Schedule an artist date with yourself

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Do you regularly spend time alone with yourself, doing something that lights you up? Time spent on your phone or social media doesn’t count! Socially we’re told spending time with others is the priority because it’s important to nurture close relationships. But what about the relationship with yourself? You could argue it’s the closest, most important relationship you’ll ever have and therefore should be nurtured as much — if not more — as other relationships. One way to do this is to spend time with yourself and schedule an artists date.

Julia Cameron in The Artists Way suggests a regular artist date with yourself: “An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours a weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist, in its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist.” The idea being you are “opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.” What should you do on this date? Cameron advises “Your artist is a child. Time with a parent matters more than monies spent. A visit to a great junk store, a solo trip to the beach, an old movie seen alone together, a visit to an aquarium or art gallery -— these cost time not money. Remember, it is the time commitment that is sacred.”

No time to venture far from home? Read one a new, favourite or childhood book. Make art at home, spent time gardening, cooking, crafting, writing or journalling. For further afield, visit an art gallery, go for a walk through town or nature, sit in the park or visit a cafe. Whatever sounds like a lovely way to spend time, go do that thing. It’s highly recommended you completely disconnect from your phone during your date so switch it off or put it onto aeroplane mode to avoid any distractions.

Finding the idea of a date with yourself tough? Cameron points out “You are likely to find yourself avoiding your artist dates. Recognize this resistance as a fear of intimacy — self-intimacy… In order to have a real relationship with our creativity, we must take the time and care to cultivate it.” It’s not easy at the start, but the rewards far outweigh any initial discomfort you might feel spending time alone.

Unblocking your creativity to reveal your inner artist

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

An interview with Julia Cameron, author of this The Artist’s Way on the Don’t Keep Your Day Job Podcast with Cathy Heller, had the following pearls of wisdom:

On not having natural talent:

HELLER: What if someone doesn’t have the natural talent? What if this person is not a natural artist, is it cruel to send them down some path if they’re never going to be this super genius creative person?

CAMERON: I have people say to me “Julia, aren’t you worried that you’re empowering a lot of bad art?” And I say actually I find the opposite. I find more often than when I unblock someone, I find myself thinking how could they have not known they were an artist, [that] they’re brilliant?

On comparison:

“I think what often happens is we try to do something creative and then we judge it again the master work of other artists and we say ‘See, I’m terrible. I’m just not good enough.'”

On creativity:

“Creativity is something that belongs to all of us and working on our creativity is exercising a birthright.”

On perfection:

“…be willing to be a beginner. Do not demand perfection of your efforts… You are intended to practice creativity… You are perfect in your imperfections.

On taking tiny steps:

“You can take tiny steps and they will lead you in the right direction.”

Takeaways? Everybody is inherently creative – it might just be buried a little deeper for you. Comparison can be destructive and might halt your creativity. Imperfection is a better goal than perfection because perfection keeps you stuck. Tiny steps always lead you somewhere so don’t underestimate them – big steps don’t necessarily lead you in a better or faster direction.

Judgement of your art is abuse and making up stories

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

It’s very easy to be judgement about your own art, especially when you’re a beginner. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way explains how judgement about your art is abuse: “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse. This happens in any number of ways: beginning work is measured against the masterworks of other artists; beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends. In short, the fledgling artist behaves with well practiced masochism.”

Allowing negative self-judgement to stop you making more art, you allow the ego to strengthen the identity of you being a person who is not good at art. The brain wants to be efficient and will rethink the same thought patterns in order to conserve energy. As it takes more energy to think new ideas and beliefs, the brain doesn’t distinguish between positive/helpful thoughts and negative/self-sabotaging thoughts. So if you’ve had repeated thoughts on a subject then it’s logically productive for the brain to continue to repeat the same thoughts in order to be efficient, even if they stop you from doing something valuable.

Brené Brown in Rising Strong explains “In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. It’s how we’re wired. In fact, the need to make up a story, especially when we are hurt, is part of our most primitive wiring. Meaning making is in our biology, and our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense, feels familiar, and offers us insight into how best to self-protect.” Brown talks of Robert Burton, a neurologist and novelist, who explains that “our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognise and complete patterns. Stories are patterns. The brain recognises the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain… we can earn a dopamine ‘reward’ every time it helps us understand something in our world – even if that explanation is incomplete or wrong.”

The way to overcome this judgement is to make art regardless, with the goal of quantity (as opposed to quality) as your focus. The more you make, the easier practice becomes and the quieter your judgemental voice will become. Decide to create a new art-maker identity for yourself – an “artist in progress” – and allow this new identity to grow stronger. With the more quantity made, that practice will cause your skills and confidence to naturally improve over time.

“… we must care for and nurture the stories we tell ourselves about our creativity and ability. Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world.” – Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Keeping your art secret

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

The fragile process of beginning to make art again is hard for the ego, who wants to get everything perfect first time. Currently our culture encourages us to share our art with the world via social media. Why not share when you can get instant likes and feedback to encourage you to keep at it? But what if your audience isn’t enthusiastic? You feel proud you even finished making the thing but that feeling can feel squashed when someone says something even slightly critical.

