Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Artist PlayDate: Meet an Incredible Artist, Writer and Mom Who is Finding Balance, Fighting the Real Artist Obstacle and Making Her Dreams Come True

Rowena, an incredibly talented artist, writer and Mom, has been a tremendous source of inspiration to me. She is an artist who creates stunning, moving, inspiring paintings often featuring a character she has named, "Flying Girl" and a writer who writes thought-provoking pieces that always alter my perspective in a positive way while inviting me to grow as a creator and human being. On top of it all, Rowena is also an amazing Mom to two, beautiful children whose lives she fills with the same magic that she uses to create her works of art.

I recently had an opportunity to ask Rowena about what it is like to be a Mom/artist raising two kids while pursuing her artistic dreams. I wanted to understand the obstacles she faces, personally and professionally, and how she overcomes them. What I learned was that while it's hard, it's very possible to find balance. You just have to make room for art in your life and understand that the biggest obstacle you face has nothing to do with being a parent.

It is my great pleasure to introduce, Rowena. Please enjoy this piece AND make sure you spend some time looking at the gorgeous paintings throughout because you could be the lucky winner of a phenomenal print when you enter Rowena's Giveaway. Enjoy!

I have always had the dream of being a working artist/writer and mom. I imagined painting and writing in a light and color filled studio in a cozy home, while my children played peacefully around my ankles.


The reality of being a mom, of being a creator and a mom, is not nearly as ideal as that dream. But then, neither is it as impossible as my father-- a filmmaker, photographer and artist-- told me it would be. When I was pregnant, I remember him telling me that he didn’t see how mothers could be artists. That motherhood was too demanding.

“No!” I denied. “It isn’t true,” as I fought back the panic inside of me, fought to hold onto that idyllic fantasy in my head.

In life, for me, being a mother and an artist ended up being somewhere between the two poles.

March 2nd (the day I am writing this) marks the second anniversary of my last child’s birth. It also marks about one year since Post Partum Depression released it’s hold on me. In those three years of pregnancy and nursing my two children, my father’s prediction was the one a lot closer to my life, but this last year has been one of recovering my creative spirit.

Perhaps, because I suffered through PPD and my creative dry spell, and I had to work so hard and consciously on getting it back, I can see all that it took for me to be an artist and a mom.

First of all, those fantasies and expectations had to fall by the wayside. I’m not just talking about the dream studio and pretty music playing, I’m also talking about the fantasies of being the perfect homemaker. I am not Martha Stewart. I am not Supermom. My kids watch a whole lotta cartoons and eat a whole lotta chicken nuggets. And that fantasy studio? It’s a corner desk in the playroom that I jealously guard from sticky peanut butter fingers while Dora the Explorer plays in the background and preschoolers attack me with imaginary laser pistols. But I’m still working, maybe not as quickly as I hoped for, but I’m working. And I’m still there for my kids, even though I don't do organized play as much as my master's in education would have me do in my dreams of being the perfect educator.

I pick and choose what I can do while the kids are around and what I have to save for nap time. I treasure my nap times. Even if the kids aren’t precisely sleeping, but playing with toys in their room, door closed. I encourage independent play. I sometimes need a beer before bedtime to calm me down about all I have to do and don’t seem to be able to get done at once. I plan projects according to my energy-- painting to relax at night after the kids go down, and writing during the day when I have more brain power. I am flexible with my set up, so I can bring it with me and work where ever I am, whenever I have the chance.

If I had my druthers, I’d be able to have more babysitting, and more time where I am not responsible for them, but free to get to my work. I have hopes that a new situation is about to open up to allow me more time to work-- but that’s one of the things about being a mom and artist. You can’t wait for the perfect situation, or for something to finally clear up and allow you time to work. You just have to do the work. At the kitchen table while dinner is cooking or while Dora’s on or after the kids finally fall asleep. Whenever and wherever. You just have to do the work.

Here’s the secret about being a mom and artist... it’s not really about being a mom. Oh, sure you have a specific set of issues you have to deal with what with childcare and PPD and whatever, but it doesn’t matter. If you didn’t have the mom issues to deal with, you would have some other issues-- paying the rent, family obligations, fear, perfectionism or a thousand more things. Because the real obstacle to being an artist is never the externals, it’s the self.

