Being an artist or parent is not mutually exclusive okay?
Although I most definitely won’t be trying to convince anyone to have children if they don’t want them (Honey, you are more then a reproductive organs) I DO feel the need to defend some incorrect assertions over my life status as Mother.
Yes. I have children.
But I can still make art and I still have a valid creative contribution to make to this world.
If you’re a parent wondering if you could return to a creative career after children, or you’re dealing with inner conflict over whether to choose having children or making art, here are some of my observations of life being an artist who’s used her womb a couple of times...
Progress is slower
I’ll jump straight in with the tough truth. Looking after small people, doing the school run, being taxi at weekends and the million other jobs we have to do eats into your time like you wouldn’t believe, meaning you may have less time to dedicate to your craft and therefore you may experience slower progress professionally compared to non-parents. But this is true for ANY career or profession. Yes. You still progress (and I believe make better use of my time then I did before I had children meaning I probably progress faster now!!) but you will probably get frustrated if you compare yourself to others who only have themselves to look out for. It can be really hard sometimes. When you’re up at 6am changing nappies and they’re up at 6am already working in their sketchbook it can suck. When they’ve been up all night finishing a commission I will have been up all night (like last night) looking after a poorly baby. But I have kids who say stuff like ‘mummy, you’ve coloured your artwork in so neatly today, I’m very proud of you’ and that is 100% worth it. Their childhood is TEMPORARY. I will get my life back in a few years.
But for now I just have to accept others will succeed earlier then me.
To help me through I pick and choose my other commitments to maximise the amount of art time I get without hindering my families quality of life. I rarely watch TV. I don’t have many hobbies or clubs. I squeeze my routine to make sure I’m getting the most out of my time whether that’s by minimising my housework commitments or figuring out short cuts, multi tasking or delegating. I value every single second, a skill I didn’t have pre-children. And no, despite what I overheard in the playground, I don't get up at 4am every day.
Top tip: Get organised and look out for 5 min pockets of time where you can squeeze in extra time for your art.
Damaging labels and stereotyping
As a parent, and especially a mother, it’s easy to succumb to labels and stereotypes that seem to come with the role. 'Dowdy', 'thrown their lives away', 'boring', are just some of the cruel words used to describe mother that I’ve heard expressed over the past few weeks. Not to mention the young lady on Twitter who believed our vaginas had all died and gone to heaven (um... no... it doesn't work like that sweetie) You also get a lot of people who assume that now you're a parent you must do toddler crafts or gentle, twee illustrations for children’s books so can be a little surprised when you don’t. Or swear. Or have sex. Or leave the house. So to state the obvious: just because I’ve had children doesn’t mean I’ve regressed to a child again myself... but sure, I’ve felt that strong need to censor myself and take on a maternal role so nobody questioned my ability to be a good parent. ‘I can’t. I’m a mother now’ echos solemnly in my ears as I put away my high heels and Garbage albums. Not that it ever achieved anything in my favour. So forget fitting in to any stereotype and just do you.
You’ll meet ignorant individuals who aren’t mature enough to see beyond your role as a parent and that’s a good sign you should avoid them. You’ll also meet others who’ll think that you’ll need to be living a tragic, self-destructive bohemian lifestyle to truly be taking seriously as an Artist which will negatively impact your role as a parent in massive way. They too can get in the bin.
Top tip: You can keep your personal life private and not tell anyone you’ve got kids but what kind of life is that? They’re not something you’re supposed to be ashamed of. Don’t censor or change yourself for anyone. It WILL backfire.
Danger in the studio
A practical point I’ve had to take into consideration since being a parent is the fact that children and art materials don’t generally mix very well and some products can be outright lethal. Oil paints, mediums, cleaning products, blades, heavy easels are all hazards for innocent sprogs, or at best, an expensive waste that stains your floor.
I’ve lost a small fortune in ink, acrylic paint, glitter and canvasses due to little hands raiding my cupboards behind my back (they’ve even broken through safety locks) to access Mummy’s special things. Then there was the time they poured glue all over the dining room table. Poured glitter all over the carpet. Drew all over my commission. Twice. And hacked their hair off when I was on the phone. I suppose it’s similar to having a small but articulate puppy, with thumbs. But worse. No word of a lie I caught my daughters sneaking scissors and paint into their bedrooms in the early hours of the morning whilst everyone was still asleep and they were clever enough for one of them to KEEP GUARD and raise the alarm when they heard me coming. They were 4 & 5! So try your best to keep things locked away safely but better yet replace any toxic/dangerous items with safer alternatives for the time being so if they’re cunning like my children you can at least protect them from themselves if they do happen to raid you. I wasn’t safe even when I had an outdoor studio either. They have their ways. You’ve been warned.
