structuring the art practice around kids

Having children has opened my world in many beautiful ways. They teach me to notice. They stretch my heart into greater compassion, they inspire me to work hard, to be more truthful and honest with myself. Watching them play and live their lives, they teach me to ask questions about everything, to experiment and to feel things deeply, to care. It is an endeavor of endurance, depth, and beauty. children painting freely // (c) jocelynmathewes.com

And they are a responsibility; they demand things of me. They constrain my world because they need me to function. They create a level of uncertainty in my daily life that requires flexibility, attention, patience, and presence. They require me on all levels. And all these things are beautiful, well, and good for them (and a growing and changing creative challenge for me). This is the self-sacrificial life of parenting.

And so, I've always been interested in the little minor logistics of  how artists who are parents structure their daily lives in order to practice their work. I thought I'd share a small window into mine. My kids are allowed in my workspace and I encourage them in their own art practice. When I can, I do try to include them in the parts of my process that are at their level of ability, such as rinsing prints (see below).

child helping rinse cyanotype prints / (c) jocelynmathewes.com

But they're not always able to help, and so I do have to carve out time alone to work. My work schedule is honestly quite variable; there is no average day. This is both frustrating and engaging. When no two days are the same, it means there's variety, but it can be difficult to find a rhythm. Depending on the work that needs doing (a busy season of weddings, or writing, or portraits, or prepping for an art show) and the ever-shifting schedule (evening networking event, afternoon teaching), it might be days (or even, to my horror, weeks) before I really sit down and do the actual making part of my work.

I've been lucky to have been freelancing for almost 9 years, and thus have experimented with many different configurations of work. I know my habits and tendencies pretty well, at this point. So here are my two guiding principles: always get as much done as I can before mid-day hits, and do the creative making work first, before anything else.

You see, I am and always have been a true morning person, with my best creative energy spent in the quiet hours before everyone wakes, and before my energy level drops in the afternoon. I know that if I wait to work until later, and especially if I push the creative work til later, that it simply will not happen.

the studio space // (c) jocelynmathewes.com

I can do fits and snatches of watercolor, rearrange prints on my thinking wall, and make progress in the afternoon for sure, but if I want to feel whole and inspired, I need to make sure the actual creative work comes first (barring any major deadlines).

The general schedule below happens most every weekday, but primarily Tuesday through Friday, when I have childcare for 3 or 4 hours of the day.

6:00 (ish) - wake, practice my daily habits, and/or run and exercise for a short while 7:00 - 8:00 the breakfast & going-to-school tornado 8:00 - 9:30 household work, family CFO, errands 9:30 - 12:30 art/business focus 12:30 - 1:30 break for lunch 1:30 - 2:30 naptime (for me AND my toddler) 2:30 - 3:30 picking up kids at school

After the kids come home from school, really, I don't try to accomplish anything too serious (at least, I really shouldn't, because it's really better to focus on being fully present with my children). My reservoir of energy must be channeled into preparing for the next day's work. I've found that it matters less the number of hours of childcare I have or how long the kids are in school, and more the amount of time I prepare and plan for the day's or week's work ahead of me.

toddler in the studio // (c) jocelynmathewes.com

In the grand scheme of things, I don't work (in the traditional sense) very many hours. But in the context of my life as primary caregiver and domestic engineer, the rhythm is what works for me and my priorities. As our family life continues to change and my ideas about where my business is supposed to move evolve, I'm sure my own rhythms will have to adapt and grow alongside our corporate ones.

Edited to add: Right after I scheduled this post to come out later in the month, a beautiful editorial about motherhood and the artist's life and career appeared on Artsy.net and articulated so many of the complex things that come from womanhood and the art practice. Going down the rabbit hole of links revealed some other lovely resources, like the Artist Residency in Motherhood, the Artist Parent Index, and Cultural ReProducers. All of them are worth some exploring.