No matter your life situation, you have to work out where Art fits. You have to decide what size your art will be. You have to figure out what you will let go in order to be an artist, what you will put off to get that painting done or that essay written or that practice in. You have to juggle and sacrifice. Anything that you commit to needs this. But even more, when you are an artist, you will always have to struggle with your own psyche, your demons and inscecurities, long held ideas of self worth and insidious self doubt. This is what it means to work deep. This is what it means to be an artist.

In the past 20 or so years that I have been fighting the good fight, these are a few of the things I have learned.

* Get a routine going-- take your desires, inspiration, mood and well-being out of the picture. Don’t create when you feel like. Create when it’s time to work. Create every day at a certain time so that it becomes like a muscle memory and you can’t sit down without needing that act of creation to make you feel complete.

*Get into the conversation. Read other writers. Listen to other musicians. Look at other artist’s work. Join a group-- a class or a workshop or a blog challenge or a website where there are other people also in the conversation. Go on artist dates. Find another person working on their creativity. Set up external deadlines for your productivity and be accountable to someone else for that work. Find other people to support your creating, whether in real life or virtual.

* Forget perfect. Perfect situations, perfect timing. Forget later when you can get to it. Do it now. Don’t wait for it, but don’t let it go when it shows up, because it won’t stick around. Keep a notebook handy where you can write or sketch ideas. Use a taperecorder... do people use those anymore? what else? a blackberry? It doesn’t matter if you’re using a stick in dirt... get those ideas down. When you sit down to work later, you can pull up the notes and get back to that inspiration.

*Expand your idea of creativity. Try switching gears by painting when you are a writer. Or writing when you are a dancer. Listen to music during your creative time, or let a movie inspire your next dinner party. Use different parts of your brain. Explore different art forms, bring what you learn back to your work. And when you are working in your chosen medium, think up new solutions to your problems. Try a new paint technique or experiment with point of view. When something turns out rotten, go with it, instead of scrapping it, and find the beauty within the mistakes. Creativity isn’t the act of making a piece of art, it’s a way of thinking.... and it’s about the adventure, not about always getting something beautiful and perfect.

* Commit! Say yes to your art. Do it. Follow through. Develop it. Practice it. Finish it. Give your ideas a chance to grow. Try working on the same idea for a week or a month or a year. Have patience with your process, value it. Anyone can paint or write or dance. What makes you an artist is committing to the work and giving your time, thought, heart, soul and energy to the work. That’s what I’ve come to believe is the difference between a dabbler and a real artist-- not talent, not education, not getting paid-- commitment to the work and its development.

* Learn to say “no.” This is the other side of that “yes” from before. In order to say yes to what you really want, you have to say no to the things that would clutter up the field. There are so many wonderful ideas and opportunities, so many other things that you could do with your time and energy. But it’s a choice. If you really want to be an artist, then CHOOSE it, but you have to choose it over other lovely choices sometimes.

And the other thing I learned... don’t think being an artist, or being a mom or being a human being is whatever someone else says it is, even me. Some of this might help you. Go with it. Some might not make sense to your way of creating and living. Ignore that. You have to find your own path and figure it out on your own. Strangely, sometimes that might mean following someone else’s path for a while. Or not doing anything at all for a while. Or doing everything all at once.

There are no rules. There’s only what is and what you are doing.

Rowena's Giveaway!!

Rowena has generously offered to giveaway any one of the Flying Girl prints that you see here. If you win, you get to pick your favorite one! I know...how can one choose, right? They are all magnificent!

To enter, please leave 1 creative tip along with your comment in the comments section of this post. Rowena would love to know one thing that you do to help keep the creative fires burning.

The giveaway begins today, March 3rd and ends at midnight on Sunday, March 8th. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on March 9th.

Thank you, Rowena, for sharing this amazing piece, all the tips and this fabulous giveaway. You are a phenomenal artist/writer and Mom. Thank you for being an endless inspiration and I can't wait till you open your own shop!

