Breakfast with Emma-Jane
CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
E-JR: I’m 38 and live in East Anglia, UK, with my husband and our daughter, who’s just turned 2. I work from home as a freelance editor two days a week.
CC: What prompted you to start blogging? What keeps you going?
E-JR: I started my blog when my little girl was 5 months old, and I was keen to get back into the habit of sketching and painting. I joined the Everyday Matters group, and since many other members there kept art blogs, this seemed the obvious way to record and share my own progress. Apart from the interaction that my blog has afforded me with other artists and crafters, what appeals to me about it is that, like sketchbook journaling, it’s an ongoing record of my life that’s mostly pictorial, and with only as much of a written element as I feel comfortable including. I have always enjoyed the idea of keeping a diary, if not the act itself: not one word remains of the many thousands I’ve scribbled in paper diaries since my early teens. Although I very much enjoy words (my background is in languages), I’m far less self-conscious when it comes to making images.
The communal show-and-tell aspect of blogging is also a great spur to keep creating. I find a certain amount of guilt creeps in if I’m away from the blog for very long! Recently I merged my art blog with the erratic knitting/crochet blog I’d been keeping in tandem, and though this means that “Omphaloskepsis” is now going through something of an identity crisis, it at least reflects the fragmented nature of my creativity these days.
CC: Tell us about your art and any other creative pursuits. What does “creativity” mean to you?
E-JR: For me, it can mean knitting and crochet one week, then a couple of weeks of sketchbook stuff, then an urge to dig out my oil pastels the week after that. I recently realised that I don’t need to compartmentalize these aspects of my creative life anymore: it’s all good. I can do something creative—enjoy colour and texture and the excitement of making something—every day, whether it’s painting a still life, knitting a sock, making thumbprint butterflies or plasticine animals, or even drawing all the items on the shopping list so that my daughter can help me find what we need at the supermarket. Much of what fills my day isn’t high art, but it’s definitely creativity, and though that might sound obvious, I’m amazed how long it has taken me to get to grips with this truth and to stop expecting that I should be doing things a certain way, achieving certain things, making x amount of “worthwhile art” while M is only little.
CC: You’re prolific. How do you make time for your art; managing creativity and motherhood?
E-JR: Even before I had my daughter, as soon as the decision had been made to have a family, I could feel my relationship to my art changing. When I was expecting her, after turning in a couple of soft pastel commissions I then did very little sketching or painting for a year. Learning to knit and crochet became my substitute creative outlet, since they allowed me to indulge my love of colour and learn new skills from the comfort of my sofa, with minimal mess and with the exciting prospect of being able to make things for the baby. When I became a mum, it wasn’t practical to be working with pastels anyway because of the dust, and I no longer had a dedicated art space in which to leave still life setups or art materials lying around, but in the early weeks and months I barely had the time or energy to open my pastel box anyway! I’m certain I will pick up my soft pastels again someday, but for now I’m exploring other media. It takes me longer to build up an image with oil pastels than it used to with my softies, for example, but they are cleaner and easier to stash away between sessions. If I have an extended period of free time for art, say a few hours, I’ll work on an oil pastel painting. An hour or so, while my daughter is napping? The oil pastels again, but just a sketch. If I have less than an hour, maybe a sketchbook page, or part of one, in pen and watercolour. And if there are only minutes to spare (such as when my husband is putting little one to bed), it’ll be a line drawing only.
I’ve definitely felt these past few weeks that I’m losing the struggle for creative time, yet when I recently spent a couple of evenings uploading all my stuff to Flickr, organizing my sketches, paintings and photos of my knit and crochet projects, the sight of all those little thumbnail images packed together, representing everything I’d created at times when I thought I was failing to make art, I was astounded.
CC: Where do you do your creative work and blogging?
E-JR: My art space is a large desk in the bedroom that stores all my materials, sketches, and books I’m feeling inspired by—as well as a newly-acquired vintage Singer sewing machine. Because the desk tends to be covered in my clutter, I rarely use the space for actually making art. It’s easier for me to work on the living room floor or on the bed—or out and about with my sketchbook. In the evening, when the light’s poor and I’m weary or have been working, I knit or crochet on the sofa and catch up with blogs and podcasts. I mostly do my blogging from the sofa too. The sofa’s a great friend!
CC: What do you struggle with most?
E-JR: The piecemeal nature of free time as a parent. I would love the luxury of being able to develop ideas more fully over time, to play around with different approaches and techniques and do loads of preparatory sketches for a piece, then spend as many long sessions at the easel as I needed to make the imagined painting a reality. But as the parent of a small child, snatches of time are often all you have. You can build up a project slowly, but it’s that much harder when you’re sleep deprived or your thoughts are constantly being interrupted, and using your limited time to play around with different media can be more rewarding. I do find I need to jot down anything and everything that inspires me, any ideas I have for future subjects, or they’re soon lost in the brain fog.
