Art or Motherhood? Motherhood and Art


Remember Venn diagrams? Those interlinked circles you used to have to draw in maths lessons at school? I can’t say I have ever consciously used one of those to illustrate anything since I put my O-Level days behind me, but I couldn’t help being reminded of them today, as I reflected on the relationships between what I now see as the two great interlinked circles of my life: Art and Motherhood. What is the overlap between these circles, these activities, these two essential parts of me? How much of one of them must inextricably be part of the other?

Knitting a tension square which becomes a hat when a small voice asks, “Is that for me, Mummy?” Is that about art (or is it “only” craft? … another discussion entirely, and not one that concerns me too much here) or is it more about being a mother to M? Or is it both in equal measure?

Cutting, tearing, gluing, sticking, drawing … My daughter and I, collaborating on an art project (or more usually, a vague serving suggestion of mine which she’ll end up completely overturning), bossing one another around until a picture happens, occasionally something joyous but more often a bit of a mess. Is that always, mostly or a little bit “art”? It isn’t the art that goes into my sketchbook or gets commissioned, but it is art, nonetheless. How much of that art is about me just trying to be me rather than me trying to be a mother? And does it even matter, if we’ve both had fun? (The white scribble is, she tells me, “a big planet”.)
M blowing streams of bubbles that pop and splat all around us as I rapidly take photos, almost 50 of them, which I then sift through once she’s in bed, keeping only the handful that please me, and using them to create a Flickr mosaic. That’s an artistic endeavour, right? Only she’s the one who inspired it: the one who started the game, made the bubbles, insisted I watch her and went about being as photogenic as a person can be.

The overlap, the intersection, the shared space between Art and Motherhood: it’s a hard thing to calculate, and can often seem frustratingly non-existent. Once you start to notice and celebrate this kind of symbiotic creativity, though, it becomes a joy of huge proportions.

Now she is three


Life has been too busy for artmaking this past week or so. It’s not that I couldn’t have made the time for an evening painting session, or opened my sketchbook one lunchtime: simply that my little girl turned 3, and we threw a birthday party for her, and this somehow ended up consuming every bit of my physical, mental and emotional energy.

There was facepainting at the party, though. After sitting patiently for the duration of my flower-painting, suddenly she grabbed the paintbrush and daubed her other cheek, first with tentative streaks of red, orange and yellow, then more heavily with her favourite colour: black … It’s only just glimpseable here, but in its full glory, that big black smudge gave her the appearance of a chimney sweep. We all laughed (we couldn’t not), but M was extremely pleased with her handiwork.

I’m never overly fussy about mess, particularly when there’s painting involved, and yet it was hard for me to relinquish that brush and allow her to make the marks, however messy, that she wanted to make: to allow her to smear up the paint pans, to “do it wrong” – but so rewarding to see that impish smile as she admired the results of her creativity. It feels as though, in a very real way, my daughter is a Big Girl now (though her own feelings about the business of suddenly aging by one whole number have veered wildly from total, stubborn denial to huge enthusiasm and back again) and it’s a bumpy ride as we negotiate a path towards the ever-greater independence that life will ask of her. Whatever the challenges, she’s such a spirited, vibrant and funny little girl. I think we’re going to be doing some pretty cool artmaking together … and I know which of us will be calling the creative shots.

Happy birthday, sweet girl.

Thursdays: The Return


It is said that 19th-century artist William Morris, frustrated that a painting of his wife was not progressing well, grabbed his paintbrush and scrawled across the canvas: “I can’t paint you, but I love you.” Today, faced with the seeming impossibility of translating the subtle colour and value changes of a certain little face into the medium of gouache, I felt his pain.

Gouache & pen in Canson watercolour book
I share it here despite my dissatisfaction because it is, after all, not the end of the world – merely a page in a sketchbook. And a Thursday afternoon free to spend dabbling with eight shiny new tubes of Schmincke Horadam is a joyous luxury, which nothing that silly could spoil.

(And having cropped the image properly since I first posted, it turns out I’m fonder of this one than I thought!)

A handmade’s tale


Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule’s delightful book The Creative Family, I decided it was time to put my vintage sewing machine to use. My aunt, who sewed so lovingly for forty years on this machine, died last month – just six weeks after I’d become its proud new owner. This has spurred me on to try and surmount my technical ineptitude, and get to grips with this formidable beast.

The first project in SouleMama’s book is a pencil wrap made of felt; perfect for a beginner, since there are no hems required. My version is smaller – a wrap for crayons, for the son of a close friend of mine. Happily I am confident that both she and her little boy will see past the imperfections of my first sewing project and enjoy the bright colours, and the fact that it’s a handmade gift.

The wrap ties shut so that it’s easily transportable …

… and there’s a flap to help keep the crayons in place …

… with the crayons themselves tucked into six little pockets.

