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.)

21 thoughts on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Artist Date and Bento Box

  1. As a total foodie (and foodie writer)– I *love* this! I find my creativity in food, experimenting with flavors and colors and textures. Some of my experiments are successful (I created a chicken salad recipe that my kids even beg for!), and some…well, they were fun to make, anyway 🙂 But whenever my soul needs nurturing or I want to feel just plain good, I go to the kitchen. Not to eat (although that’s nice too), but to cook and create. Food experiences are such a sublimation of life experiences for me that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Lovely, insightful post! It made my morning 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kimberly! I, too, love creating in the kitchen — the less I have to follow a recipe, the better! (Which is why, incidentally, I am so bad at baking). I learned to cook from my cousin. The summer after my first year in college, I sat down with her and wrote down the “recipes” for a dozen Thai dishes. The recipes consisted purely of ingredients — no measurements. I was told that I just had to season the food until it “tasted right.” Good thing I am so good at tasting!

  2. Pintip–your Bento Boxes for your kids are amazing! I am one of those who are only good at baking…must follow recipe…I’ve been asked by hubby, very sweetly, to please not cook things like beans from scratch…just by the can! But your pics here and the fact that it’s something you get to see your kids enjoy makes me want to give it a try! Do you send these creations to school? I’d be afraid they would get tossed around!
    But to your point about an artist date, I am so glad you brought that up. For me, I like to sketch half-faces and decorate birthday cakes.

    1. Thanks, Carlene! The bento boxes are incredibly easy to make. The cookbook referenced in my post is a really good introduction, and I am happy to give you some pointers if you are interested. My kids don’t go to school yet, at least not where they bring a lunch, so we will either take the meals as a picnic somewhere, or just eat them at home. I have a couple of Bento Box lunch boxes that are even smaller than the containers pictured above. S aince the idea is that they should be packed pretty tightly (ignore my frog and octopus above; that was my first attempt), and the containers are small, the food should not be knocked around too much.
      I would love to see your half-faces sometime! sounds intriguing!

  3. Wow Pintip, you are so talented! I can’t believe all of those incredibly cute meals!!! You are so right about taking time for yourself to explore your artistic side. I think it is freeing to go back to that place where you can learn and grow and explore, without fear of failure or too critical an eye.

    1. Not talent, Dana. If you can form a rice ball, then you can make these meals. But thank you, anyhow. It is so important to try to find the learning and growing place when you are writing, particularly a first draft, don’t you think?

  4. Pintip,
    This post brought tears to my eyes. Not because I can’t make your creations but because of the wonder and magic we let ourselves lose as we age.
    I remember my kids making pretend chocolate chip cookies out of Playdough, and I told my son Donovan that if he wished and believed enough, maybe they would become real. The next morning, my kids came downstairs to see edible chocolate chip cookies in place of the Playdough. Donovan’s sisters thought the sun rose and set in their brother for DAYS!!! LOL. But they all believed. Magic happened…for them. And for me. Once again I remembered what it felt like to believe in magic.
    I love that story about your butterfly! Whenever the stress of the real world gets you frazzled, think of your butterfly and BELIEVE.
    As far as creative outlets…I have to have them. Whether we’re doing Shrinky Dinks or making leprechaun cupcakes for school, my kids and I have a lot of fun with creative stuff. I’m with everyone else. When creativity and food mix, it’s a win-win situation!
    Wonderful, magical post, Pintip!

  5. Oooh, Kim, I LOVE the chocolate chip play-dough transforming into real cookies idea! I think I will steal that one. You will have to keep sharing your creative ideas for kids with me, since you have much more experience with older ones!

  6. This is lovely! It reminds me of the time I’ve spent with my needlework. I’ve done so many fiber-related things, but knitting can be a “deep think” time for me to allow my creativity to blossom. Yes, I follow patterns, and the rhythm of knitting gives me room to breathe mentally. My mind begins to trace paths that don’t have anything to do with yarn or needles.
    Really, any fiber craft I play with can be fruitful. I tell my mind to “let go” and it usually does. (note to self: knit again when wrist heals)

  7. Susan,
    Have you read The Artist’s Way? Julia Cameron specifically mentions knitting as a great way to fill the creative well! Here’s what she says: “Filling the well needn’t be all novelty… Any regular, repetitive action primes the well… Needlework, by definition regular and repetitive, both soothes and stimulate the artist within. Whole plots can be stitched up while we sew. As artists, we can very literally reap what we sew.” (22). Isn’t that cool?
    I haven’t done too much needlework myself, although I wish I could. The one scarf I crocheted with my sister ended up twice as wide as when it started!

  8. This post is so inspiring to me! I love the initial story of the magical transformation of the caterpillar and realize that it’s been awhile since I’ve focused on pure joy and imagination. This post makes me want to attempt to draw or knit again…hopefully with more success this time.

    Currently my creative outlet is through cooking. Even though I don’t make anything as aesthetically pleasing as your adorable bento boxes, I have been successful at creating my own recipes lately. It’s exciting to see how all of the ingredients come together to create something new and unexpected. I look forward to reading more of your posts, Pin! And I’m definitely going to check out The Artist’s Way.

  9. Thanks, Lana! I would love to try your creations! You are a great cook. And I think you would really enjoy The Artist’s Way — it really changed the way I viewed my creativity.

  10. Wow! This is awesome! I’m so linking to this on Facebook. To take something as simple as lunch and make it art is a wonderfully inspiring thing to do. Also, I love setting aside time in your life to be creative. I have a friend who loves to plan theme parties. The girl is a nut, but this is her creative outlet. Another is the crafting goddess of the neighborhood. Each does it out of the pure joy of finding their own butterfly. Fab post Pintip!

    1. Thanks, Avery! You are so sweet. I love hearing about all of these amazing outlets! There is so much creativity in this world.

  11. Wow, Pintip, these are incredible! What an inspiring post. Writing is like that for me, my creative outlet, and I have to guard the fun part to make sure it doesn’t become all work. Thanks for sharing your talent and message. =)

    1. Thank you, Gwen! That’s why we all started writing, right? For the fun of it. It’s unfortunately so easy to forget!

  12. Wow, Pintip. You are supermom! I’ll make sure my kids NEVER see this! My boring brown bag lunches look so sad next to your colorful, cheerful creations.

    1. Diana, So not supermom. The secret to these lunches is that they look cute, but they are extremely easy to do. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I surprised myself with how well they turned out.

  13. How very delightful, Pintip! And inspirational. I will definitely pass this link on to my sister–my nephew would find a lunch like this fascinating and fun. I really like that it’s a creative outlet for you, as well as a joy to give and share your creativity, and it’s a gift your children delight in receiving. How very special. Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

  14. Thanks so much, Kathy! I hope your nephew enjoys the lunches! The best part for me is seeing my kids’ reactions. One look at their expressions is all it takes for me to want to spend those extra few minutes.

  15. Great pictures!!! What an awesome mom you are!

    When I need some creative inspiration I actually like to organize something, like a closet or cabinet. I know, I’m a big, fat D-O-R-K! 😉

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