I describe myself as restlessly creative. I often think if I’d just pick one thing to focus on, perhaps I’d get a bit farther with it. I embroider my own designs, sew, and knit. I paint and draw, carve stamps and recently, linocuts, and write. These things all inform each other, though.
My art and writing are both for me and for others. I sell on Etsy . I also publish Art Together, an e-zine designed to inspire and encourage adults to explore process-oriented art alongside kids, and I’m now writing the art column for Home/School/Life Magazine. But first and foremost, I create and write because it’s how I’m wired. I write far more for myself, to work things out, than I ever share.
1. What is your earliest memory you have of creating?
I remember making a drawing in preschool that was to be turned into a plastic plate to take home. We made a cereal bowl, too, but I remember the plate drawing because it was of a Christmas tree, and I was very proud of it. I’d taken the time to add tiny little circles all up and down the outline, to represent ornaments. The teacher told me to put ornaments in the middle of the tree too. I was tired by then, so I made three large circles, and my tree looked like a stoplight. I hated it. I still have that plate; we use it as a palette for my kids. This experience definitely affects how I work with kids—my own and others—when it comes to art-making. We start with the understanding that they are always in control of their own work.
|A mixed media painting for my daughter’s room, incorporating a sketch of her from a day at the beach when she was 3.|
2. When did you realize you were an artist, writer, creative etc.?
When I was five, I said I wanted to be an artist and a writer when I grew up. I haven’t always felt I could claim those titles, but I’m getting more comfortable doing so now.
3. Why do you create? How would you feel if you could not create anymore?
Why do I breathe?! I create for the same reason. If I don’t have a chance to create for a few days in a row, I start to feel prickly. And if I don’t want to, I know it’s a sign to check in with my own mental health.
I’ve been open about getting diagnosed with PTSD last year. I continued to create while struggling with symptoms, but when I began Zoloft after diagnosis, I had an adjustment period of about six weeks during which I felt sluggish and uninspired. Occasionally I’d have an idea, but I couldn’t figure out how to get from idea to completion on anything. My therapist asked me to hold on for two months, and once I adjusted, my creative spark returned (plus I was eating and sleeping again, which was nice). It’s probably good I didn’t know about that six-week drought ahead of time, though. I’m not sure I’d have agreed to the meds.
|A linocut print of a rock crab.|
4. Did you create before you had children? After? How has becoming a mother changed or enhanced the way you create?
Yes, but it wasn’t a career or anything even close. I feel like I’ve written all my life. I’ve always been drawn to art but was actively discouraged from it during my public schooling. In my early 20s, while working in environmental education (I have a BS in Natural Resource Science), I took some writing classes through a local learning community. After that, I felt confident enough to go back to college for a second degree in English with a minor in creative writing. In the meantime, I’d bought myself an SLR camera and decided to take photography through the art department while I was there. The prereq was a design class, and that professor was the first person of authority who ever told me I had potential as an artist.
Once I graduated—with an added art minor to that English major—I took a job to pay bills, but we built a darkroom in our first apartment. However, art-making fell by the wayside as I tried to get pregnant and then took care of children (those chemicals!) and when I raised my head back up again, darkroom photography was a thing of the past.
Sometimes I wish I’d been established in a creative way before having kids, but they have proved to be the inspiration for so much. So I can’t say it hasn’t worked out as it probably should have.
|A linocut print of tulips with added watercolor.|
Like anybody else with a full-time job, it can be hard to find and protect those pockets of time. I think the most challenging aspect, though, is that Society has a tendency not to take women who have chosen to stay at home with their children seriously. I had trouble even finding volunteer work. The fact that I had three kids and hadn’t drawn a paycheck in so long apparently made me incapable of even working for free. That shook my confidence for a while, until I decided to create my own work. I still haven’t gotten the knack of telling people, “I’m an artist.” I’m working on it. I applied for and received sales tax exemption in the state of Rhode Island for selling works of art, so really I should have no problem saying I create art!
6. Do you ever involve your children in your art? Do they inspire, help, mimic your projects, ask to learn, or be involved in your art?
