Mother Load


    I've been an artist my whole life. Stamped in my single digit years with the 'artist' tag. But when I had kids I did consider setting my artist practices aside for a bit. I hear stories of many women who do, and I certainly can see why.

    I contemplated it - a lot. Sure would have made some parts of my life WAY easier!... and probably kept the house cleaner. But in the long run, that wasn't the decision for me. The bottom line?...I was afraid it could take me down the path to resentment. I wanted it ALL - art AND motherhood. So living life in 'high gear' was my choice. But that ride is not for the faint of heart!

    My children have seen and talked about more art than the vast majority of adults, let alone kids their age. They have learned to entertain themselves while Mom had to talk with clients or keep their voices down and not touch the art work in the museums, to respect what other people create. It has been fun to watch them go through their own 'stages of art', seeing what they like to draw and what subjects they are attracted to.

    Checking out the sculpture at the Plein Air Easton Show many years ago.

    When they were younger and more portable, I added strollers, sippy cups, coloring books, etc. to the list of things to pack for art shows. We were often 'the ones with the kids' at museums and exhibitions. Often getting our very own personal museum security guard escort. (They seemed to like to follow us when they saw 2 small kids in tow.)

    You may notice that you don't see many self-employed artist couples with kids... there may be a reason why. It was either going to make them great artists or wonderful art critics - but they certainly were getting their dose of creativity - like it or not!

    Now the kids are teenagers, and have figured out that not all families consider 'going of vacation' to mean 'visiting lots of art museums'. Some families go to the beach - imagine that!

    Looking back over the years I see how time has been completely discombobulated during my motherhood phase. The sacrifice for this life style has been my 'free time', sleep and TV watching. Luckily, my work is also my life, caffeine is legal and there when I need it and TV really holds no interest for me anyway.

    Yes, there are days that it feels insane to live at this pace. Scouring my calendar for any random moments to tie together into 'my time'. But I could make no other decision. I need both my kids AND my art - and this is how I fit it ALL in....

    My kids plein air painting along with me years ago.

    Flexibility is the key! While breast feeding gave me moments to read Art books and fine tune to-do lists, teenager's lessons now give me one hour to plein air paint. Although not a morning person in my 'past life' (pre-kids), I realized to maintain my art practices when they were young, I needed to paint while they were sleeping. The business side I could piece meal while they were awake. It would be great to get up at 4:00 AM in the summers to get outside and paint before they woke up. Fitting in my art with kids?... problem solved. Sleep is for sissies was my mantra!

    The bonus from my flexibility? Oh, how I grew to love mornings painting sunrise in Yellowstone! You have to drop the 'choosy' for flexible. I have unearthed some hidden gems in that flexibility that I never would have found on my own. Sunrise painting is a favorite of mine now. I have the kids to thank.

    Hope On The Horizon - plein air by Shirl Ireland

    Firehole Sunrise - plein air by Shirl Ireland

    Whisper - plein air by Shirl Ireland

    Daybreak on Lower Falls Lookout - plein air by Shirl Ireland

    Begin Again - plein air by Shirl Ireland

    Dawn's Early Light, study - plein air by Shirl Ireland

    My days can be a whirlwind with a multitude of tasks jumping back and forth from mother to business owner to artist and back again throughout the day. Organization and scheduling are my constant companions. I use them with 'efficiency tendencies' that would make many cry.

    To ride this wave, I scour my schedule for time wasting, clumping tasks and creating a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly calendar like I'm shooting for a time management PhD. Always trying to improve and adjust to find that coveted crack, so I can squeeze in just a little more. Any place I can slip a task in instead of "wasting time" is quickly shuffled into the calendar. Then, back noted so I remember to bring the supplies with me. That way, I can write out some bills during violin lessons or look at framing options during a martial arts lesson. Don't worry, I schedule in showers for self-care ;)

    Oh, how I love the surreal concept of not multi-tasking it - but that's just not an option in an artist/entrepreneur/teacher/manager/chauffeur/coach/janitor/work-at-home mother's world. Someday maybe, but not today. I've heard it said that over a life time you may be able to find balance, but not in daily living. I may agree. Talk to me in a couple decades, if I'm not sleeping.

    A recent painting during my daughters horse riding lesson.

    After I had kids is when I learned to paint FAST - motivated from this time-squeeze I now live in. It has helped me become a better plein air painter - more focused, efficient, more direct. Form follows function. And now, I can find a painting subject anywhere in moments! It's ALL great practice.

    While I paint whenever and wherever, I can see that I am passing a bit of Art education into the world. Setting up where people may not expect to see a painter in action... ranches, concerts, Yellowstone geysers, etc. Giving them a chance to see the process, ask questions, think about the scene more creatively... Also, not a bad thing.

    Painting during a kids outdoor music concert. (My daughter took the photo.)

    At the outdoor kids concert that I painted through, I got MANY positive comments from loads of teens, some even stopping to watch for a bit. I may have been a spectacle?... over 18 with an easel and ear plugs does stand out a bit at this venue. Of course, the music was so loud we couldn't hear each other for much of a conversation - a few choice words yelled out, lots of thumbs up's and smiles with a nod were exchanged :)

    Painting during my son's skate ski practice. (He took the photo.)

    No, I don't give up easily. That's not me. I made the decision to fit it all in, so I do. Some days aren't so pretty, but we're making it. I'm managing to still fit in my painting with teenagers now. They know that I value them so much that I am willing to make sacrifices on their behalf. As they get older, I'm seeing that become mutual - and that is heart warming. Sometimes it is 'their turn' and sometimes it is 'my turn' - still works.

    And not only am I spreading Art education to the world, but I hope I'm showing my kids the importance of grit, determination and perseverance. They get a living example that is scurrying through their house, making lists, scheduling out the day into 15 minute segments and packing my painting backpack while they eat their breakfast. All in the day of a working mother, right?

    Happy Mother's Day!!...

    to all you fellow travelers on this agonizing,

    joyful, sleep-deprived, rewarding wild ride!


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