Filling up Your Cup: Art, Good Writing and Inspiration

Rene admiring a painting at the Sawdust Art Festival

Rene admiring a painting at the Sawdust Art Festival

It’s so fun to be in “create” mode. Some of us create stories, some create scarves. My husband goes into “create” mode on his guitar in the evenings, and my daughter has canvases in the garage where she stands for hours and paints. My friends create gorgeous scrapbooks, cards, wreaths, topiaries, paintings and ceramics. Some knit scarves or cross-stitch bibs. I love to see how everyone “creates.”

But sometimes, I think, you need to be on the receiving end. You need to see or read or absorb art in some way to “fill up” your reserve and feel inspiration.

The first time I read this concept was in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way (which was a gift from my friend Grace, by the way, and was one of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received. Tip: If you know a writer or artist of any kind, this is a fabulous Christmas or birthday gift!) Anyway, Cameron mentioned setting “artist dates” for yourself to go out an enjoy art — to basically “fill up your cup” with things that inspire you. It could be browsing through a bookstore, sitting in a park and watching the trees sway, going to an art museum, listening to classical music — whatever inspires you and makes you think “wow, this artist is amazing!” or “wow, this is beauty.” Cameron suggests doing this at least once a week.

Once a week might sound a little intense for those of us with kids, jobs, playdates, kids’ football practice, dinners to be prepared, laundry to be done, etc., but it’s at least a cool goal. Personally, when I was first a stay-at-home mom, once a week sounded impossible — especially to go to an art museum or any crazy thing like that. But Superman used to encourage me to walk up to the bookstore every Thursday night. (By then, I probably looked like I had electricity running through my veins from tension home with three small children.) So I would walk up there along this path in the early evening and just … browse. God, it was nice. Just listening to the soothing bookstore music, and standing in the aisles and looking. Sometimes I’d spend the entire time in the “home decor” section, or sometimes look for an entire hour at “gardening” books. Sometimes I’d look at travel books. Something about the combination of the music and the books and the photos always left me relaxed and feeling inspired.

Now that my kids are older, finding places to get an “art fill” is much easier. Since we now have built-in babysitting, Superman and I have been able to visit a couple of museum exhibits in the last few years (one was called “The History of Cool” about midcentury architecture and furniture — fun!). And now that my daughter is older and loves art even more than I do, she’s become a GREAT browsing companion.

Last weekend, we went to the art shows in Laguna right before they were closing for next year. We went to the Sawdust Festival one day (which is like a craft fair, too — lots of glass jewelry, vases, notebooks, cool stuff). The whole family went. We ate ice cream and wandered along the sawdust. Then the next day, we went to see the Festival of Arts, which is the fine-art area. They have live music playing, and lots of food and snacks, and lots of chairs for resting. (Plus, even though it’s literally 100 degrees in Orange County right now, it’s about 15 degrees less in the seaside towns, including Laguna, so it’s just more pleasant to be outside!)

Anyway, it was an amazing weekend — with my kids, and my husband, and the ocean breezes, and the summertime jazz, and lots of wonderful “filling up.”

How do you “fill up your cup” with inspiration? Do you listen to music? Watch Woody Allen movies? Read others’ books? Look at art? Is there something specific that inspires you every time, or do you switch things up?

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16 thoughts on “Filling up Your Cup: Art, Good Writing and Inspiration

  1. Yes I do LOVE playing my little old guitar. It makes me happy. I’m not so sure how the rest of the house feels about it but it does raise my spirits. I also love my harmonica too but I care too much about my family’s well being to play that one too much. Also, and this does take some planning, I thoroughly enjoyed creating and building my little “tiki bar” in my home-made garage tiki lounge. I do get what Laurie is saying.
    I’m interested to see what everyone else does!

  2. (Fellow Artists Way lover here)
    I’m selfish about this sort of time in my life.

    Playing the clarinet.
    Walking outside ALONE with nature.
    WritingWriting w/out editing a word.

    I need to fill my cup daily and do so every morning.

  3. I am a HUGE music lover and regularly roll in that lovely sandbox known as iTunes! Music and books, movies and TV. I used to do graphic design–yes for fun!

    I also find the more I read, the more I write and if my reading falls off, I just burn out that much faster. It’s a tricky balancing act though!

  4. My friends and I try to get together for craft parties about once a month. Having focused time to work while enjoying company, learning new techniques, and seeing what everyone else is creating keeps me inspired.
    Craft fairs inspire me, too. I see materials used in ways I’d never considered and can’t wait to go home and try something of my own.
    Lastly, gift giving keep me inspired. I think about what a friend or family member would use or what would fit into their home’s decor and new ideas come bursting out.

