Refilling the Creative Well – A Must for All Artists

Art Exhibit

If you hadn’t yet realized, I’m a big fan of Julie Cameron’s book (and 12-week, self-guided course) The Artist’s Way. I took it as an interdisciplinary course my first semester in Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. It changed the way I thought about myself, about my creativity, and about the creative life in general. And one of the biggest lessons I learned in taking the class was this: creative individuals need to nurture their creative spirit by “refilling the creative well.”

The Act of Creation is Tiring

It is a common misconception among non-creatives and casual creatives that artists don’t “work” at what they do. From an outsider’s perspective, creation looks like play, and to some degree it is, but it is anything but casual play. It is active, and focused, and intentional, and draining.

That last point is essential to understand. Tapping into your creative mind is tiring, though many of us don’t notice that we’re fatiguing until we’re lying face down like a stick of butter that’s been left out on the counter in August. Letting ourselves reach that point is damaging and dangerous and difficult to recover from, so how we avoid it?

Try scheduling activities into your life that will nurture your creative spirit. Not use it, mind you. These are moments in which, as an artist, you receive rather than produce. Julie Cameron calls them “artist dates.” She advocates one per week. I agree, though I fall far from accomplishing that once-a-week schedule myself.

An artist date is anything that lets you to take in and enjoy the external world. Go out to eat at a nice restaurant. Go for a walk in the woods. Visit the beach. See an art installation at a local museum. Attend a concert. These should be private moments when you can be alone. For me, that’s difficult because my beloved is a visual artist. We tend to bundle our artist dates, which is fine but not ideal. Doing anything with anyone else necessarily involves moments of compromise, small or large. Artist dates are supposed to be 100% about you, so my co-dates aren’t ideal, but they’re certainly better than nothing.


Investing in Yourself as an Artist

The purpose of giving yourself an Artist Date is to “refill your creative well.”

NeuropathwaysWhether you’re a composer, a painter, a poet, or a novelist the act of creation uses energy. Literally. It also uses neurotransmitters. If you’re continually working on your art, you’re activating and reactivating the same neural networks in your brain again and again. The cells of those neural networks talk to each other via chemicals that are manufactured at night while you sleep. Over time, you can deplete your store of neurotransmitter by using them faster than you can make them.

That’s the fatigue that sets it. The lethargy, the creative block, the depression, the doubt. You’ve been working so hard creating beautiful art that you’ve exhausted the parts of your brain involved in the process. Athletes know this as “overtraining.” They avoid it by building “off days” into their training programs. Creative folks would be wise to follow suit.

I’m a writer, but I love the visual arts. Photographs, sculpture, painting. When I feel like my creative energies are waning, I hit up the Boston Museum of Fine Art or look for a local photography exhibit to attend. It gives me a chance to witness, take in, and be emotionally touched by what others have created without activating the pathways I use when I’m writing. Ideas enter from the outside world, not from the inside world. They get in there, bounce around in my subconscious, and mingle with my own ideas like colors swirling on the surface of a bubble.

The creative well begins to fill once more. When I’m ready to sit back down and start producing again, all kinds of new and exciting things might emerge from having experienced the products of other artists’ creative acts.


Art Festivals are Your Friend

When is the last time you attended a local art festival? Summer is upon us, folks. It’s the high season for art associations to exhibit their members’ works.  I can’t recommend them enough as a place to go to be recharged and reinvigorated as a creative spirit.

This past weekend, my beloved and I walked into downtown Salem and got to see some fabulous art at the Salem Artist Festival. We also listened to talented musicians perform and sparkling dancers dance. The square crackled with creative energy and positivity. I soaked it up like a sponge and found myself breathing deeper and smiling more widely on the walk home. Life was, is, good. My creative well is brimming. Check out the photos I took along the way, and if you’re local try to get down there this weekend and check it out.  You won’t be disappointed.


When’s the last time you did anything to refill your creative well? What did you do? How did you feel afterward?

Thanks for stopping by, and happy writing to you!

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