The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Artist Date and Bento Box

When I was four years old, I made a caterpillar in preschool. I glued together cut-up egg-cartons to form the segmented body and stuck pipe-cleaners on the “head” to form antenna. When I finished, the teacher instructed me to put the caterpillar into my cubby hole, and the class went outside for recess. When we returned, the caterpillar was gone. In its place was a beautiful butterfly.

I remember staring at this butterfly, in delight and astonishment and wonder. Its wings stretched out in an array of color, and glitter dusted its body. Life was all about discovery and exploration, and anything was possible in this world. Absolutely anything.

Of course, then I grew up, and school was no longer about art projects and magical transformations. It revolved, instead, around analytical thinking and practical skills, and I forgot all about the pure joy I felt when I looked at my butterfly.

And then, I stumbled across Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, “a course in discovering and recovering your creative self.” In this book, Cameron sets forth the concept of the artist date, “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist… an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.” (Cameron, 2002, pg. 18). My eyes widened as I read these words. Two hours a week? To do anything I wanted? Unbelievable.

But there was more. The artist date is so important because “[i]n order to create, we draw from our inner well…. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked.” (20). While we fill this well, Cameron urges us to “think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do.” (21).

I immediately thought of my caterpillar. When I made it, I didn’t worry about whether or not I was any good at gluing. I just created. When I saw the butterfly, I didn’t analyze how it had gotten there. I just marveled. The artist date encouraged me to do things I’ve always been afraid of doing. I bought a sketchbook and colored pencils and drew. A pot of flowers, an olive jar. I wasn’t all that good, but it was fun. More importantly, the artist date gave me permission to see myself as a creative person. Now, when I am intrigued by a new project, whether it is tie-dying T-shirts or decorating cupcakes, I don’t question my ability. I just do it.

Since I’ve had children, it’s been more difficult to take two hours a week for my artist date. But I like to think I’m keeping up with the spirit of Julia Cameron’s ideas by incorporating creativity into my life. My latest endeavor? Bento-box meals for my children. They’re fun to make, my kids love eating them, and when I look into their eyes, I see some of the same wonder and delight I felt when I experienced magic for the first time.

What is your idea of the perfect artist date? How do you fill your creative well? We all feel depleted sometimes. I’d love to hear your thoughts and be inspired by your creative outlets!
(Bento boxes pictured inspired by the recipes in Yum-Yum Bento Box, by Maki Ogawa and Crystal Watanabe.)