  5. Music & Taking a walk…

    I like to go to Hermosa Beach alone. I lay out in the sun, think, flip over, think and then take a walk throught the little neighborhood. I love this little area.I recently found a cute little area between Newport Beach and Corono Del Mar..I’ll send you a pic.

    When I’m not able to head out to the beach i listent to a playlist i have on Itunes “My Daily Music” It’s got about 150 rock songs from Journey to Nine Inch Nails.

    I play it almost everytime I’m home.


  6. I like to cook. I have music playing while I cook (typically electronic dance music, but every now and then I will go with jazz) which helps me get lost in cooking. This is what I love about cooking, when I am cooking it is the ONLY thing I have to worry about or think about. I like that Zen aspect of it.

    I also enjoy reading. I’m a big fan of Dwell and Fast Company. Books don’t really do it for me for this purpose. If I read a book, it’s a business book and then it’s work for me so I can’t say I do it for enjoyment or fulfillment. Even when I read, I need music or NPR in the background. I’m an auditory person in a visual world so I need sound.

  7. Funny, just last night, after a too-hot, languid, headachey day, I realized that part of what I needed was to read a poem! I have many books of poetry and of fine art for when I need a dose of beauty–and I’m sure that we all need it from time to time.

    Much as we all adore our little grandson, one of the highlights of my daughter-in-law’s visit was when she and I went to the Getty Center. We reveled in the art, the architecture, and ate, for our first time, in the proper resaurant there. Everything considered, exquisite, beautiful. I was hoping it would be a nice break for Mayumi before going back to single parenthood for another month, but it was so much more than that…

    Keats said that beauty is truth and truth, beauty. I’ve never been sure about that, but can that have something to do with why we all need it and most of us recognize that need?

  8. Wow, what a cool list of ways people get inspired!

    Chris — Yes, your guitar playing seems to relax you, and you probably get inspiration from listening to so much music, as you do. And yes! You even did a craft project! 🙂

    MizFit — Hello! Ah, another The Artist’s Way lover! The “morning pages” were another great recommendation of hers, as well as the “write without editing” that you do. That’s a terrific approach. Walking outside is an awesome activity for inspiration, too.

    Amie — Ah, the “lovely sandbox” is right! Music is definitely inspirational. And reading others’ work is cool — I do, too, but I hear writers say it both ways (either they can’t at all while writing, or they do constantly). I’ll have to blog about that more — it’s an interesting topic, I think.

  9. Janelle — Hello! Great tip about the gift-giving! I hadn’t thought of that one, but you’re right: that can really get your creative juices flowing. I know I’ve been lucky enough to receive one of your crafts (that adorable book ornament that I actually have a photo of on this blog — 2nd or 3rd post!), but what other crafts do you do? I love all your ideas!

    Geraldine — Ah, more music and walking! That seems to be a popular one! Thanks for sending that photo on Facebook — that stroll you take in CDM is soooooo romantic and pretty. Gosh, no wonder you feel inspired there!

  10. Dave — Oh, yeah, cooking is a great creative endeavor! And I’ve seen you get in your “Zen” mode to cook! I can see that being really relaxing, with the right music and the right amount of time stretching before you. When I was cooking a lot, it was usually to hurry and get dinner on the table, but cooking on Saturdays had a completely different feel, so I know what you mean.

    Rosy — Oh, a poem! How nice! Do you have favorite poems you go to again and again? And the Getty Center sounds great. You know, I’ve never been there! That’s definitely on my list of things to do. What a wonderful thing to do with your daughter-in-law, too — she probably loved the break, too, just to get to revel in adult beauty for a bit. And I’m not sure about the truth being beauty either, but yes, I agree we all need it from time to time — just to “fill us up.”

  11. I will have to look back and find the blog for my ornament. How cool!

    To answer your question, Laurie, I dabble in all sorts of crafts, whatever comes to me at the time. Lately I’ve been sewing a lot: cross stitch, quilts, tote bags, etc. But I’ve made paintings, baskets, stained glass projects, creamics, wood sculptures, etc, though some of those I haven’t done since college and only once.

    Classes also keep me inspired. Sometimes trying a new medium (I’ve been thinking about jewelry making) gives you ideas for new projects within old mediums. Or the challenge of mastering a new skill makes you appreciate the skills you already have. 🙂

  12. wow thats a great idea! (you have to show me that book sometime) I’m not sure if i have a way of “filling up my cup” but sometimes i’ll see somthing that’s apealing to the eyes and i get this itch to make a picture of it. like whith that painting i did of the close up of the girl with the big sunglasses was “inspired” by how i liked the way nathan’s sunglasses looked in the sun

  13. This whole “filling up your cup” concept is not something I have heard before, but it seems I and probably a lot of others have doing exactly that for quite some time, without thinking of it in those terms. Maybe “stop and smell the roses” was a way to do that some time ago. Quite a few of the methods I use have been listed. To paraphrase a saying: I go where I have been before and look at it, listen to it anew. Music, I love music, even as I say I prefer old Mexican love ballads, I like patriotic songs and just plain sentimental songs. This may sound funny to some, but when I listen to music, I really absorb it. I feel it coming into me through my being. It makes me feel good and opens up my senses. I think I read better then. I can take a note or a an instrument and thoroughly enjoy the moment of it. I can work for hours and not even know I am tired when I have my music on.

