The Magical Powers of an Artist’s Date
A little over 12 years ago, right before Carlos and I were married, we were walking around Union Square In New York City and I of course asked him to go do something while I surrounded myself with books in Barnes and Noble for a few hours (as many as he’d be able to leave me there unattended… fortunately there was also a Guitar Center nearby!).
As I walked around the bookstore looking through my favorite sections, staff picks, cookbooks, and pondered whether or not I could get away with buying yet another journal, I saw a book, resting out of place on a table on top of the travel section. Someone who I will eternally be grateful to, had perhaps decided not to buy it after all and set it aside as they were passing by. Then I come along, holding more books than I can actually fit in my suitcase when I go back home, and the title just catches my eye: “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” (ok… curious..)… and at the top of the book a line that read “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self” (ok… I’m in, what’s this all about?).
At the time I was in the midst of a creative project and was feeling so stuck, it felt like one of those little signs from the universe. It’s funny, a part of me wanted to break out of that rut I was in, but the part of me that grabbed the book actually loved the idea of immersing myself in a “course” because it meant procrastinating the actual work. The joke was on me, I soon realized I was reading a book that was all about the traps we set for ourselves and how to come out of them. It’s about our old belief systems when it comes to what we can and can’t do, and putting our pants on to do the work we’re meant to do.
I had never called myself an artist before then, but a few pages in and Julia Cameron had already convinced me of the fact that all of us are creatives, creators, and so many of us never realize that everything we do, has a creative component to it.
As you go through the different chapters of this book (which as you know if you’ve read this blog before, I count as one of the three books that changed my life), you’re presented with two pieces of homework (aside from amazing exercises in each chapter to get to the bottom of why you’re feeling stuck and stifled). One of them is daily journaling, a practice I knew well and did often. The other was something entirely new to me, the concept and practice of going on an artist’s date.
Apart from telling you to “get the book!”, “get the book!”, “get the book!”, I wanted to share the magic of the artist’s date, and how through the years I’ve found that it’s not only about helping you in your creative endeavours, it’s also about pushing a reset button, clearing your mind, practicing a little mindfulness, getting reconnected to what’s important, having a little me-time, practicing self care, and something we don’t speak enough about here, to separate yourself a bit from the topics of food, body, wellness, nutrition, veganism, and feed all the other sides of yourself that will help give you that balance you’re striving for.
So what’s an artist’s date?
Here’s my description of what an artist’s date is, it’s a day, a morning, an afternoon, or even an hour, in which you go somewhere (literally or figuratively), that will feed your soul with all sorts of stimuli, and fun and enriching things. Don’t use your adult brain to figure out what the right place or activity is. Think like a little kid.
Where would your inner child find playfulness?
Where would it find inspiration, information, color, sounds? I know this is vague so bare with me.
Since everything we do, from the way we parent, to figuring our what to make for dinner, to figuring out what our next step in life is, to daring to write that book, start that blog, start that business, record your first podcast, take that painting class or that pottery class or photography class, to how to decorate our house, put outfits together, organize your schedule, solve problems at work, ALL of it, ALL of it, is creative. We need to come up with the will, lose the fear, find a new way to look at a problem, put down what is stirring inside. For any of those things to happen, we need to fill up our toolbox. Our toolbox doesn’t only get filled by reading the right books, or taking that master class or a course alone, it gets filled in many other ways, often when we’re not focused on the task at hand. This is exactly what the artist’s date does, it gives you some precious me-time, outside of the issue at hand, so that you can take in the world around you, play, and then let those little treasures lie still in your toolbox, keeping each other company, until slowly and steadily, they begin to come out when you’re deep in your creative pool, whether you call yourself an artist or not.
Here are some of my favorite ideas for an artist’s date, my personal go-to’s, so that you get an idea of just how playful this is meant to be:
Going to any store that sells silly toys, or an old fashioned toy shop. You don’t have to buy anything, you just have to walk around and take in what you see.
Go to a children’s museum, a science museum, or an art museum (preferably in that order. Let yourself touch the electricity ball or push the buttons in an exhibit just as if you were the kid these tools were designed for.
Go to a bookstore and visit your favorite sections. Open books that catch your eye, flip through them. My favorite sections for this purpose are the children’s literature section, the gifts for readers section, the interior design section, the nature section and of course the cookbook section. Open a pop up book, be a kid. Find a book of quotes and open some pages randomly.
