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Artist Dates: Everything you need to know

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Floating around in the art world, you may have heard of the term Artist Date. Maybe more than once. Maybe only about one-hundred-and-thirty-seven times.

Stemming from Julia Cameron’s seminal book, The Artist’s Way, artist dates are a tried and tested way of connecting with our inner artists. Haven’t read the book? Never fear. Here is everything you need to know about artist dates, before heading off on your very first one.

The Principles, in brief:

  1. No one else is allowed
  2. This is quality time
  3. It doesn’t have to be expensive (or cost anything at all)
  4. Your inner artist is in charge
  5. Less seriousness, more fun
  6. You will try to resist

The basics

Let’s start with the basics before getting into the nitty gritty. An artist date is regular time you set aside to spend with your creative self. It’s a time “especially set aside and committed to nurturing you creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date”. In its original sense, this is actually not time for you to make art. Instead, it’s a time for cultivating the inspiration, trust and joy you need to fill your well – so you have what you need to be at your best and make art from a place of authenticity later on.

Before we move on, it’s worth mentioning that Julia talks about the inner artist, the inner child and the artist child as one and the same. This image of the artist as child is a good one to keep in mind, as will become apparent further on. I’ll also use these words interchangeably throughout.

PRINCIPLE 1: No one else is allowed

This is time for you and your inner artist. This time is to be protected. No one else is allowed. Why? For this small amount of time, your attention belongs to your artist child, and to your artist child only. There’s no one else to talk to, to distract you or to get in the way of this special one-on-one time.

PRINCIPLE 2: This is quality time

Your relationship with your inner artist might already be thriving, or the two of you might feel like strangers. This being said, dates with your inner artist could feel like the first couple of awkward Tinder dates…or you guys might be more like the married couple who religiously schedule alone time together once a week, sans-kids.

Whatever the relationship status though, the principle is the same: it’s important to spend quality time together if we want to get to know each other, and it’s important to get to know each other if we want any kind of future together.

PRINCIPLE 3: It doesn’t have to be expensive (or cost anything at all)

You can roll out the dollars if you want to, but for an artist date, this is definitely not required. In fact, on most of the artist dates I’ve been on, I haven’t spent a single cent. Julia says,

“Your artist is a child. Time with a parent matters more that 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 an art gallery – these cost time, not money. Remember, it is the time commitment that is sacred.”

 PRINCIPLE 4: Your inner artist is in charge

Your regular adult self is not really in charge of this day. Your inner artist child is the one calling the shots; they get to decide where you’re going and what you’re getting up to. And the role of your adult self? You can think of them as the (usually) responsible guardian who has to come along for the ride in order to remember just how exciting life can be…and so they can pay for ice cream.

You might have some ideas in advance of your artist date, and it’s great to keep a running list of such ideas as inspiration. But when it comes to the day in question, ask your inner artist/child what it feels like doing. What would make it feel joyous, excited, giddy, nurtured, silly, pampered, delighted?

PRINCIPLE 5: Less seriousness, more fun

Seriousness and “shoulds” have no place here. If you’ve been meaning to see that exhibition for ages and want to use your artist date to finally tick it off your to-do list, scrap it. Do it some other time. Then again, if your inner artist wants to go to the exhibition, if your inner artist will delight in a visit to the art gallery – then, my friend, you’ve got yourself a winner.

PRINCIPLE 6: You will try to resist

Like all things that are good for us and our hearts, we will feel a certain amount of resistance to going on regular artist dates. It might feel silly. You might feel somewhat frightened. You might feel like you don’t have the time, or that quality time with your inner artist isn’t actually that important.

Julia says, “Commit yourself to a weekly artist’s date, and then watch your killjoy side try to wriggle out of it. Watch how this sacred time gets easily encroached upon. Watch how the sacred time suddenly includes a third party. Learn to guard against these invasions.”

Read more about resistance and how to front up to it.

Over to you

There we go – that’s all you need to know before getting started. You’re ready for your first artist date.

Artist dates are highly personal, and as a result, everybody’s can and should look very different. If you’re anything like me, deciding on what to do for your very first artist date might feel a little overwhelming. I’ll talk more about my own experience with artist dates in a future blog post (including examples of artist dates I’ve been on), but for now, know that feeling that way is completely normal.

Give it a go anyway:

  • Set aside a few hours this week to spend with your inner artist
  • Ask them: what do you need right now? What would be nurturing? What sounds cool to you? What would be your kind of fun?
  • Listen to them, and pay attention to their mood and needs before, during and after
  • Take this quality time seriously…but don’t forget to bring the silly

And most importantly, have fun. Have the most fun. I hope you will delight in the process.

Keen for more? See how Get Messy Fairy Artmother Caylee used one of her artist dates as inspiration for her art journal by joining the free Get Messy guide on how to start art journaling (Lesson 4).

Rachael Helmore

Rachael Helmore is an Australian artist and writer, currently living in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. She writes and makes art to connect with herself, with others and with the world around her. Rapid observational drawing – normally without looking at the page – forms the basis of her art making practice. Her current works explore ideas of culture, home, homelands, landscape and belonging through the use of found images.