The Early Morning Club


Dear Artist,

Inspiration and motivation — how do you find it, where does it come from, how do you maintain it? Rankled by time and money considerations to say nothing of non-supportive others, some folks find it a tough order.

Early Sunday Morning, 1930 Oil on canvas 35 3/16 × 60 1/4 inches by Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967)

Early Sunday Morning, 1930
Oil on canvas
35 3/16 × 60 1/4 inches
by Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)

Like a lot of life’s struggles, the solution might just be a simple one. As many know, I’m a believer in effective habits and bold pump-priming. Right now I’m working with some painters in what we call “The Early Morning Club.” It’s very much like a prayer breakfast, except there’s no prayer and no breakfast. Active in several time zones, we meet virtually. People can start and stop when they wish, but frequent non-attendance can result in excommunication. If you’d care to join, here you go:

The minute you awaken, proceed like a zombie to your studio. Before your kettle has boiled, before you have checked your email, squeeze out and prepare your palette. Still in your jammies? Pajama painting is still not against the law. No matter how bleary or unwashed, start now — it’s the imperative of drying palettes. Don’t know what to paint? Doesn’t matter. Start anyway — bold, expressive, blocks of forms and colours are preferable to lines.

Office in a small city, 1953 Oil on canvas 28 × 40 inches by Edward Hopper

Office in a small city, 1953
Oil on canvas
28 × 40 inches
by Edward Hopper

Our Patron Saint is Goethe: “Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.”

Unless disabled, members generally stand during meetings. Dancing, jazzercise and even yoga are also encouraged — we are a cult known for exercising the cardio as well as the creative. Some of us sing nonsense or speak in tongues. We have yet to choose our anthem. “Land of Hope and Glory” and “La Marseillaise” have been put forward.

Cape Cod Morning, 1950 Oil on canvas 34 1⁄8 x 40 1⁄4 inches by Edward Hopper

Cape Cod Morning, 1950
Oil on canvas
34 1⁄8 x 40 1⁄4 inches
by Edward Hopper

As the easel-dance progresses, ideas and motifs form and give clues to further directions. Like Boy Scout badges, stuff accumulates. As well as experiencing stimulation and excitement, members begin to feel a beautiful calmness, a connection with all of history’s dawnworkers, and the welcome procession of creative joy. Simply speaking, this miracle of private process is further understood, honed and mastered. The break for ablutions and breakfast comes a bit later. The meetings are well worth attending. Membership is free.

Best regards,


PS: “Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Esoterica: The idea behind all of this is to re-jig the time-honoured system of waiting for inspiration, mood, or the appearance of subject matter. The act of art now becomes an event in which the timing is out of your control. The event happens and then the mood arrives. Like jumping into icy water, it’s not for everybody. For many, just thinking of jumping in makes fears surface. Some artists completely freeze up and can’t do it. For those who can, fears are neutralized, things get done and progress is made.

The Lighthouse at Two Lights, 1929 Oil on canvas 29 1/2 × 43 1/4 inches by Edward Hopper

The Lighthouse at Two Lights, 1929
Oil on canvas
29 1/2 × 43 1/4 inches
by Edward Hopper

This letter was originally published as “The Early Morning Club” on June 3, 2008.

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“Fresh activity is the only means of overcoming adversity.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)



  1. Dear Sara,
    Thank you for choosing this wonderful past article from your dear dad for the ‘Painter’s Key’s Club’ this early Tuesday morning.
    For me, as I grow older, I start writing earlier and earlier. It isn’t uncommon to now start at 2 or 3 a.m. I will often follow that first ‘early morning’ session by getting on one of my bicycles and hitting the highway. Often out there I can become: ‘third person’. I see where a paragraph can be better. Or just a whole different approach. Often words appear or even whole sentences. You can’t wait to get back home and rework your work. So I understand what Robert is talking about with ‘cardio’ and its benefits to one’s art.
    If the writings are flowing, I’m writing. It’s a consist movement. Other times where you may have to ‘force’ it. I will hit the floor and do ab wheel rollouts. Things like that to get the blood flowing to my brain.
    There are times like yesterday, June 6, 2022, and you start early and find yourself going right through until 1 a.m. That 19 hour days can occur. And at the end of them your going how did that happen? You don’t question it. You surrender to it. You surrender to the Creator .
    I hope each of you have a great day creating.
    As always, love is the way,
    Miles Patrick Yohnke

  2. What a great concept! I have often felt impelled to paint as soon as I arise, but always chose to perform my daily “routine ” first. No more! I intend on becoming a member of the Early Morning Club immediately!

  3. ok, who else might be interested in trying this?
    I’m a dazzle-droop when trying to forming new life-changing habits, but maybe if I can join others . . .?

