Recently I found myself home with responsibilities taken care of and some free time, and I was momentarily at a loss for what to do. I decided to have a glass of wine while I wound some bobbins, the latter a "housekeeping" chore that was relaxing and satisfying. Taking a few minutes to wind those bobbins means I'll be ready to dive right in and stitch when the opportunity arises.
Being prepared and seizing opportunities are two essential ingredients for juggling art endeavors with a busy life, according to Shona Cole, artist, mom of five, and author of the new book The Artistic Mother: A Practical Guide for Fitting Creativity Into Your Busy Life. In her book Shona, whose studio is featured in the Spring 2010 issue of Studios, offers advice that can be useful to any artist who has a super-busy life (that would be all of us!), regardless of whether or not they have young children in their lives.
Shona kindly shared some of her wisdom and tips in this recent Q&A session:
Q. What came first for you, being an artist or a mom?
A. Before kids, as I pursued a college degree and a career in the social services, art was on the fringes of my life. While I dabbled in many different art forms- dance, drama, painting, poetry, and so on, I never really found my voice, my passion, or my perspective. It was when I was about to give birth the first time and I was decorating my son's nursery that I began to find my feet in the world of crafts and rubber-stamping. From there my desire to create slowly blossomed over the years until I found art forms that resonated with me: mixed media, digital photography, and poetry.
Q. Were you able to juggle art and parenting from the get-go, or did it take a while to balance the two?
A. I did not really try to juggle art and parenting in the beginning. I was so focused on learning how to be a good momma that I didn't really have (or need!) much time for art. I did read lots of art magazines and 'how to' books and attended some stamping classes. Slowly but surely I started to try out the techniques in the books.
As my appetite for doing art grew, so did the need to fit it all in. About five years ago I started to notice that taking the time to do art was actually good for my mothering. I found that I was a much happier, balanced momma when I was in the middle of a project. I saw how I needed to do some art every day. So I started to think actively about how to juggle the two. My husband and I home school our children, and my time-management methods have allowed me the time to create art I enjoy and to write a book on top of my mother/teacher duties.
Q. What's the most difficult part about being an artist-mom?
A. That I have no time for much else! Being a mom and an artist takes up the bulk of my time. I don't watch much TV; I don't really go shopping for enjoyment; I don't go to lunch with girlfriends; I am not running a business or actively engaged in any organizations (outside our church). My focus is fairly narrow. This may be "difficult," but in reality, being a mom and an artist are my favorite things to do/be, so I don't mind the sacrifice at all. Being focused has been a good thing for me.
Q. What is the biggest stumbling block for artists who have small children and want to continue their art? What's your best piece of advice to them?
A. I think the biggest stumbling blocks are lack of focus and tiredness. Young children can be very consuming and at the end of the day you feel spent. Understandably, you may want to flop in front of the TV rather than do something creative. Without a clear idea of what you are going to create, you can end up being idle or filling your time with other activities. But if you make an art plan and stick to it over time you will create something of which you can be proud.
Your plan does not need to be grand right now; it needs to be realistic. Once the list is in place you just need to approach it with patience and perseverance! A little bit of art each day will add up over the years.
Q. What similarities do you find between being a parent and an artist?
A. As an artist you have to, at times, think outside the box. To see some new way of doing something, to see a new color combination for a collage or come up with new ways of using things from the recycling bin-all of this takes a kind of looseness of thought and vision. Similarly, as parents we are faced with challenges of time, personality, and behaviors. We have to come up with new solutions, throw out old patterns to make it work in our homes and for the individual kids we are raising. We have to adapt and think creatively.
Q. What are your best tips for finding time for art when you think you don't have any?
A. I think it is important to review your use of time and cut out non-essential activities. It is amazing when you really reflect on what you do all day how much time is wasted. That time can be re-claimed and given to your art.
You can use what I call "in-between times" to get some art done-while at the doctor's office, waiting for the kids to get out of school, waiting for the pot to boil. During these times, you can be scribbling notes or doodles or jotting down project ideas. That way, when you do find 30 minutes to do some art, your plans and ideas are ready for you to jump right in.
In my book I lay out some ideas for creating an Art Vision Statement and for setting your personal short and long term goals. These are all designed to keep you on track and finding the time to create.
Q. Tell us about the "12-week art course" in your book.
A. This course is designed to guide a beginner in making some simple family-focused mixed-media projects. They are broken down into manageable segments that can be inserted into your real-life schedule.
This workshop can be done over 12 weeks, but there is no reason why it could not be spread over 24 weeks or even 12 months! The projects use a limited number of simple mixed media supplies that can be readily found in craft stores.
Q. Besides your book, what is the best gift an artist-mom can receive for Mother's Day?
A. Kisses and homemade cards.
Yes! Even if you're grown up, a handmade card with felting, stitching, or a mixed-media treatment would surely bring a smile to your favorite mom. And if she's juggling art and a busy life, be sure to check out The Artistic Mother and other great gift books in the Interweave Store.