This is your art on estrogen


Dear Artist,

Women artists may be knowingly or unknowingly practicing a creative system called, “cycle-synching.” Neuroscientists have concluded that the two main female reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, do not only rule the body’s fertility but also have a powerful effect on our neurochemistry. Add to this that new fertility-tracking apps like Clue are enabling women to predict the onset of productivity tools like high energy, sex drive, boldness, tiredness, sensitivity and body pain.

Ram's Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico), 1935 oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

Ram’s Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico, 1935
oil on canvas
30 x 36 inches
by Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

The idea is that there are four hormonal phases, and if their unique features are understood they can be harnessed for optimal artistic effect. Here are the phases:

Phase 1. Follicular/Creativity Phase: Dr. Kecia Gaither, Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health and double board-certified physician in Ob/Gyn and Maternal Fetal Medicine, says that a plan for producing life can also be a plan for producing anything, and the first two weeks of the hormonal cycle are the “Superstar Phase” of creativity. This is the time to think big and plan new projects, while estrogen and testosterone are on the rise, fueling women with verbal power, receptiveness and drive while they feel most optimistic, confident, energetic, masterful and daring.

Phase 2. Ovulatory/Communication Phase: At around the third week of the cycle, there’s another little spike in estrogen, coupled with a rise in a second female hormone, progesterone. As a woman ovulates, testosterone dips and she become more sensitive to emotional nuance and subtleties, including feelings of acceptance and rejection. Studies have shown that the faces of ovulating women soften and become more symmetrical, while the timbre of their voices rises. The consequences were illustrated in American psychologist Geoffrey Miller’s 2007 study asking exotic dancers to keep track of their tips during hormonal phases in order to test a theory about cyclical magnetism. Progesterone, in spite of its bad rap for causing everything from the blues to crime sprees, is actually more closely akin to a sedative — allowing for a deeper dive into emotional exploration and communication and, apparently, attractiveness. Cycle-synching experts insist this is the time to seek understanding of your creative concepts and dig deep into their meaning. It’s also a good time to ask for a raise.

From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937 oil on canvas 36 x 40 1/8 inches by Georgia O'Keeffe

From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937
oil on canvas
36 x 40 1/8 inches
by Georgia O’Keeffe

Phase 3. Luteal/Power Phase: Performance expert Alexandra Mysoor, in a recent article on productivity for Forbes Magazine, wrote that the Luteal Phase is the getting-it-done phase — a time to bring tasks to completion and revel in attention to detail. She also suggested that this is the time to do paperwork.

Phase 4. Menstruation/Reflection Phase: Move your work to the secondary easel and let it tell you what it needs. Get comfortable. Evaluate and make corrections at an unhurried pace, while pulling back to get the bigger picture. “Come quickly,” said Georgia O’Keeffe to her guests at Ghost Ranch. “You mustn’t miss the dawn. It will never be just like this again.”



PS: “Think of it as just one of the dynamic tools that adds to the diversity of skills sets in the workplace.” (Dr. Larry Tiglao, Ob/Gyn at the Los Olivos Women’s Medical Group at Stanford University)

Antelope Head with Pedernal, 1953 oil on canvas 32 3/8 × 36 1/4 × 4 inches by Georgia O'Keeffe

Antelope Head with Pedernal, 1953
oil on canvas
32 3/8 × 36 1/4 × 4 inches
by Georgia O’Keeffe

Esoterica: Non-female artists or those women artists who are not currently in the fertile stage of life need not feel left out of cycle-synching: apparently, the method’s creative powers can rub off on those merely in the vicinity of the hormonally-charged. Studies have shown that fathers, for example, produce their own higher levels of estrogen than non-fathers, allowing them deeper levels of connection and intuition. It’s been my experience that artists of all levels of hormonal enrichment seem to possess a heightened awareness of the sources and fluctuations of their creative productivity — perhaps we simply know her as our “Muse.” “All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges. “All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

“By synching our professional life to our females cycle it allows us to be more efficient, productive and to stay in peak creative flow.” (Dr. Kecia Gaither)

Georgia-OKeefe-Hands_and_Horse_Skull-Alfred-StieglitzThe Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“I decided to accept as true my own thinking.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)



  1. a fascinating and powerful article, Sara. Especially timely for me since I am in high gear painting away and correcting and making some progress…two easels going but should have 4 i think. Show starts end of May out west.

  2. “I decided to accept as true my own thinking.” (Georgia O’Keeffe) This is my favorite comment. Georgia O’Keefe said it in many ways but we all need to remember it. Thank you.

  3. The researcher forgot to mention the 1/2 day pre-menopausal when throwing away everything, and donating the art supplies to Goodwill, seems like a good idea :-D

    I was perimenopausal from ages 45 to 51. Around age 52 I had a MASSIVE surge in creative energy. At 58, I’ve done more in the past 6 years than I did in the previous 40.

  4. So this is what I have been experiencing all these years- and I thought it was schizophrenia( only kidding) but i have definitely felt this cycle – only wish this knowledge had been available so I could have made better use of my time, but it will be passed on to my daughters!

  5. So, how does this explain Georgia O’Keefe (and others), who did much of her creative work post-menopause and didn’t spend much time in the company of premenopausal women? Definitely not saying there’s nothing to this, because I was aware of it in myself, but it is an incomplete picture of women’s processes, physical and creative. As usual, it ignores the inherent value and potentials of older women as non-existent.

    • I was thinking the exact same thing as I was reading this….she was, of course, prolific most of her life, but the work from New Mexico in her later years, living more or less alone, gives me hope that age is no hinderance to progression in art.

  6. I thank you all! I will turn 60 this year and am just now contemplating getting back to my easel after 40 years!

  7. Okay. Maybe. For me, it all got sooooo much better after menopause. I no longer feel thrown face down on the mat by hormonal forces. Now it is more like strong, gentle waves of productivity followed by times of reflection, not the erratic choppy seas of my “fertile” years. Wouldn’t go back for anything!

    • Joanne, that is so heartening to hear. I’ve kind of been dreading that time thinking without that peak week in the cycle, everything is going to be flat borderline low like during the crash weeks pre menstruation where energy takes a massive dive.

  8. Just an observation: at 74, 32 years past my last cycle, I find my body still has some of the same rhythm as when I was actively fertile. Same cycle, and cyclical variations.

  9. steve koch on

    well….very cool….thank you
    for better or worse…this explains a lot…about a lot….creativity or no…!
    all of which someone should add to the list of “what one learns in kindergarten”
    seriously, this is great to know.
    in the thick of life, surrounded by others going through “stuff” can help me
    extend more support, grace, encouragement and creative juice…(or not)
    as i try to “see” from others point of view…and circumstances
    thank you Sara!

  10. Today- May 4 2019- is a New Moon in Taurus. As we can all see- as directly impacts all of us- our moon relentlessly cycles. Because everything cycles. Many are micro and hard to see. And the macro cycles- like from age to age- can’t be grasped in a single human lifetime. Women’s obvious cycles- like the moon- are easy to see. But we men experience the cycles of the moon- the cycles of the planet- and the cycles of time- as well.
    I- for one- have integrated an inner feminine connection that I am comfortable with. It enhances my creativity- and makes me more empathic- more sensitive. But that’s just me. I’m OK with that.
    Related to the New Moon: “Over the next few weeks, the area of our chart that contains Taurus will be outlining the breakthroughs that Uranus is asking us to take part in. This astrology is part of a larger pattern that will unfold over the next 7 years so what we are beginning now has the power to disrupt, excite, and innovate for years to come.”
    The quote is from here:

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