The Artist’s Way: Week 1 – Recovering a Sense of Safety (Starting Out)

I invite you to follow this series about my work with Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Julia designed this 12-week program to help stalled out creatives recover artistic lives and dreams. I went through Julia’s Artist’s Way over 20 years ago as I tried to ignite a more creative me soon after graduation from university and as I began my landscape architecture career. Now 21+ years later, I am looking to keep a recently revived artist path as a painter moving forward by revisiting Julia’s program with not just the 25th anniversary edition of her book, but with a whole kit that includes a journal book especially designed for the Morning Pages and a workbook for the weekly tasks.

I was inspired to blog my progress by a writer, Rahaf Harfoush, who I want to be sure to credit as I borrow (hopefully not plagiarize) her format to get me started on this series.

One of my Carol Carter workshop projects, Iris. Watercolor, 12″x16″

In early June of this year, I attended a three-day watercolor workshop with Carol Carter, a wonderful artist and art instructor from St. Louis, MO. I’ve taken many workshops from several different artists over the last 5 years of my revived art life, but her approach really resonated with me. I think it was a combination of her warmth and caring, how she shared her life and stories moving through different life stages as a woman artist, and how she patiently taught us her method of painting.

After spending three days with Carol, I not only learned how to make a painting glow, I also felt a new inner glow emerge that I want to continue to nurture. But I’m the type of person that needs structure and this nurturing wouldn’t be easy to do on my own. The memory of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way kept coming back to me, so a week after Carol’s workshop, I picked up what became my “kit” and waited until Summer Solstice to start the program. It was on a Wednesday. Starting mid-week threw off my Artist’s Way schedule by a few days, but it was important to me to start on an auspicious day.

Each chapter has a theme with questions and exercises that relate to the weekly theme. The other key components of The Artist’s Way are morning pages and the artist’s dates.

Morning Pages

Morning pages are meant to be free-association journal entries with a minimum of 3 pages written every morning. These pages are for our eyes only and not to be shared. Here, with the weekly theme to guide us, we get to lay anything out in the pages that may be on our mind. Julia tells us,

“Doing your morning pages, you’re sending — notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfactions, hopes.”

This first week, I was very enthusiastic and got up early to write each day. I found the process to very grounding and I felt a sense of accomplishment at the beginning of each day. They took me about 30 minutes to write.

Artist’s Date

Julia writes about the importance of Artist’s Date and that as a recovering creative, the dates are critical to our growth. These are to be done alone and with playful abandon. Once again, Julia,

“Doing your artist date, you are receiving — opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.”

My inaugural artist date was not too exciting. I had a difficult time carving out the time for myself this first week. So I ended up at Aaron Brothers Art Mart to look at mats and frames in order to get inspiration for how I might present my art work at my first art market in September. It was nice, but it was done during my lunch hour, so I felt a bit pressured and ended up buying a bunch of clearance mats that maybe I don’t need after all. I’m not sure my first artist’s date was all that it could have been, but there you go. I vowed to have more interesting and pressure-free artist’s dates in the future.

Week 1 – Recovering a Sense of Safety

This focus of Week 1 is to initiate our creative recovery and “to establish a sense of safety, which will enable you to explore your creativity with less fear.” In this chapter, Julia invites us to explore negative beliefs about pursuing a creative life and to replace them with positive alternatives and affirmations. An underlying concept of her work is that “God” is the source of creativity and that we are channels for God’s creativity. She does emphasize that God can be what we want it to be. If you’re not a Christian, your God can be the Spirit, the Creator, etc. Because I suffered religious trauma and indoctrination of a cult-like religion as a child, I have a really hard time when I see God used in this way. I am working on being open-minded, though and substitute “Spirit” or “the Divine” for God. It still mentally stalls me for a moment, however, when I see it written in her book, and I feel resistance. This is probably one of the biggest blocks I’ll have to work through during the next twelve weeks.

What I do really appreciate about Julia’s approach is the link to creativity and a spiritual core and how creativity is a natural expression of our innate divinity and spirituality. I can get on board with that, and if I can stay focused on the more spiritual aspect of her program, I hope it will help me move beyond my current “God” complex.

Some of the exercises were fun and light-hearted such as coming up with five imaginary lives you would like to live or thinking of someone who was a champion of your creativity. The harder ones included listing enemies of your creative self-worth or writing out a past event where someone crushed your creative spirit. Then there was an exercise where you write a letter to the editor in your own defense of your creativity. I didn’t do this one. I became a bit weary of thinking about mean people and reliving those past experiences.

Three firs, Lake Tahoe. Watercolor pencils and waterbrush, 7"x9"
Three Firs, Lake Tahoe. Watercolor pencil, 7″x9″


Overall, I really liked Week 1. I kept drawing and practicing my new art techniques and enjoyed new inspiration during a 4-day getaway to Lake Tahoe.

Week 2 is about Recovering a Sense of Identity. While I didn’t experience any ground-breaking insights in Week 1, I do like having a structure to help guide me in the absence of a mentor or group. I’m looking forward to seeing how my creative path will unfold over the next few months.



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