If you would like a little more Rowena in your world, please visit her at http://warriorgirl.blogspot.com/


Lori Storrs said...

what a wonderful interview! full of incredible advice as well as that sense of humor that's quite necessary when trying to balance the drive of an artist with the demands of motherhood. thanks so much for sharing!

jodi said...

a beautifully written blog post today. rowena - thank you for sharing. it is nice to hear that other artist/moms stuggle with the same issues that i do. this was a perfect follow up to yesterday's perfection blog.

i'm not sure this is a tip, but if i don't have the time to sit and work i keep a journal with drawings and ideas i have for new jewelry pieces. if i'm looking through a magazine and see something that starts my creative juices i add that to my journal. it usually only take a minute to write or draw something and it makes me still feel like i moving forward.

Tangerine Dreams said...

What a lovely story! To nurture my creativity I use my nursing time when I'm getting my three month old off to sleep as a meditation time. A time to quiet my mind and allow the flakes of creativity to fall in between the gaps of noise. THat's when I get all my new ideas and resurgence of energy!

Robynsart said...

My tip would be to keep a small journal in your purse or on your bedside table. Keep it with you at all times and jot down ideas to refer to when you actually have the time to put your ideas into action.

Jen Lee said...

Rowena is so, so wise. This is a great piece. My tip is to create something for someone else when you're feeling stuck. Some of my best work is pieces I've written for specific people in my life.

Amanda Fall - Sprout editor said...

Thank you, Rowena, for your brave and honest sharing. Sometimes I feel so guilty for having "issues" with my creative life, since I don't yet have the responsibility of children... but it's exactly as you said--the issue is not with our individual circumstances or challenges... it's dealing with that inner critic. We have to choose the reality we want--that won't just magically happen.

So much to think about here. I'm definitely going to print this out and tack it on the bulletin board in my workspace.

Creative tip... hmmm.. this might sound silly, but it's been vital for me. As writers, dreamers, artists, I think it's crucial to spend some time doing---NOTHING. I know, I know, when is there time for that? But even just a moment... I just closed my eyes here and listened, letting all the fears and madcap thoughts drift away. I heard woodpeckers outside my window. I heard wind in the trees. I heard my own heartbeat. That's restorative, especially in such a noisy world.

Phoenyx Ravenswing said...


Another awesome, amazing, astoundingly insightful & inspirational piece! :-) Thank you so much for taking the time to talk and to post! :-)

Hmmm... tippage. More esoteric, but also extremely important is trust, belief, and faith. Trust in yourself and in your artistic sense. Belief that you can do it, that you can accomplish your Dreams and your Art. Faith that as you commit to your Art, your Art will commit to you. :-)

Bright Blessings!
Good Fortune!

PS - Am def. seconding that store anticipation! :-) Pls let us know when that happens - your work is both loverly & inspirational, and there are pieces already crying out to be in my life. :-) -B

Unknown said...

Juggling motherhood and any "job" does take some creative work!

Creative tip: Take the kids outside, and really let them explore, follow them around for a while and really focus and listen to what they are focusing on. Let them lead you for a while, instead of you leading them. It always amazes me what kids find.
Probably not what all you moms wanted to hear!

Barbara J Carter said...

My tip for creativity is to leave your work out. You need a dedicated space, even if it's just a corner, where you can leave your unfinished art lying out. Ideally it's a whole room, but whatever you can carve out is good. When you have that dedicated space where you can leave out your stuff, there's less of an obstacle or "threshold" keeping you from your creative work. You can just dive right in any time.

ina said...

thank you for this.

i know my tip is cheating, but it's true: when i need a spark of inspiration, i drop by rowena's blog (and also m.heart's secret notebooks blog)! seeing each new flying girl and reading how rowena has been confronting challenges, encourages me to spread my wings, too.


tekeal said...

well, i must say that finding your blog and being inspired by your real-person-struggles AND the magic of Flying Girl which keeps flowing out of you- IS my tip. staying connected to others on a similar path... knowing i'm not alone.putting one foot in front of the other. thanks again.


Dear Natasha,
Since being diagnosed with Endometriosis, I have become more focused on my creativity. My creativity tip is working with Themes: just as Rowena has her flying girls, I choose to compose about my Maternal Lineage. My pre-writing includes outlines full of themes pertaining to the women in my family and these themes in turn translate into the creation of poetry, art journaling pages, blog subjects and children's literature. I also keep a notebook studio on hand at all times to write down any new ideas and themes which spring from the women's lives all around me. Thank you for asking and I hope my tips help other creative women to seek out their own unique themes!

