Scratching vs. Artist Dates

I am currently reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. She writes about a concept, scratching, which I just love. It’s about finding inspiration, particularly tiny little sparks of inspiration. Big ideas have so much on the line that they can “quickly shrivel and evaporate into nothing. That is why you scratch for little ideas. Without the little ideas, there are no big ideas.”

Twyla describes five common methods of scratching: reading, conversation, enjoying others’ work, studying mentors or heroes, and being in nature. Those are all very accessible. Twyla is not prescriptive about how frequently or for how long scratching should be done. It seems organic, something one might already be doing, perhaps even daily. It can be spontaneous, squeezed in here or there in short bursts. It could take you over and suddenly you look up and hours have passed.

Scratching seems similar to Julia Cameron’s artist dates. Both are about finding inspiration. Julia says artist dates are an opportunity to fill your well, to build a reserve (of images, symbols, smells, sights, or sounds) to be drawn upon later during creative work. She writes, “art may seem to involve broad strokes, grand schemes, great plans. But it is the attention to detail that stays with us; the singular image is what haunts us and becomes art.”

To sit in a cafe and observe passersby for an hour, well Twyla would call that scratching and Julia would call it an artist date.

I love The Artist’s Way. I love writing my morning pages daily (or nearly daily). But I have struggled with artist dates. I have plenty of ideas for artist dates, but they rarely seem to satisfy for several reasons. First, in spite of all my artist date ideas when the time to do one rolls around I may not be in the mood for any of the ideas. I will usually settle for something lesser instead. Second, Julia advises that an artist date should be perhaps two hours. That can be a long, hard stretch to fill if you’re not in the mood to begin with. Finally, I have high expectations built up in my mind about what should result during an artist date. If no inspiration strikes, it feels like a failure.

Those reasons are why I was so excited to read about scratching. Reading and having conversations count as inspiration time? Why, I already do those things everyday! It has lowered the bar and made me feel productive. Even when I’m doing something I do each day, like listening to a podcast, it is rewarding to think of it as a creative endeavor.

Have you ever compared artist dates and scratching yourself? What other methods do you use to feel inspired?

Your friend,

4 thoughts on “Scratching vs. Artist Dates

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