Balancing a career as an artist, teacher and a mom is a constant challenge. When I was pregnant with my daughter almost 13 years ago, I embarked on 2 large-scale oil paintings, about 6’ x 9’. They were bigger than anything I’d ever done and involved an allegorical use of sharks and boats and nude women…anyway…they were big and bold and completely imagined. I vaguely remember a dream about sharks that might have been the starting point. Because I was pregnant, I put away my solvents and mediums and just painted with palette knives. I wore a respirator to filter the fumes which usually made me dizzy because I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. But I was hot on these paintings. So I persevered.
There were days in the studio when I would just sit back with my big pregnant belly and not know what to do next. Then I started to ask her. I knew it was a girl because I just had to know. I started to ask her what to do. It wasn’t anything verbal…I’d just silently pose the question to her…what now? I’d wait, as if I had some omniscient embryonic art guru inside me, for an answer. She was always right. She would say…”you need to balance that red with another swatch on the left side…or that shape is too static”…She helped me through these paintings, paintings that no one will probably ever see.
Some say that babies are all-knowing in the womb. That they have full knowledge of all that is, was and ever will be. I sort of believe this. The birthing process apparently erodes some of this but you can see it in babies. If you really look, you can witness their pure view of the world. It is magic. By the time they are speaking, much of this has fallen away. I wish I could remember being in the womb. Being a newborn. How far have I come from that pure view? As adults some of us spend the rest of our lives trying to return to that sort of clarity.
When my daughter was born, there were about 6 months when I didn’t set foot in the studio. I told my husband that I should just get rid of the studio. That it was just a waste of money. I felt I’d never be able to be an artist again now that I’m a mom. He insisted I keep it. I was so exhausted. Overwhelmed. How would I ever regain my momentum, my practice? My. My. My. Really? I so wanted to hang on to “me” but now we were “we”.
Enter Celeste. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Probably the only feasible collaboration my sculptor husband and I could ever do based on the style of our work. Wow. She just rocked my world in so many ways. Her early drawings had the universe inside them. Uninhibited and visceral, they taught me how far I had come from that pure creative impulse. Drop the intellect. Drop the training. Who am I in the face of this???
So in the midst of bringing up baby I finally got back to the studio…she would come with me sometimes but mostly I tried to carve out time for myself. My studio was my oasis and time was so precious. There was a sort of compartmentalization of “mom” and “artist”. I was scared that she would take me over and I wouldn’t be able to maintain the stamina I needed to be an artist. I would leave the house to spend a few hours in the studio with her crying at the door. By the time I got there I’d be so guilt-ridden that I often couldn’t connect with my practice. Was I functioning under the feminist banner that I could do it all…mom, teacher and artist? So it was. There were times when I just wished I could be a stay-at-home mom.
Celeste started to go the school and like many new moms I had bigger windows of time to spend with my career. Sure there were time constraints but the studio time was a little more predictable…but always precious. I always felt a little bit guilty for creating boundaries around my studio practice. Why couldn’t I just manage to paint while my toddler played at my feet? An idyllic potential…but I just couldn’t.
That is why today was so monumental. Celeste is now 12. We have been talking about going figure drawing together for a long time now. This morning, we packed up our drawings supplies and went to an old mill building in Pawtucket where a Saturday drawing morning group meets. The model, Jennifer, was someone even Michelangelo would swoon over. And we drew. Celeste drew from the nude model for the first time. She wanted to draw with the sort of sanguine pencil I drew with. I let her do her thing. And wow did she do her thing. Her drawings had more gesture, drama and accuracy than many of my college students.
When we were leaving the drawing session I told Celeste how fun it was to draw with her and how impressed I was with her drawings. She said, “I guess I have a bit of you in me.” Speechless. All of this is worth it.
Until next time…bring it on. Follow through on your promises and honor your children. CREATE.