Top tip: Children aren’t stupid and know your pens/paints/paper are better then their kiddy versions so after I’d removed the particularly dangerous stuff I agreed with my children that they could use my things, but ONLY with my supervision. I then knew at least they’d know how to use them properly/safely and hopefully wait for me to assist them. So far so good. When they got older I started to buy them their own quality art materials so they didn’t feel tempted to sneak off with mine. It’s helped set boundaries, show my belief in their abilities as artists themselves (why shouldn’t children have good art materials- their creativity is just as valid as mine?) but they do still leave the lid off the glue stick and my eldest now has a very expensive taste in stationery. It’s a sacrifice I’ve had to make.
This could just be me but I’ve found most opportunities to network as an artist are completely antisocial to my life as a parent.
No. I do not want to come out at 8pm to meet you. I’ve just put my children to bed and frankly I want a bubble bath to wash baby puke out of my hair and to read a book.
No. I can’t pop up to London for lunch, as much as I’d love to, because I need to stand in a freezing playground and collect my children from school.
No I can’t sign up for that evening class or art retreat because I have children who will need to come with me and they’re really really really distracting and might escape if I’m tempted to hold a conversation or look away.
Make these events child friendly and then maybe we can talk. Babysitter??? I’d love to, but that’s not cheap. £50 a go, at least!! So if it’s one thing I’d change as an artist, is how accessible artist networking events are. The internet has been a life saver in that respect and although I can’t be as sociable as some people it’s only a matter of time before I can get back out there.
Top tip: Look out for other creative parents and network with them. They get it.
Your children can influence your work
This should be an obvious one but the process of growing and raising a child has a profound impact on who you are and what you think whether you like it or not. All of a sudden you become responsible for the survival and happiness of another human being and it changes you and it can change the art you make.
There is wisdom to be found in becoming a parent.
Not superiority, or a life purpose... Just wisdom. An adventure. A perspective. And those stories, lessons and feelings DO creep into your work. For instance, I found my portraits became a lot more self referential after I had children as I tried to figure out who I was after this momentous change in my life. I’ve seen other artists suddenly explore feminism or their religion or politics. I’ve seen others quit art entirely to focus on the challenge of being a mother and others who’ve done the opposite and take their art business seriously for the first time in their life now they’ve got children to provide for. Others use their artwork to process their experiences of becoming a parent- grief, joy, humour as a form of therapy. Some people carry on exactly as before but they may collaborate with brands that create children’s products or support working parents. Some might just draw or paint their children and find a new style. Or like me your art starts to reflect on what’s happening to your own understanding of life. Your world expands.
Top tip: Go with the flow. Artists are constantly evolving- why shouldn’t our work change when we experience parenthood?
I’m 8 years into motherhood and feel that I’m a better person for it, and hopefully, as a result, a better artist.
I don’t really think of what ‘could have been’ for me if I didn’t have my children.
You make your life what it is in the moment and I rarely dwell on alternative realities. Sure I considered pushing my career more, investing in childcare, sleeping less... I could have built my career first and waited to have children later in life. But I didn’t and I still sold art and I still make art that I’m proud of.
If anything I’ve made my best work as a mother, maybe because of growing up or simply valuing my creative time more... maybe it’s completely unrelated. I don’t know. But that’s the interesting thing- it happened regardless of what I’d expected or planned because I’d put my mind to it regardless of my situation. It was never a case of having to choose between one path or another. I was always going to do both.
My challenge was to forge my own path, and that was scary.
If this is you right now rest assured there are so many paths. So many options. Whatever you’re dreaming of COULD work for you. Have kids. Don't have kids. It's a life either way.
[Feel free to ask me absolutely anything about being a mama who makes and I'll answer in the comments below- I’m happy to discuss everything and anything from labour to organisation tips. There's no such thing as TMI in my world so just go for it. I've given birth. Nothing shocks me anymore :D ]