Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Getting Back on Track

Any artist who is also a parent of young children will tell you it is tough to find a work/home life balance. Artists need lengths of time to be seemingly idle, but the time is really for reflection and the seeking out and absorption of new sources of inspiration. Parenting young kids means much more time and mental energy spend on scheduling and maintaining consistent daily routines where we are focusing on their thoughts, feelings, and needs. Our lives end up regimented, and our free time scarce and chopped up into small segments. It can be a rich and inspirational experience, but it can also be stressful, tedious, and draining. It is tempting to collapse every night into shallow television, web surfing, social media, or other means of escape. Maintaining a highly productive artistic practice while parenting seems to require a hefty amount of discipline. But, then, truly any productive artistic practice, even though we love what we do, requires discipline. Parenting really only intensifies this necessity.

When I had my first child, I immediately felt my studio discipline begin to slip away. Like many new mothers, I felt portions of my identity begin to fade. More than anything else, I was now mom. While I felt great when I was with my baby, around other adults, I often felt insecure, especially if they asked about my work. I soon realized that I needed to take action to reverse this trend, and was thrilled when I discovered Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way, which is really a self help instruction guide for artists to find a way to again tap into our creative flow and start to create again. I followed the program, and it resulted in me starting this blog and eventually working up to an average of 15-20 hours a week of consistent studio practice. The blog has been hugely successful, now averaging 12 posts and over 3,000 unique viewer hits per month. It has helped put me in touch with other printmakers, which lead to me joining the Baren Forum and beginning to participate in regular print exchanges with colleagues around the globe. My practice lead me to do my 30 prints in 30 days, and I'm still selling and expanding on work I created that month. It lead to me creating the art for Cats A-Z and Owl and Cat In Love, and then launch my independent press with two successful Indiegogo crowd-funding campaigns to fund the publication of both of those books last year. I made enough work that my hands began to suffer, so this year I purchased a medium sized press to ease the labor.

Well, it's happened again - I entered another slump. I had a particularly difficult year (for reasons that had nothing to do with my studio practice) and at the end of it all I almost stopped completely making work. One month passed, then another, then another, until over half a year passed by without me working on any of the big projects I had started or beginning anything else particularly ambitious. Every time I think of something to do, I almost immediately then think "What's the point?" or "I just don't care enough to do that right now." The longer it has gone on, the worse I feel, which makes it that much more difficult to overcome. I have finally gotten to the point where I realize I need another jump start. I considered doing Cameron's guide again, but that feels like going backward. I need something new.

Which brings me to Lenka Clayton's Arist in Residency in Motherhood (AIRM.) Clayton is an artist who attended several artist residencies in her career before having children, but after becoming a parent she discovered that she had a difficult time figuring out how to work in her new environment. She felt, as many artist-parents do, that her role as parent was at odds with her role as artist. Her solution was to change her mindset by re-framing her experience as a working artist mom as its own unique kind of residency and to integrate her parenting experience into her artistic practice. She did this using a number of tools including designating a specific timeframe for her AIRM, writing a manifesto, made a list of her residency's necessary components, applied for (and received) a grant to help fund her experience, created physical reminders and documentation, and appointed mentors.

Lenka has since decided to share and spread her AIRM concept to other parent artists. Interested artists can sign up, use the tools she created, request a mentor, join a facebook group for community and support, and be placed on the world map of participants. There is also the possibility of receiving a $999 grant called the "Red Thread", although this is really more of an interest-free, flexible loan because recipients are expected to pay it forward to another recipient in the future. All and all it looks like a rather neat concept and one that I think will genuinely help me reconnect with my muse and re-ignite my consistent studio practice.

I've signed up to complete my own AIRM starting today and lasting  through September 15, 2017 (exactly one year.) I have filled out the questions in the planning tool in order to determine what it is that I need and the resources I already have and that can help get me to where I want to be. I have written a manifesto and have a number of tasks and goals. I joined the Facebook group and have started reading the posts of other artists in order to gain encouragement and a sense of connection to others successfully dealing with the same challenges. Hopefully the coming year will result in the creation of work that enriches my and my audience's experience of life, strengthens my relationships with my family, other artists, and my audience, and compels me to develop the sort of mindset and habits that will continue for years beyond the date of completion. I am eager to start the journey.

1 comment:

  1. I have been following your posts for a few years now and your consistency (as well as talent and insight) are heartening. I appreciate you sharing the struggle, and as a print maker, writer, and mother to an 18 m.o. it really resonates. I have not yet found the right mix to write regularly, though my printmaking has bloomed over the past couple years. Fight the good fight...or something like that~~