  4. Great plan if it works for artists. I’m not a morning person, PERIOD!! I am wired the same way as my mother and grandfather, it;s in my DNA to work at night. Not only because that is the time when no one is calling for me to do something, but I feel better then. Something clicks in my “inspiration centre” and I can’t wait to grab a brush close to midnight. When Mom was alive, I would phone her after 2am to catch up, she had been sewing for a few hours during her feel-good creative time. I have childhood memories of staying at our grandparents home and listening to my grandfather in the basement singing while he hammered away on projects he was working on until after midnight. I tried to change. I believed outsiders who told me my time of painting was UNHEALTHY, and needed to get into a routine of painting first thing in the morning. Well, now I just listen to me, and it’s so much better that way. I would think that Robert would agree that if that works for me, go to my room.

  5. Sherry Deems on

    When I was younger I always started my day at 5 AM in the studio – it was wonderful. Quiet, almost solemn in its stillness, and I just made marks. It was incredibly freeing and stimulating. Then I quit because, I said, life got in the way. Now that I am retired I find myself slowing going backward – first the studio, then coffee, then food, and back to the studio. It is usually between 6 and 7 but I keep thinking I need to go back to 5 am again. Thanks so much for the reminder of just how wonderful it can be.

  6. John Francis on

    “It’s very much like a prayer breakfast, except there’s no prayer and no breakfast.” Ok. Time out, folks! If there’s “no prayer” and there’s “no breakfast”, it’s *nothing* like a prayer breakfast, is it? Admittedly, I have never attended a ‘prayer breakfast’, but then I don’t eat breakfast and I do not pray. I have absolutely no appetite untill I’ve been up for a few hours and the last thing I want to do at the beginning of my day is engage with others.
    My day begins with coffee and looking at the online News to see what the world has become while I was sleeping. Typically, this takes me over an hour. Sometimes, it takes much longer. I begin with the ‘News’ page, scrolling down the headlines to see what gets my interest. New developments in Politics and actual *events* having occurred are my main interest. Then I proceed to the section under ‘World’. Last comes the section under ‘Canada’. Sadly, most articles credited at the top to Canadian Press are actually articles credited clearly at the bottom to Associated Press. It is not untill *after* all that ‘engagement’ that I sign-in to my e-mail account. By then, I’m usually having my second coffee and ready to plan the ‘remains of the day’.

  7. Such a wonderful post today. Thank you! I also find there is great power in the ritual of “just showing up” and feeding my subconscious with my days work just before i retire for the evening. Meditation helps get through the parts where problems need to be worked out. But wow, so much inspiration in the morning. Im going to give pajama painting a shot! Have a wonderful week, everyone!

  8. Helena Weaver on

    I used to do this! Roll out of bed and there was a painting in progress on a large sheet of paper taped to the back of the bedroom door, a small table by it with paints and brushes ready to go. I’d get going for maybe ten minutes then go grab a mug of tea, do more, then have a shower and breakfast and go to work.

    I feel re-inspired by your post! Painting has slipped to the end of my queue so often slips off it altogether. Like many here I’m a Night Owl but health prevents me from going with that flow these days so painting first thing is a better idea. First thing might be 8 or 9am these days but the actual time doesn’t matter. I don’t start work until 10 am these days and I work from home. Thanks!

  9. It is wonderful to get to know your dad through these letters ! We are kindred spirits ! I’m finding that if I place myself for “a few minutes” somewhere- garden, kitchen, or in front of my yesterdays painting- I can end up working for hours on end there! And first thing in the morning suits me. I won’t get hungry till around noon! And I love how music can energize me to loosen up my body which will get stiff painting if I don’t move it. Sign me up!

  10. Getting up before the sun and starting to work on art at 4:00 a.m. has been the best thing I have done for my art. Fact is, I wasn’t getting any work done on a consistent basis until I started this routine. There were always demands, needs and emergencies to be met later in the day that made it impossible to lock my mind into art mode. Like Helena, when put to the end, it often just didn’t get done. There are no ringing phones, no deliveries, no distractions, etc. at this early hour. My first move is to take my palette out of the freezer to let it thaw enough that I can open the lid. So, a load of laundry goes into the wash, a quick trip to the bathroom, the bed made (if hubby isn’t still in it), the painting project for the day goes on the easel, one small square of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate goes in my mouth, and I am ready to paint at 4:15 a.m. sharp! Breakfast is between 8:00-9:00 a.m. My beloved hubby likes the routine, too. This is the pattern 6 days a week and I have finally started making some real headway on getting paintings done. Most of the time, I find that four hours is about right for my state of mind to stay alert and my colors to not get overworked on the canvas. If I have the energy to work longer, it will usually be on another artwork, or to deal with the business end of things. I love the early morning club!!!!

  11. Angelika Ouellette on

    Before breakfast does feel a tad like madness! But to share the morning with fellow artists…priceless!

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