Sunday, April 01, 2012

Art and Motherhood

"Spring Green"
Oil on Panel

Back in 2010 I responded to one of Robert Genn's newsletters where he talked about juggling art and motherhood, and my response got published at the bottom of the clickback on his website. I couldn't believe at the time how many emails I got from artists struggling to juggle painting and motherhood, and I still get emails today from women who want advice based on my response. Because painting isn't a job with a salary and regular hours, I think a lot of women struggle to maintain a career in the arts when they first have small children. I've joked to my husband more than once that I could probably have a decent blog following if the only topic I discussed was art and motherhood! Anyhow, based on the response I've gotten from my comment on someone else's blog post in 2010, I thought I should go ahead and publish what I said here for my regular readers. It's two years later and I have some additional thoughts now that my kids are getting older - I might put some of those in an additional post if there's any interest. Anyhow, here's my advice for moms (sorry guys) - let me know in the comments if you have any additional advice:

I'm a professional painter and a mother to a sweet 4 year old daughter and 10 month old whirlwind of a son. I quit my stable chemical engineering job when I had my daughter so I could stay at home with her and paint. I didn't realize at the time how much work making a living as an artist can be, nor did I anticipate the number of times I'd find myself in tears due to the stress of it all and the feelings of inadequacy I felt as I couldn't be the best I could be at being a parent OR my painting career. Over the years, I've learned to just do the best I can do. I try to stay positive, I work hard, and I refuse to give up. Since I've had my children, I've been published in major art magazines, won awards at national shows, and been invited into galleries and shows. It's possible to be a parent and a successful artist. And while I can't say for sure, I'd like to think I'm a better artist because of my children and the creativity they bring to my life. My advice for Cedar Lee (and all the other frazzled artist-parents out there) follows:

- Paint when you can. Even if you can only carve out an hour here and there while the baby naps, or a few hours after bedtime, get in the studio and work. You need to adapt your working style to make spontaneous, short bursts of painting productive. If your baby goes to bed at eight, have a cup of coffee and hit the studio until 11. Sometimes those quiet hours at night are the best times to work.

- Get help. It's easy to think that you must be there for your child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but it will benefit you and your son to find a way for you to have a few hours of kid-free painting time on a regular basis. Find a relative or a neighbor who can babysit a few days a week, or find a school or daycare center that you trust. My kids go to preschool a couple of days a week. They love being with other kids, and those days are my days to paint, paint, paint! We all end up happier on the days we have together.

- Set your priorities. Are painting and motherhood your main priorities? Then drop the other things you're trying to do. I used to blog regularly, and loved doing it, but after I had my son I knew it was ultimately cutting into my painting time so I set it aside. I try to limit my internet time. My house isn't as clean as I wish it could be. My husband doesn't get a home-cooked meal every night of the week. But I spend a lot of quality time with my kids and husband and my galleries are stocked - those are my priorities.

- Focus. When you have time set aside for painting, make sure you paint. Don't check your email, don't return phone calls, don't clean your studio - just paint. You can do all those other things with baby in tow, so don't waste precious time procrastinating.

Having children has brought a sensitivity to my art that wasn't there before. Try to stay positive and stay in tune with the ways that having children can change your work for the better. And know that it gets better - that ten month old that gets into everything right now will soon be a four year old who loves to set up an easel next to you and paint, and before long that four year old will be in school every day and you'll be wondering where the time went. Don't focus on the dilemmas facing you as a mother and an artist - focus on solutions instead, and be grateful every day for the two wonderful and fulfilling jobs you have as an artist and a mother.