You are your own worst critic and Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way discourages critiquing yourself too harshly because “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse.” But it’s not just yourself you have to worry about when “beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends.” A well-meant comment can feel like a pin to your enthusiasm balloon and questions about why you’re not spending your time on more ‘important’ things can feel confronting.

It may remind you of a past time when you received harsh criticism about your art and this might be enough to completely derail you from being creative. Your art is going to be unrefined in the beginning and you have to face that while you’re making it but do you really need less than supportive feedback from others? What if you chose to keep your art-making secret and made it just for you?

The idea of your art making being similar to a private diary or journal process is echoed in Felix Scheinberger’s book Dare to Sketch sketch-booking process: “My sketchbook is something very personal. I draw in it for me and not for others; I use it to describe my world and my life.” How making art for yourself is the goal and nobody else need be involved. “It’s your sketchbook and yours alone, and should matter to no one else. once you are aware of this, it becomes a lot easier to work on a sketchbook. You are not drawing for any presumed critics or admirers, but for yourself. You aren’t producing a presentation booklet, but a creative space that consciously allows for mistakes and experiments. Your sketchbook is not a public space. Protect it.”

Protecting it and keeping your art secret is a way to help your fledgling artist grow stronger and limiting anything that endangers that. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks of having an affair with your art: “Let yourself fall in love with your creativity… and see what happens.” The idea of an affair being something that you undertake in secret, something you’d make sure was hidden from the world: “Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self… Conceal it from your family and friends, whatever it is you’re up to.”

The idea of making art in the dark, away from any other eyes could be the freedom you need to unleash your creative spirit. By treating your sketchbooks and notebooks as a private journal, you allow your confidence and skills to grow stronger undisturbed.

“[Creative recovery] It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good – to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.” – Julia Cameron

Connect to yourself through the process of writing with morning pages

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

Journaling has been around for centuries. The glimpse into what your past self was thinking allows insight into you change over the years. But it takes commitment and discipline to regularly write until a habit is formed and it becomes a part of your routine. But is it a productive use of your time and what is the benefit of doing it? Especially when you’ve a constant stream of distraction at your fingertips from your phone, with a delicious brain-hit of dopamine.

In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Morning Pages are a process where you write 3 pages of continual conscious thoughts by hand, every morning. By hand because typing them will censor you (the backspace key to erase mistakes is too tempting). 3 pages because it takes time to all the small niggling thoughts out the way. In the morning because your thoughts are still fresh and you haven’t got a full day of events to sift through. Julia Cameron says “I like to think of them as windshield wipers, swiping away anything that stands between you and a clear view of your day.” So what then do you write? “Three pages of whatever crosses your mind – that’s all there is to it. If you can’t think of anything to write, then write, ‘I can’t think of anything to write…’ Do this until you have filled three pages. Do anything until you have filled three pages.”

Once you’ve wiped clean, out pops the silent dreams and hidden ideas your subconscious holds. That’s when your gold is discovered. The process teaches your brain to stop overthinking and let your creative brain meander.

“Never skip or skimp on morning pages. Your mood doesn’t matter. The rotten thing your censor says doesn’t matter. We have this idea that we need to be in the mood to write. We don’t. Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn’t really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel that everything you’re doing is just plain junk. The morning pages will teach you to stop judging and just let yourself write.” – Julia Cameron

The morning pages process is a kind of active meditation – you get still, turn inward and practice doing the process on a regular basis. You can’t help but become more in tune to the silent whispers of your heart.

“It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power… the pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self… It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action. The pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed-solutions.” – Julia Cameron.

If you repeatedly write about a love of music, you may become more aware of a desire to have more music in your life. Perhaps you start by listening to more music. A few weeks later you impulsively buy a 2nd hand instrument and suddenly you’re learning to play some notes. But it’s not a sudden decision, it was there all along beneath the surface, you just needed a few nudges to unearth it. Morning pages allows you to uncover those hidden desires and bring them to the surface – if you’ll allow them.

If 3 pages every day feels too overwhelming, start smaller: Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes (or however long you have space for). Sit with a pen and paper and write as quickly as possible without stopping until the timer goes off. Don’t think about what you’re writing, if it’s rubbish or not – just write! Get into the practice of doing this and build up to the 3 pages if you can.

“I give a lot of five-minute exercises when I teach, because I think writing for just five minutes forces you to get out of your own way and lets you off the hook for writing something brilliant. Five minutes – no pausing, no stopping… sometimes you need to let yourself go off into uncharted territory.” – Barbara Abercrombiein A Year of Writing Dangerously

The more resistant you are to morning pages, the more important it is for you try them. Ask yourself why you feel so resistant? What are you afraid of uncovering? Be open to the process so you can revealing some of your own hidden thoughts and gold.