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Posts tagged ‘motherhood’

How She Does It: Ifrah Shahid Khurram

IMG-20181026-WA0009Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Pakistani mother artist and amazing jewelry designer Ifrah Shahid Khurram, currently residing in Canada. Ifrah has been featured in She Canada as a she-preneur of the month. Lets have a chat with the designer and explore the ebb and flow of her success story!

Hi Ifrah! Please tell us about yourself, your work, and your family.
Hello dear moms! I’m a busy mom of two beautiful girls, ages 9 and 5. I’m a home economics graduate and run the jewelry design business American Diamonds in Ontario, Canada. I love to play with colors and shapes to create and customize pieces. Today we are one of the best jewelry brands serving the Pakistani and Indian communities in Canada, featuring formal and bespoke bridal jewelry.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I belong to a typical Pakistani family, where dad wants you to be a doctor and mom wants you to learn cooking. So naturally I imagined myself as a doctor. But in my spare time I would find myself painting or hunched over some craft project I had either picked up from kids time on TV or created on my own. I even used to split my earrings into pieces to create more originative ornaments.

diamondsWhen did you explore yourself as an artist?
While I was super crafty throughout my childhood, I viewed at my creativity as a hobby and never thought of it as a career. Just after I moved to Canada, three years into my marriage and after my first child was born, I went into a career in the retail sector. To be honest I enjoyed in retail. I excelled and was content.

But life took a small turn after we had our second daughter. Initially, I took maternity leave, thinking I’d go back to work after things settled down. But with each passing day, my confusion about whether to leave my kids behind for work on days when my husband was home or drop them at day care when we were both at work — or quitting work and staying at home — multiplied. Eventually, I chose to stay at home and give my daughters the best early years.

Honestly, it wasn’t easy. I had been quite ambitious and focused throughout my career. While living far from my family of origin and not having any sort of domestic help, raising kids and fulfilling household responsibilities was a tough row to hoe.

IMG-20181026-WA0000-COLLAGEI found some time to myself when our older daughter started school. During those hours I explored various ways to stay busy other than housework. I was in search of a career that would allow me to look after my kids at the same time. My love for creativity and crafting jewelry returned when I helped a friend market her jewelry. It was challenging. With Almighty Allah’s help and my husband’s constant support and encouragement, we faced deadlocks and losses but persevered.

How has being a mom affected you as an artist?
I often found myself at sixes and sevens when I had both kids and work to take care of. Time and again I felt guilt-ridden and frustrated by work pressure and household responsibilities. I thought of quitting multiple times. During the transition my husband supported me to the fullest, showing me the brighter side of every negative thought that popped into my head. Gradually, the kids and I settled into a routine. I dedicated my unclaimed hours to work, which were mostly after putting kids to bed. I learned to manage time, home, and kids together.

My little one has seen me working since the day she started recognizing me as her mom, so she’s pretty comfortable with my work schedule, and I’m happy with it. With the grace of Almighty Allah, our perseverance has helped achieve some of our goals, but there is still a long way to go, InshaAllah!

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What keeps you inspired to create every day?
Being a designer, I’m inspired about the stuff around me. The weather, a flower, a piece of cloth, an animal, or even food can click an idea. I’m also in love with Pakistani fashion and look for inspiration in the latest trends and designs.

aa05dbbf2391a5d5bb5344f91cfd6be3d2f0af8f_111Which part of the day makes you feel most energetic and creatively driven?
I love it when I see a customer proudly wearing a piece of our jewelry with a smile on her face. The unique sense of achievement and satisfaction that comes with being an entrepreneur greatly surpasses all the challenges that come with it.

How do you think your struggle and success as a mom would influence your kids?
I haven’t gone to a single exhibition without taking my kids along. I believe parents’ hardships and success make an everlasting impression on kids. Watching their parents struggle and ultimately succeed help them follow their own dreams. They learn to cope with disappointments and hardships. At present, my daughters want to be jewelry designers like their mom, and the feeling is absolutely out-of-this-world.

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What is one strength that helped you make your mark?
One strength I always count on is my ability to get along well with others. My easy-going temperament and service orientation have helped me succeed.

What is your key to staying positive in challenging situations?
Challenges are inevitable. We have to face them no matter which field we work in. I’ve learned that while facing a challenge, remember to take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, dream big, believe in yourself, and put forth your best efforts into achieving your desired goals.

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Tell us about your latest project.
Currently I am working on our SS19 bridal collection. My inspiration behind it is a “perfect bride.” To me, the perfect bride is someone who carries herself with a positive self-image. I want to design sparkling jewels that celebrate not only the big day, but the bride herself.

