Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Balance a Full-Time Job, Kids and Your Own Artwork?

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“I work full-time as a designer and part-time on my own artistic endeavors. My husband and I are both passionate about art. We want to have kids, but I am afraid that doing so will take away time from my own artistic endeavors. How do you balance a full-time job, kids and your own art?”

Since I’ve had children, I see my life as divided up into two periods: “before kids,” and, “after kids.”

“Before kids,” I was in my early 20s and struggling with the transition from school into the “real world.” I had trouble motivating myself. Finding time for art on top of a full-time job felt nearly impossible. I never seemed to have what I needed: I didn’t have a studio space, art supplies were costly, etc. Coming right out of college, I was initially shocked at how difficult it was to sustain an independent studio practice on top of a full-time job.

Then, after I finally attained some level of balance and resolve to all those issues, I became pregnant. The transition began even before my first child arrived. Concerned over the potential hazard of chemicals and fumes, I was forced to drop oil painting and printmaking altogether.

For the first six months after my baby was born, I was such an emotional and physical disaster that I literally couldn’t do anything but eat, sleep, watch television and take care of my baby. I didn’t make any art for almost an entire year. I could barely think straight. At the time, I was terrified that I would never make art again.

Eventually, I did get myself back on track in very slow, incremental steps. Two years passed before I was able to assume my “normal” rate of productivity.

Successfully balancing a full-time job, kids and your art is all about various forms of sacrifice. This balance is a work in progress that I still constantly troubleshoot and experiment with. I allocate my time and concentration so that each pursuit essentially takes turns being compromised. There are the practical challenges, and then there are the mental challenges. Each are tough to deal with for different reasons.

Logistically speaking, time management is the most difficult practical issue. I spend my days hunting for small pockets of free time to work on my art. To make time and mental space for my artistic pursuits, I do things that I would have previously considered unthinkable. It means waking up at 4 a.m. to squeeze in two hours of work before the rest of my family wakes up, or dragging myself to the studio at night after a long day at work. It means writing those artist grant applications at home during the day, while my kids laugh hysterically over the balloons they’re playing with.

Time alone to work has become the most precious thing in the entire world to me. When the babysitter arrives, I have only a two-hour window, so I tell myself, “You have absolutely no choice but to make things happen with your work.” Now, each time I’m in the studio, it feels like an emergency situation where every minute matters. I used to start each studio session by sitting at my computer, checking email, doing some research for my work and eventually I would let myself wander over to working on the actual artwork itself. My current routine? Dump my bag on my desk, grab my box of tools and immediately dig right in, no matter how uninspired I’m feeling. On those early mornings, I splash cold water on my face, I suck it up and get to work. I do whatever it takes.

The mental juggling is the other half of the battle, and in many ways the most difficult of all. I have to be able to mentally switch gears at a moment’s notice, changing my role from mother, to teacher, to artist multiple times as I go through my day. I find that my mind is always in more than one place, making it hard to stay in the present when I need to. I can never quite get it right either. If I’m with my kids, I’m thinking about my artwork and vice versa. It’s a constant state of distraction that I’ve had to learn to live with.

Everything changes when you have kids, sometimes in the most unexpected, wonderful ways. I especially see changes in my creative process. After leaving oil painting and printmaking behind, I discovered a new passion for drawing and have never looked back. I’ve become noticeably more efficient and direct as a result in both my thinking and the physical making of art. I don’t fuss or meander the way I used to. I’ve disciplined myself to distill my artistic intentions, addressing only what’s most critical. I get right to the point — anything else is a waste of my time.

Another surprise is my new role as a writer since I’ve had kids. Initially, I was looking for something that was intellectually stimulating and related to my art, which I could work on at home while watching the kids. I never thought about myself as a writer until I started blogging and eventually wrote a book. What started as a way to simply fend off boredom while I was at home has turned into a thrilling, new profession for me.

Being a parent is the world’s most intense roller coaster ride, hurtling you into the great unknown every minute. Combine that with the trials of being an artist, and you feel like the most dramatic forces in the universe are slamming you all at once.

I do believe that you can have it all: family, friends, job, art, etc. You just can’t have it all at once. Figure out what is most important at the moment and keep the rest on the back burner. Expect your priorities to be continually shifting all the time.

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4 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Balance a Full-Time Job, Kids and Your Own Artwork?

  1. This is very true. Finding and carving out those blocks of time for art — and then being very disciplined about using that time for nothing but art — makes a difference.

  2. well said! I have also found that having children has opened up deep parts of my heart that I never knew existed before. As I access these other places of being, they feed my creative process and expression.

  3. Finding time can be tough with a kid(s). BUT the average adult in the US tends to waste a lot of time anyway. For example, I’ve read that most adults spend 4 hours watching TV daily. Obviously that is not quality time with your kid(s)… it also prevents work from being done. I’ve also read that people waste up to an hour with trivial texts each day. Those hours add up! I think it is important to really look at how you use time. Should you watch sitcoms ‘religiously’ when there is studio work to be done? No. Should you spend hours playing video games each Saturday when there is studio work to be done? No. Create. Live. We only have so much time. 🙂

    I know it can be rough. I have a young daughter. I survived a custody ‘battle’ and other life challenges… all while sticking to my guns. I continued to write. BUT I had an Ace up my sleeve… I stopped watching TV regularly at the age of 18. I wait for a show to come out on dvd IF I feel I must watch it. That way I can watch it as time permits.

    I can’t speak for the stress experienced by mothers during the early months. BUT I know men experience stress as well during that frame of time. I did. I just had to learn how to handle the experience — and yes, that meant sacrificing a few things here and there.

    Note: When I say ‘you’ I’m not referring to anyone specific… I just mean in general. 🙂

  4. Well said Clara (and Brian too),

    After my then wife committed suicide, I became a sole parent of a toddler, a full time art professor/dept. chair, and an artist. It was the hardest possible time to make good life choices. Making art was on the radar but seemed more of a distant hope than a likely possibility.

    Before I was married, I had usually used early mornings and/or evenings for studio time. After we married, and I had begun teaching, we experimented with various time arrangements … and summers provided a resource for time “lost” during the year.

    With the role as sole parent my highest priority, I had to rearrange my living and working worlds … physically and psychologically to get back in the studio. Emotionally, there was some refuge in the simple things my daughter needed from me, but that was an un-ending need. I knew that my interior life, my well being would require me to be back in the studio.

    Mornings were no longer an option. Most days were full the joys and stresses of the students, classroom, meetings, and the varied flotsam and jetsam of work. Evenings were full of making dinner, talk and play, the adventures of errand running with a little one, reading, bath time and getting my daughter off to bed. After that, I couldn’t leave the house at night while she slept.

    So I converted the second largest room in our home, the dining room, into my studio and professional office. It was off of the kitchen and I walked through it on my way to the bedroom and the living room. I looked at my on-going art everyday.

    That helped draw me back to the drawing.


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