I fell into making art right alongside my children because I saw no other way to get art-making time for myself. My youngest was about two at the time and still wouldn’t sleep without me. Whatever I’m exploring, they end up exploring, too. I love when we’re all working together. We absolutely inspire each other. I don’t agree with the idea that kids will get intimidated by seeing adult’s artwork. We all approach it as fellow explorers, and we all have strengths and areas we’re working on. Now that my youngest is five, I’m better able to find time to work alone, but I haven’t given up working alongside them. I also ask their opinions on works in progress. All of my kids think it’s so cool that I publish an e-zine, and since this is something I do from the dining room table, it’s easy for them to visualize doing something similar. Writing, creating, and sharing ideas is so easy now, for people of all ages.
I began blogging about our process-oriented art adventures in 2010 but I had trouble finding a group of like-minded bloggers. So much directed for use with kids—even if it says it’s “art”—is about producing some thing. I became really passionate about talking up the need for open-ended art explorations for kids and their adults. I think most of us would benefit from opening up our creativity, and if an adult is going to set up something for a child to do, why not sit down next to them and play, too? I found myself slowly stepping into the mentoring role, and I love that. I love when someone emails me with a question and I can help. I love getting emails where someone says, “I tried this thanks to you,” or, “I don’t feel as scared of doing art with my kids now.”
So making art something my kids and I did together was really a stroke of genius luck.
7. What have you sacrificed in order to make art?
I don’t see it that way. We all make choices in how to spend our time.
|An embroidered zippered pouch with a design inspired by Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of radiolarians.|
8. What have you gained from creating art?
Oh, everything. Peace of mind, clarity, balance, contentment, satisfaction. A way to stretch my brain—I love the problem-solving aspect of the design process that comes into working out a sewing or embroidery idea or knitting from my own idea rather than a pattern.
9. Where do you want your art to go over the next few years? Goals?
I’d like to get comfortable submitting work to shows. There are many calls for artists here. I’d also like to try selling at art/craft shows. I want to get more comfortable saying, “I’m an artist.”
10. At this time, what could you sacrifice, change, or simplify to help reach your artistic goals?
Oh, I could probably hire some child care at this point, but it’s still not an expense I feel justified in. Sometimes I fantasize about a block of time every week to make art or to write without attending to anyone’s needs at the same time.
11. Do you homeschool? Do the kids go to school? How does this affect your creativity and art making?
Both! My 12yo is in school, and my 9yo and 5yo are at home. It means I have to take advantage of pockets of time as I find them.
12. What does a typical day/week look like? Are you a morning or night person? Do you stick to a schedule or create whenever you can?
I create whenever I can. I’m by nature a night person, but having a child in school means I’m up by 6:30 so I can usher him through his morning, and then my 5yo is usually up around 7 anyway. As soon as sunrise is early enough, I’ll get out for a run before starting my day. The problem is I tend to stay up way too late at night.
The days are filled with homeschooling and food prep and after-school activities and more food prep and bedtime routines. Usually by 7:30 I can do some of my own work. And I take advantage of time as I find it.
A Moleskine notebook with a print of a hand-carved stamp
(inspired by a scarf at the Gardner Museum in Boston) with added colored pencil.
13. Can you offer any advice or tips to other creative mothers on? Inspiration, wisdom?
Figure out what works for you and don’t compare yourself to anybody else. I can remember reading advice, when my youngest was still a nursing toddler, to get child care and protect your creative time, and it just wasn’t something I wanted to do to my needful, nursing child. I had to find a system that worked for me, and it worked better—making art alongside my kids on a regular basis did so much for us all. If I’m comparing at all, I’m comparing Present Me to Past Me. Am I improving, growing, continuing to stretch myself, accomplishing goals? If so, great. If not, what do I need to change?
14. Finally, name an artistic mother who inspires you. Why and how does she inspire you?
I’m inspired by people like me, who are pursuing goals alongside daily life and duties, who are not complaining about how they could do so much more if only this or that but are simply getting on with doing the work. I know so many women like that (mostly on Twitter) that I can’t see singling out just one.
Creative Mothers is a weekly blog series here at Days With The Grays that helps to share, connect, and inspire creative mothers from all over the world. All right here, in one place.
Are you a Creative Mother, or do you know one? Want to be interviewed? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the interview questions and info that I need.