Butterfly feeding on orange flower at Tūhura, Otago Museum.
Butterfly feeding on flower at Tūhura, Otago Museum.

Have you read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way? It’s been in by TBR pile for years but I haven’t made my way past the first few chapters yet, always intending to actually do the mahi (work) she sets out but always getting distracted. I have, however, at different times in my life, taken on the practices of Morning Pages and the Artist Dates.

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Morning pages are essentially three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand journalling. It’s a practice I was almost religious about for a long time but have fallen out of. I find it helps clarify my thoughts and often brings ideas to the surface that had been lurking around my head unnoticed by my conscious self. I found it almost always went through a pattern of grumpiness and anger, which became sadness or low feelings, and ended with positive action; this was never my intention, it’s just the process that often seemed to occur. I’m working on some other daily habits to fulfil – and fuel – myself creatively and this will be one of them. But I can only instil so many habits at one time, no matter how good they are for me!

Painting from What Stars Are Made Of, published 2014

Artist dates are a practice I’ve already started bringing back. The concept is taking your ‘artist self’ out on a date once a week. The rules that no one else can join you (not even your partner or your children), and it needs to be at least two hours. I have added that I won’t check my phone, though I do allow myself to have it on me. Ideally it’s something you do every week, but I’m starting out with once a fortnight, mostly because it’s a bit harder to get around from a little rural town – especially when I don’t have a car.

I did this for a year or two while living in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland and found that as well as being a source of inspiration, it was also a chance for me to reflect inwards. I would often go to a gallery or museum, or sometimes I would get the bus or train to a place I hadn’t been before and wander around before stopping somewhere for a coffee. I would set aside at least half a day (though as Cameron says, even an hour is solid) and it was such a delicious privilege to have time on my own to soak up whatever inspiration was on offer.

So last week I finally took myself out on an Artist Date to Tūhura, Otago Museum’s science centre which includes a butterfly house (they call it tropical forest, as it also has parakeets and finches). I had been there once for a yoga session but by that time in the evening the butterflies had lost their steam. During the day, however, it was nothing short of magical. I had my camera with me, but for the first ten minutes or so I just stood on the balcony and let my senses take in the gorgeous butterflies all around me, the warm humid atmosphere, the sounds of birds calling and wings fluttering, and water in the ponds below me.

It was a beautiful first date, and I couldn’t have asked for something more awe-inspiring to re-ignite my relationship with my creative self.

Artist Date: Tropical Butterflies at Tūhura