    Next is reading. Oh, I so love the printed word. It paints a picture and puts in so much detail and it all fits. It takes your memory cells and squeezes out every last drop of thought and creates a masterpiece. I so envy some writers for doing that. The thing about the printed word is that while some stories are “told”, others are created or better yet, there is room for you participate in the creation or contribute to it. For instance, a lot of people think history is boring. I have heard like too hard, too dry, too difficult to read, but I find it just the opposite. First, if you haven’t already guessed, I love history. The secret is to learn, glean what you can and then read more on the subject and keep reading more and go find and read stories about the peripheral topics mentioned in the history books. Eventually you will be able to add a visual to the story as you are reading it. The more you know about the subject, the more detail, color and periphery you can fill in.

    Cooking, those that know me know that I love to cook. Though I make the same meal many times over, it is never made exactly the same. I am not very much a recipe type of person, I use them only for guidance. But cooking is a very relaxing way for me to end the day. The is one of my favorite creativity processes. Sometimes its simple, sometimes its elaborate, but it does relax me. I get into it and if I have my music on, it is so much fun.

    Genealogy research believe it or not is another way of filling up your cup or at least for me. This is what also makes me curious to learn more about people and history. You pour over old documents and get the data, but that isn’t all there is to it. You also want to know what it like back then. What did they do for a living, where did live, how did they get there, how many were there in that family. Why do they have the same neighbors over the years and in many different states, countries, etc. Were these neighbors also relatives? What about the wives, what was their maiden names, etc. You go look at area civil records and find mentions to other actions, events taking place in that community. Now maybe you also find evidence of a military record, They left single, came back with a family,where did they serve, where did they get married, where were the children born, what did they do for the military. Now other countries to investigate. This is truly where you find that not everything is as it seems.

    One more way and I’ll let you know rest. The final thought on filling up your cup is socializing. Yes, believe it or not you learn a lot from talking to other people about various topics and by participating with them on different projects/activities. You share your thoughts and ideas and discuss viewpoints and you continue to learn. You learn about history, music, cooking/food, writings/literature, art, other peoples and places.
    So I do stop and smell the roses and fill up my cup and I think I am able to create my own little masterpiece for others to take in in some way.

  14. My creative outlet is definitely music. I’ve played an instrument for most of my life and still play my guitar regularly. But singing and lyrics is what move me. Certain parts of music, like a cello part or piano part can move me and permanently attach me to a song. A wonderful lyric will also touch my soul. Funny, I’ve never loved poetry but lyrics in a song can transport me. Must be the musical element.
    I almost refuse to scrapbook, though. It’s like pure torture to me. Crafts, too. But painting something or writing something when inspired is lovely.

  15. Janelle — All of your crafts sound fabulous! I didn’t know you were such a crafter. Do you participate in Etsy selling at all? Looking at all the stuff for sale on Etsy is rather inspiring, too.

    Rene — That’s perfect, my dear daughter, that you’re inspired by little things and the way the sun hits something and then you want to paint it. Spoken like a true artist! 🙂 I remember the other night at the pool, you said that about the way the light was hitting the water, too. That’s a great way to get inspired.

    Johnny — Music, reading and cooking are all such awesome ways to get inspired, but I love that you added the geneology! I never thought about that as a source of inspiration, but I sure can see how it would be. (Especially for fiction writers.) I love your line about: “This is truly where you find that not everything is as it seems.” Holy cow, ain’t that the truth??? And I see about five story ideas spinning from a single event, just based on everyone’s perception of it. I think I’ll do a post about this! I’ll come back and pull some of your info, combined with some other cool sources of “historical” info as inspiration. Great tip. …

    Jeanne — That’s so neat that you use music in that way to inspire you. I’ve never really “understood” music, to be honest. I get it on a face-value level, but I wish I could hear patterns and “stories” in notes the way some of my friends do. Sounds like you hear it this way also. And it seems like a wonderful source of inspiration. Now scrapbooking and crafts — that’s me!! 🙂 We must be thinking with opposite sides of the brain!

  16. “You need to see or read or absorb art in some way to “fill up” your reserve and feel inspiration.”


    I read, read, read, and read some more. I also find myself inspired by romantic comedies and music. I can always depend on music when time is short. One song can do so much.

    Oh and I’m putting that book on my wish list ; )

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