Sara Moriarty said...

What a wonderful piece Rowena. So many suggestions that I can apply in my life.

My tip to fan the creative fire... give yourself permission to make "bad art." Don't worry so much about the final result, instead focus on how good you feel when you are creating. My motto is: permission granted.

Happy creating to all!


Lorrie Veasey said...

Loved this post by Rowena and if I am not lucky enough to win (PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME) I hope there will be other opportunities to buy flying girls.

My tip for creativity is a good bottle of Chardonnay. Or a little Pinot Grigio to lubricate the old brain cogs. Even Hemingway benefited from a little "liquid inspiration. "

Sometimes I don't even remember making the things that I make. Of course, those are the times when I wake up with a tube of cadmium yellow stuck in my hair...but that's another tip for another day.

Rowena said...

Wow. These are all such great tips and treats. I tried to leave a comment earlier, but blogger ate it. Now I can just sit back and take it all in.

I'm so glad you all could get something out of my interview and my Flying Girls. :)

Oh, and I'm looking to be open by Monday. Yipes. If I write it, it has to be real.

Mitzi said...

Dear Rowena,
Your article was amazing and your artwork inspiring. I struggle with writing and after reading your article I feel like I could write for the next 24 hours straight. You are right it really is about choosing.

My tip: When writing do not have an end in mind. Let the characters take you for a ride. You can always go back and rewrite or change it, but sometimes your characters speak to you and in those times you must listen.

Anonymous said...

The best thing I've done for my creativity is find a writing/art partner. Through NaNo I met this great woman who is also a writer and an artist. We meet almost every week to talk about life and or creative efforts. She asks me what I'm doing and how the work is going. She is supportive and honest.

When I'm feeling like I can't have this creative life, I let her know and she reminds me of what I want and what I'm trying to do. You need someone who will pick you up and listen to your fears and hopes.

I love Flying Girl. That's another tip. Look at work that inspires you. Surround yourself with it.

Michelle (mkc photography) said...

Rowena, I felt like I was reading pieces of my own journal - I too have small children and find myself struggling to find the balance (and trying to maintain my creativity whilst getting shot at with imaginary ray guns). My one tip, other than the wonderful ones you have offered, is to take a weekend and escape :-) Every six months I leave my boys in the capable hands of my husband or mother and I retreat for two days with my camera and my laptop (for writing) - it takes a long time to unwind from "mommy mode," but the benefits of the creative time alone are amazing!
Your work is beautiful - I'm excited to have been introduced to it :-)

Patty Kennelly said...

Rowena, thank you, as always, for your inspiration and love.

My tip would be to not be afraid to ask for help. Whether that be in the form of time or just a gentle reminder that I am a creative being desperate to express herself! The more you keep to yourself, the more you perpetuate that isolation that keeps us in our shell and not accountable for how great we are!

Thanks for the inspiration. Onward the Journey...

ceejay said...

Rowena - you touched me when you visited my blog the very first time I participated in Thursday Sweet Treat, and you've done it again. I too am an artist dealing with my own demons, and finally winning.

A creativity tip: hmmm....

1. Stressful relationships drain your creative energy. Respect yourself and the gift you've been given by knowing when to walk away. You are an artist, and no one can take that away.

2. Play, every day.

I love Flying Girl, in all her glory.


Brandon (Bee) Davis said...

Hi Rowena,
Wonderful to read your words and see your visions over the distance and years (the last time I saw you was??).

Congratulations on all the amazing positives in your life and stay strong thru the challenges.

My creative tip is to talk back to the negative voice inside. Catch those "I'll never", "Why bother", "This sucks" and lead them to a better place. "How can I say I'll never start/finish this. I don't know what tomorrow brings. Let me just go into this moment". "This doesn't suck--it's just emerging differently that I thought--let me see where this goes." It may feel a bit crazy sometimes, but I really think it leads to the next creative step.

Love, Brandon Davis

susanne said...

Dear Rowena
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.
I go outside to get new ideas and be inspired.
Look at people , buildings and nature. A tree has so many different details if you take the time to really look.Which we sometimes forget to do.

All the best flying Mama