Monday, March 5, 2018

Dirty Brushes & Dirty Diapers: Finding Balance in Painting & Parenting

As promised, I will continue answering some of the questions I received a few weeks ago when I posted about my upcoming demo at the Portrait Society of America. Since some of you will not be attending the conference, I thought I would address the questions here on my blog and social media. 

Today’s question is from @suzizef. She asked, “How do you juggle painting and motherhood?” 

I have written extensively about this, especially in 2014 and 2015 when I was a brand new mom. If you’d like you can search my blog archives for some of those posts. However, since my daughter is now almost four years old and we have another little one due in August, our family dynamic is changing and I can answer this question from a slightly different perspective than what I had four years ago. 


"Motherhood" - 30x20" - oil on linen (2016)

In short: both jobs are extremely important, difficult, and rewarding. When I first had my daughter, I was still taking on occasional commission work and creating new paintings for my local gallery. But I cut WAY back on all of my other outside commitments, so that the only things I had left to focus on were my family and my art. I realize when I look back that this was a wise decision, because it helped me zero in on what mattered, and to excel in these areas. The worst mistake you can make as a parent or an artist is to stretch yourself too thin. When this happens, you quickly become stressed and resentful, and the quality of your work suffers across the board. 

During the first couple of years as a new mom, I painted whatever I felt like, which usually meant painting my daughter. I’ve lost count of how many pieces I’ve done of her in her short life so far, and the truth is, I’ve only sold two or three of them. But I wasn’t painting them for money; I was using my art to help me process all of these new life experiences. It was a very healing time. Motherhood caused my art to become exponentially better. For example, when my daughter was a newborn, I painted her from life at least once a week. Sometimes I scraped the painting (children still move in their sleep!), other times I saved it, but what mattered was that I was using this time to practice working from life. I was home most of the time, and since I lived and worked around Cece’s sleep and feeding schedule, I couldn’t hire models or go to open studios. I learned to manage my time a whole lot better than I had before becoming a parent. When your painting time becomes a fraction of what it used to be, you don’t waste it scrolling through social media! And most importantly: I found my real voice as an artist. I was no longer painting to please a client or a gallery, but was simply painting for the love of it. My very best work is that which is deeply personal to me.


Above: one of the 3-hour life studies I did of Cece during her nap. She was three weeks old in this one (6x8 inches, 2014). 

As Cecelia got older, we put her in a Montessori preschool 2-3 days a week, which gave me much more freedom and time to paint. Gradually I was able to add some “extras” back into my life, such as volunteering at my church, visiting more often with friends, hosting parties and game nights, and working out at a gym. I had to be careful not to let these things take up too much of my painting time, but I managed to find a happy balance of “painting days” and “parenting days.” I felt like I could be a much better mom because I had been given the gift of time to myself. Admittedly, I am NOT one of those helicopter moms who have to spend every waking moment with their child. Cece is a GREAT kid, but I just can’t be around anyone that long, not even my husband or daughter. I need time and space alone to think, pray, and create.

Then… last summer, my husband and I realized it was probably time to think about having another kid, especially since Cece was starting to ask for a “baby brudder!” I used the summer to paint, hike, and explore as much as possible, because I knew getting pregnant and having another baby would “set me back” in the independence department and I’d be essentially starting over. Ok… maybe not starting over. Doing it again, but with more experience and wisdom under my belt this time around (hopefully)!


Cece is now a spunky almost-four-year-old who loves Minnie Mouse, butterflies, Trolls, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Frozen, coloring, putting stickers on everything and everyone, writing and spelling her name, the moon, macaroni and cheese, and cookie dough ice cream. And she melts my heart every time she says, "Mommy, I wuv you so much!"


I am now 16 weeks pregnant. I still have a very busy teaching and painting schedule leading up to my due date in mid-August. But I am taking good care of myself, continuing to be mommy to Cecelia, and learning that balance is about getting rid of the unnecessary and fiercely holding on to what’s important. Right now, for me those things are: family, faith, health, art, and art community. I have a very supportive art family here in Denver, and in a way, they are coming alongside me on this journey.

I have NOT figured all this out. There is something new to learn every day. But I can tell you a few things I have learned, or am continuing to learn, about finding balance in parenting and painting. 
  • Attend first to your soul. I’ve tried “toughing it out,” and believe me, this never bodes well. It usually ends in some kind of breakdown. Maintain your spiritual and mental health so that you can withstand the pressures of art and parenting.
  • Take care of your health. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve started doing Crossfit. I’m going to continue with it through this pregnancy, and hopefully I’ll be able to avoid the chronic postpartum back pain I suffered with Cece. Keeping in shape and eating clean will help me bounce back, and to spend less time at the chiropractor’s or struggling to get out of bed, and more time doing the things I love.
  • When you feel frustrated, change what you’re doing. In art, that could mean switching medium or subject matter, or putting down the brush and picking up an art book instead. During my first trimester, I had very little motivation or energy to paint, so I did a lot more writing instead. 
  • Be okay with accepting and asking for help. Seek out a therapist or counselor if necessary. During the past few years, in addition to receiving some excellent counsel about art and life from trusted friends, I have also listened to dozens of audiobooks. Half of them were art books (biographies, marketing advice, philosophy), and the other half were “self-help.” I wanted to keep thinking about art and growing as a painter, but I also wanted to rid my soul of the personal chaos I was always experiencing. Many of books I read changed my life, and included the “Boundaries” series by Cloud and Townsend, books about the Enneagram and personality typing, and “big picture” works by Timothy Keller about the purpose of God, marriage, and work (I highly recommend “Every Good Endeavor”).
  • Show yourself grace. As artists, we are constantly bombarded with the message that if we’re not productive at all times, or doing something to promote our business (e.g. sending out email campaigns, posting on social media, teaching or volunteering, entering shows, etc.) , then we are not going to be successful artists. You know what? Success is relative. And if you have somehow managed to check everything off your list, but are burnt out and miserable, then I wouldn’t consider that success. Give yourself a break once in a while, and you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll become!
  • At the end of the day, remember that these little children whose lives we are shaping, are what matter more than anything else. This will often mean putting down the brush when tiny hands are shoving a book into your lap. Yes, read that book. She's little today, grown up tomorrow.


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