Sit in an outdoor cafe and people watch.
Go to an antique shop, a stationary store or craft store and look around. Buy yourself some purple glitter if you feel like it. Buy yourself some ribbons, or some stickers for your planner.
Go to a park and take photos of the trees. Go to your city’s botanical gardens and walk around.
Go to the gift shop of an art museum (I call these “toy shops for grown ups” and they’re always so much fun).
Go to a used bookstore or a used record store.
One of my favorites, go to a garden supply shop and look at the plants and flowers, get an inexpensive one if you feel like it.
Go to a candy store, or one of those shops that sells weird flavored popcorn.
Visit a street you love because it’s full of life, or one you used to love as a kid.
If the Danish store Sostrene Greene is near you, go… look at everything, touch the funky Christmas ornaments, look at the stamps and stickers, smell the candles. Any shop like this one will do.
If it’s raining or snowing or you just don’t feel like leaving your house today, spend some time looking at the books you love, making a moment of it. This might mean a cup of coffee in your favorite mug, a delicious snack or a warm cup of tea and tons of books around you on the floor. Flip through them, look at some of your kids’ storybooks if you have kids, look at the illustrations that fill the pages of other books you treasure. Put on some music you love.
An artist’s date can be making some bread if you never make some, or pie if this isn’t a regular occurrence, but if this is done at home, make it all about fun by putting on some tunes, wearing your favorite comfy outfit, make a mess. Don’t judge the result.
There are no wrong answers, and nothing specific you have to do. This is me-time without the distraction of Netflix or social media, and without the interruption of anyone else, it’s perfect attunement to the world around you. If afterwards you want to treat yourself to a movie and some popcorn, go for it too.
It’s a bit different from simple downtime, or relaxation time.
Just so you get the idea, downtime would be to relax on your couch with your favorite book or magazine. An artist’s date would be grabbing books at random and looking at the pictures, the covers, or going through a magazine with a pair of scissors cutting out the things you love.
Downtime or relaxation time would be to sit on a park bench with some coffee. An artist’s date is walking through the park and picking some leaves or touching the bark of the trees as you pass.
Me-time might mean going to the mall for a mani-pedi, an artist’s date is walking into the beauty supply store and looking at the nail polish colors.
You get the idea, it’s the difference between going to the farmer’s market to cross things off your grocery list and going with your camera and photographing the dogs that wait patiently for their human’s turn while they stare at the peaches, or capturing the different colors of cherries or Swiss chard. It’s meant to fill you up with sensations, the beauty of the present moment. It’s the recognition of an old familiar place, where the little kid in you resides.
Then you walk away, go back to what you normally do and repeat the next week.
You’ll be amazed at what will start to happen. The way we do everything changes when we give ourselves the time to fill up the toolbox. It’s mindfulness in action, but more importantly, it’s remembering who you were and what you liked and what brought you joy before the routines of life and social expectations set in.
It will give you courage, ideas, giddiness, playfulness, and it will make you realize just how often things within us or outside of us get resolved with a sudden insight that comes to us, a sudden realisation, a sudden solution. We’re more aware because we let things be. We hit that reset button and we filled the toolbox up.
In my last artist’s date I did one of my regulars. I went into the city by myself. Got off the subway at a random stop and started walking. I decided whether to randomly go left or right (do this of course if you know there is safety), and I walked into wherever my little kid told me. I went into a shop where everything was white or striped and where there was a giant cream colored teepee with lights on the inside in the middle of the store and the floorboards creaked. I went into a French bakery to see the colors of the macaroons. I went into a shop that sold hundreds of tiny sandwiches with the craziest colors and combinations. I went inside an adult trinket store and moved a slinky back and forth between my hands. I browsed the menus of interesting restaurants. I walked in front of costume shops, went past a shop with crazy t-shirts, and found a shop that sold only cacti and succulents, I mean hundreds and hundreds, from silver dollar sized ones to small giraffe sized ones. Then I met Carlos for a vegan burger and a beer and my heart was filled to the brim and I couldn’t wait to tell him all that I had found.
Give it a try this week, see how it feels, it will help whether you’re stuck in front of the blank page and you’re a writer (artist’s dates can especially be life changing for writers and their descriptions), or whether you’re feeling stuck when connecting to your partner or your kids. Everything we do is influenced by that creative side of us, so it’s so important to fuel it the kid-loving-meals it really wants to have.