I plan to make one of these for my little girl, who is already aware of the importance of having her art materials always to hand!

As for SouleMama, her blog is full of beautiful photography, a visual hymn to the comforts and creativity of a rich family life. Congratulations, Amanda, on the gorgeous new addition to your family.

26 Oct 2008


When a friend gave me a photograph of my daughter that she took back in August, I just had to try a drawing from it.

Alone downstairs this evening (with Melody tucked up to sleep, and her daddy away on business on the other side of the world), I spread my art things across the living-room floor, and got so absorbed in creating this spread that I spent a couple of hours longer on it than I would usually think of putting into a sketchbook page.

Sepia pen, gouache & gold leaf across 2 pages of Canson watercolour journal 

I may have made Miss M a little older than her two years, but that’s precisely what struck me about the original photo: how very grown up she looked, with her hair pulled back off her face with clips, and that studious expression on her little face.

My recent work on Artist Trading Cards for the CMP exchange is leading me to experiment more with mixed media; something that’s intensified since I spent time with Anita Davies this weekend, and saw how much use she has made of gouache in her Venezia sketchbook – and how fearlessly she approaches her pages, clearly valuing structure and composition but ultimately allowing the work to take her where it will. I also no longer have a misplaced purist reaction to the idea of combining in one sketchbook (or on a single page) work done from life with drawings inspired by photos and stuff sketched from my imagination or doodled in meditative moments. I wouldn’t have done this in the days before my beloved Canson watercolour journal, just 4 1/2 months ago. It’s exciting and pretty freeing.

By the time I finished this piece, I’d reflected so much on how much I love my little girl that I was strongly tempted to creep upstairs to gaze at her sleeping face. By contrast, this morning, when that same toddler decided that flicking water off a paintbrush across the kitchen table onto my open sketchbook was an enjoyable form of creative self-expression, I was strongly tempted to scream. Serves me right for attempting to use my Canson in such circumstances. I was forced to give bits of my painting an emergency rework, but have kept a few of the splots she contributed.

Autumn song


How strange, two weeks ago, to find ourselves transported from Greek summer to English autumn in the space of a few hours. Strange, but magical: the England we returned to was the one I love, one of yellow, russet and crimson, of crisp blue morning skies and the smoky damp of dark, chilly evenings. The colours of the season have found their way into everything I’ve put to paper since then.

Melody on one of our many leaf-collecting expeditions …

… one of which inspired an entry in my sketch journal …

… another, a gloriously messy – but at least somewhat structured – two-hour painting session with Miss M herself …

… yet another, a playdate with materials, textures and compositions for this month’s CMP trading-card exchange on the theme of “A Song”. I’ve had great fun experimenting with combinations of gouache, acrylic, poster paints, gold leaf, pen, collage and spray varnish – all in the pocket-size ATC format.

The finished card:

ATC Original (2.5″ x 3.5″) “Chanson d’automne”
Mixed media on cardstock

Even this sketchbook doodle ended up sporting shades of sepia, burnt sienna and blue …

Breakfast with … me!


Miranda from the blog community Creative Construction: Life & Art was kind enough to approach me for an interview about juggling creativity with motherhood.
The article, Breakfast with Emma-Jane, is up today!



Just when I thought those little hands (not to mention the chair, my trousers and the kitchen table) couldn’t possibly get any messier, M developed her own vigorous approach to colour mixing …

The cleanup time was considerable, but worth it for that full hour when she was happily involved in making handprints (my own role, as artist’s assistant, being to replenish the yoghurt pots with new colours and shove fresh paper under her hands at the command of “More!”) and I was able, at the same time, to make a satisfying mess of my own. Using my watercolours and M’s poster paints, I made some little prints using plasticine, rubber stamps, and string glued to card.

They don’t look like much at this stage, but they are destined to become ATCs. My first ATCs.

In and out of progress

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My daughter’s hands: a sketch in very slow progress. Oil pastel on Daler Murano paper.

Since reaching the ripe old age of 2, little M has decided that afternoon naps are for wimps, and that what she really wants to be doing during that time is running, shouting, climbing, opening and closing cupboards, dancing and singing to The Jungle Book – or a crazy multitasking feat involving all of the above, plus snacks. As I mourn that lost hour of 2-3pm, I’m wondering how I will adapt to life without it, especially now that work is beginning to spill over into my evening time. But hey. I’ll figure it out.

Yesterday I was in London for the second annual “I Knit Day”, the highlight of which was a talk by the fabulous Yarn Harlot. I owe the day a blog entry, but it will have to wait a while.

Been amazing the people next door …


How can shoes this small come with such a big price tag?

I’ve no idea why octopuses feature twice in this post. I’m just grateful we humans aren’t eight-footed. I’d have to pay out for four pairs of shoes every time my offspring grew out of hers.

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