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The Importance of Artist's Dates

More than 20 years ago I read a book that changed my life called "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron and James Bryan. It's a participatory book with exercises and questions to help you discover your creative side.

The book came to me when I lived in a basement in NYC, and was waiting tables for a living and painting every chance I could get. It helped me visualize, dream, and breakthrough the negativity and perfectionism that blocked my artistic growth. I encourage every creative person to get this book and work through it. Whether you are a dancer, writer, chef, painter, or crafter, it will help you.

One of the tools I learned from this book was the concept of "Artist's Dates." This is literally setting aside time to do something that inspires you creatively. It doesn't matter what that something is, and it could be anything. Here's a few of my top artist's dates:

1. Kayaking with a waterproof camera holder and snapping photos of ships in the water.

2. Hiking through canopied forests with light filtering through trees.

3. Collecting shells on the beach.

4. Trying on "old lady clothes" in the thrift store

5. Playing classical music and soaking in a bathtub

6. Following a YouTube video and making a vegetable terrine.

7. Sitting in the middle of the Wallkill River and plein air painting in knee-deep water

8. Visiting my favorite pastel manufacturer (Mount Vision Pastel Company) and combing through racks and racks of beauitful colors looking for the exact shade of violet grey.

9. Filling every vase in the house with wildflower bouquets

10. Choosing a project on Pinterest and just playing for an hour

This was a photo I took last week while on an artist's date kayaking.

When you do something fun with yourself (no not like that!) it helps you get your creativity flowing, and look at things another way. "You fill your creative well" says Julia Cameron in her book, "and that is the source of inspiration."

I shot the above photo last Tuesday on an artist's date on my kayak in the Anclote River. I shot probably 50 photos that day and at least two of them will become paintings this week. Countless others will wind up as reference photos in my classes, and other ways.

Here's the painting based on that photo:

Almost every painting I make is inspired by an artist's date. Some obviously like this one. Others not so obviously. Like a pattern of flamingoes on dress that inspired a painting of flamingoes. The way light filters through Spanish Moss inspired a whole series of paintings.

We cultural creatives are inspired by the world around us. We are chroniclers of our time and place. We draw upon what we know and that is our strongest point!

Think of all the novels that have touched your heart, they were written by authors who were drawing strongly upon their own life's experience or sense of place.

Think of all your favorite dishes, probably based on familiar local flavors of some place near and dear to your heart.

Think of that favorite song and I'll bet there is a place in time associated with it.

Once on an artist's date plein air painting knee-deep in the Wallkill RIver, I was once inspired to start a nonprofit plein air school in NY that is still in existance today, more than 18 years later.

Once in a writing artist's date, I became inspired to write about sustainability in a way that people could incorporate into their daily lives. This writing exercise became a nationally-syndicated newspaper column that was printed weekly for 5 years.

Once on an artist's date I made a shell mosaic that became a fun painting party activity that I taught to several thousand people over the course of a year.

Whatever floats your boat, creatively, you need to be doing it.

Living through a pandemic has challenged us all to find new ways to have fun, among other things. Take an artist's date, schedule one for yourself. It can be anything from a walk through a park you've been meaning to visit, to picking flowers in a field. Don't do anything that is a chore and call it a date, and do anything spending lots of money for a date. It should be something simple, creative, and fun.

The more you infuse the spirit of "play" into your work, the better your work will become. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but so is working from dark to light. Its a way of taking yourself seriously as an artist by allowing yourself to have fun with it. Scientific studies have shown that children learn quicker when the material is presented in a fun and engaging way instead of in strict and stern way.

Now, while the world is full of chaos and uncertainty, take good care of yourself and incorporate fun, in whatever shape it may take...

If you find something that is incredibly fun, please post it to the blog and share it with others.

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