhaps because the demands associated with daylight hours have been left behind, and distractions of ‘dailyness,’ outdoor noises, and visual stimuli are at a minimum. The quiet cool and soothing sounds of night are perfect for listening to that inner voice. The stark white canvas, that seems to dare you to make that first brush stroke during daylight hours, becomes an intimate confidant during the wee hours.


Free at last
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA


“The Toy Collection”
3 panels, each 8.5 x 11 inches, in one frame
freehand digital airbrush
by Julie Rodriguez Jones

You really got it wrong about us prior, mid-life, clock-regulated working stiffs. I worked for an employer for more than three decades, which if I described would be libelous. Leaving the 8-5 at age 50 a year ago for art was liberating. I can create whenever I choose. (I started reading your letter at 2 am.) The corporate work ethic, however, has indeed helped along with the years of being fed the importance of customer service, which it is. I took the good from the past and disposed of the rest including the keeping of regular hours for creativity purposes. I work best early in the day and have no desire to retain the anal and inane compunctions of my prior corporate life. Free at last, free at last.


Value in dawdling
by Cora Jane Glasser, New York City, NY, USA


“Grandma’s Eyes”
encaustic, oil & collage on paper on board
12 x 20 inches
by Cora Jane Glasser

I’m one of those “mid-life” artists (I hope there’s as much ahead as there has been behind!) whose first career was largely clock-regulated. That was hard. My mother (not the creative type) accused me of “dawdling” from as long back as I can recall having language. My creative rhythm finally won out and at last I feel normal. I keep a big note on my fridge that reminds me: “DAWDLE!”




Rising and falling tides
by Ortrud K. Tyler


“21st Century”
acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 inches
by Ortrud K. Tyler

Here I thought it was just lack of ideas or incentive, or no chocolate for a while and now you hand me the perfect excuse why nothing is happening on paper or canvas. Circadian rhythms — why didn’t I ever think of this before? I live five blocks from the Atlantic on a saltwater creek, the water rises and falls every six hours or so and I never put the two together. I am also going to try to apply this to other things, like… haven’t cleaned house lately; it hasn’t coincided with my circadian rhythms! Can’t wait to see how this goes over.


Keeping the art handy
by Sara Genn, New York City, NY, USA


from the colour, moving and still series
oil, 72 x 96 inches
by Sara Genn

The strategy of keeping the studio close, like an outbuilding five paces from the house, or in the loft next door, or in my case these days, by living in a giant box with the studio on one end and our bed on the other — art is always available. It’s a dedicated space but it’s in close proximity to comforts. My whole home is an art and life sanctuary. I know artists who commute to their creative spaces and when times are fallow they may not go for weeks. Then maybe when they do go and nothing happens, a sense of failure sets in. Having always lived where I worked, my life is work and my work is life and my art is home and my home is art and it’s always there when I want it.


Her students value our site
by Tina Siddiqui, Dubai


pastels, 23 x 30.5 cm
by Tina Siddiqui

You have no idea what my students and I have gained from your letters and from contributors to The Painter’s Keys website. I am a painter and an art instructor in Dubai, teaching Pastels and Mixed Media to a wonderful mix of different nationalities. I have freely given your net address to fellow painters, not to mention students. Your spirit of sharing and caring has touched all of us here. One of the several quotes from your wonderful site that have touched me is: “One who dares to teach, should never cease to learn.” How very true — it is the enthusiasm to discover, search, seek, explore and attain that keeps an artist alive in so many ways and fills our lives with utter joy. At the moment I’m painting people and faces in a variety of mediums, although, what Pastels do for me surpasses all other mediums.



Giclee print information
by Fabio Gariffo, Marsala, Italy

I would like to have information from our community on the current state of the art of printing in the giclee method.

(RG note) A letter, responses, and a link to an understanding of giclee printing can also be found at






New England

oil painting by Philip Koch, 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, 2004.

That includes Varteni who wrote, “How miraculous! I was just talking about rhythms and how works are developing in their own rhythm — independent of standard routines.”

And also Philip Koch of Baltimore, MD who wrote, “It is mysterious how insight and energy seem to come and go from our studios as they please.”

And also Carol Spratt who wrote, “Please start sending your letters to me only once a week.”



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