CC: Where do you find inspiration?
E-JR: Colour, colour, colour. More often than not, the prompt to create will be an impression left on me by a particularly colourful painting, by flowers I’ve seen on my daily walks with M, or from art and craft magazines. Lately I’ve been dipping into magazines and books about crafts I don’t even practise—yet!—because I find that ideas, techniques, and images start to feed off one another when you‘re not focusing on just one medium. I’m also taking a vast number of photos of M every day, because she is so photogenic. I love capturing her. I have painted her in oil pastel and sketched her while she was sleeping, and there’s a sketch I made of two of her favourite cuddly toys that I’m planning to frame for her bedroom. We’re surrounded by toys here, so it’s not surprising they get in on the art too!
CC: You participate in the EDM Challenge—is that something you do regularly?
E-JR: I discovered the Everyday Matters group on Yahoo early last year. It is a very active group, in which members share sketches and paintings and visual journals and art supply recommendations, as well as approaches to drawing and painting. The challenges offer no-pressure encouragement to get drawing: a weekly suggestion is posted to the group which is then added to the ever-growing list of subjects to sketch, and members tackle it as and when and if they please, then share with the group. My approach to the challenges is a haphazard one, mostly because my mind tends to go off in too many directions at once for any kind of prompt to stay lodged there for long, but I enjoy doing and posting them, and seeing what other artists have come up with in response to the same prompt.
CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs—the ones you check every day?
E-JR: It’s so difficult to narrow it down to five, especially with Yahoo groups, Flickr, Ravelry and podcasts also competing for my time now. I check the EDM Superblog daily, as it’s a good way of accessing the latest blog posts of a large number of the group’s members in one place. I’m also an avid listener of the Creative Mom Podcast and Cast On. The Artful Parent blog is a recent discovery that’s very inspiring too [check out Breakfast with Jean]. The stuff I read regularly is listed on my own blog.
CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
E-JR: Art and craft magazines! The Pastel Journal, Interweave Crochet, International Artist, Knitscene—and whatever magazines in French I can lay my hands on. If there’s a glass of wine handy with which to wash down all this information, that’s always a welcome indulgence too.
CC: What are you reading right now?
E-JR: The Quincunx by Charles Palliser—a novel I’d been daring myself to read about 15 years, and which, now that I have less free time than ever, I’ve somehow decided I should get stuck into. I think it may be precisely because I’m resigned to the fact that I can no longer devour books as greedily as I used to, besides which I’m usually dipping into several non-fiction books at the same time. At the moment, these include Feutres: regarder le ciel et créer, Françoise Tellier-Loumagne‘s book about felting, and Ruth Issett’s Glorious Papers.
CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative and find time for their art?
E-JR: For me, the way forward is to embrace those periods of, say, 10 minutes to crochet a few rows of my scarf, knit a row of my shrug, draw the outline of a simple still life to be painted at a later date, or scribble ideas in a notebook. Time that only presents itself to you in small amounts becomes all the more precious, I think, and you learn how to be more productive in a short space of time, picking up whatever tool is to hand instead of faffing around looking for a particular pencil. When I go anywhere, my bag is always over-optimistically crammed full of stuff—sketchbook, pen, watercolour bijou box, and waterbrush, a small crochet project, my digital camera, a knitting magazine—in case I get 5 minutes. And since I work from home, there’s nobody to tell me on my work days that I can’t use my lunch hour to sketch what I’m about to eat, or listen to a knitting podcast as I clean the kitchen.
In order to use the time more productively, though, I do think you need to have some idea of what it is you’re trying to produce, even if it never materializes in the form you envisage. Setting monthly goals can be helpful. I hope September will see me becoming more familiar with my sewing machine, managing a couple of oil pastels, coming up with my first ATC [artist trading card] for an exchange, filling a few sketchbook pages while I’m on holiday later in the month, and keeping up with Project 365 (to take a photo every day for a year). If I achieve all of these things, I’ll be surprised. But I’ll be even more surprised if I don’t manage a few of them, now that I’ve fixed them in my mind. In between all of that and work, I expect to spend a lot of time at the kitchen table with my daughter, finding new ways to make a mess and have fun. I love buying new art materials for her as much as I love acquiring them for myself. The other morning our explorations with paint lasted a wonderful 90 minutes. At 2 years old, she now exclaims “Yeah! Painting!” and rushes to the table whenever I suggest an art session. I’m not sure which of us is more excited. And that’s a joy.
CC: Thank you for the wisdom and inspiration, Emma-Jane!