Who are your favorite artists/designers?
Some of the designers I’m highly inspired by are Art by Misbah, Shafaq Habib, and Deeya.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I envision having a storefront in Canada and expanding our delivery services worldwide, as currently we cater only to clients in Canada and the US.

Any advice for aspiring mom artists who might be on the verge of giving up?
The key to being who you want to be is consistency. While you’re busy working on your dream, stumbling blocks may delay what you’ve given your blood, sweat, and tears to. This phenomenon is natural. Be determined. Consistency will turn the tide in your favor.

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How She Does It: Liz Pike

Liz Pike lives in Shropshire with her husband and three young children. She writes short stories, fiction, and poetry. Her work has been published in the Guardian, Third Way, and Fractured West, among others. She creates hand-lettered poems and commissioned work. Liz also teaches creative writing to children. She previously worked as a bookseller and librarian and earned a master’s in creative writing from Goldsmiths University, London. She likes long train journeys, old photographs, and earl grey tea. You’re going to enjoy your trip to Shropshire!



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SM: Please introduce yourself and your family. Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
LP: Hi, I’m Liz Pike. I live in Shropshire, UK, with my husband Joel and our three children, ages 8, 6, and 4. I am a writer and hand-letterer. I recently completed a novel, which I’m currently submitting to agents. I also just finished hand-lettering a collection of 34 of my poems about motherhood called There You Are. I sell that at my Etsy shop, along with prints of my poems and take commissions for custom hand-lettered prints. I teach creative writing to 7- to 11-year-olds at afterschool and Saturday clubs. This year I have plans to write another novel, hand-letter some other poems, build the hand-lettering business, and write a graphic novel about the experience of living with Type 1 diabetes (my daughter was diagnosed when she was 2). I’ll probably get about a quarter of that done, but you never know!

SM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
LP: Ooh, that’s a good question. Ultimately, I would love to have my novel published. I also would love to make a living from my work (as opposed to a side living, which is what I’m making now!). I love The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and was thinking the other day about my “true north.” I think a lot of it has to do with my writing being out there and for it to resonate with people. That’s why I write; to connect with people.

SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
LP: Oh, so much! At first, I thought it robbed me of time and energy, but it has made me love more deeply and care more deeply. I think motherhood has helped me to grow into a real human being. I was so self-centered before. The first few years of motherhood were so overwhelming but now there are days when I have the house to myself and I can claw back a little time to make sense of the whirlwind. Motherhood has also given me a good chance to step out of work for a few years and to carve out a creative niche for myself.

SM: Where do you do your creative work?
LP: In my bedroom, I have a corner that is taken up by two cupboards full of writing resources (storytelling dice, ink stamps, typewriters, first lines from novels, all sorts of things that I use when teaching creative writing). I also have a nice big desk, made by my husband and father-in-law, that I do all my drawing and writing on. I have a wall with lots of great quotes pinned on it that is ridiculously messy but gives me comfort. There’s also a lot of stock for the shop and random bits and bobs.

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SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
LP: I write and draw whenever I can. My littlest isn’t at school yet but goes to preschool three days a week. So those are my work days. I don’t make other plans so I just sit and make to-do lists and get on with whatever feels most pressing at the time. I tend to have a chaotic mind as I’m often juggling different things at the same time; drawing commissions, planning lessons, submitting writing, etc. So, to-do lists are my friends.

SM: What does creative success mean to you?
LP: Hmm. It always feels elusive doesn’t it?! I think I would like to earn enough to not keep thinking I should go and get a “real” job. Also, a clear path to getting my writing out there and an audience that wants to receive it. Something I’m writing around at the moment is the freedom of being an artist as opposed to being a writer. As an artist, you can create something you’re pleased with and then sell it. As a writer, sometimes you can work for years on something that you’re really pleased with but it must be validated by someone else for it to exist in the world [if traditional publishing is the goal]. This is why I went down the zine route for my collection of hand-lettered poems and published it myself. I just wanted to get it out there.

SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
LP: I don’t know if I feel successful; that doesn’t feel like the right word to me but it feels great to watch the children thriving and enjoying life, and also finding their niche in the world.

SM: What do you struggle with most?
LP: Lack of time. It’s fine during term time because I have a nice balance, but I really struggle during school holidays when I can’t find the headspace to be creative as I’m so exhausted!

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SM: What inspires you?
LP: Reading great books. I got some great books for Christmas: I’m reading Travelling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I just discovered her writing. I first read Bird by Bird and am now reading everything else I can find. I’m also reading Lynda Barry’s What It Is, a blow-your-head-off graphic novel about creativity.

SM: What did you do in the last month that felt hard?
LP: I’m not very good at surviving winter! We live in an old cottage that’s always freezing cold, so I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to hermit. My poor laptop also suffered an injury just before Christmas and had to go in for repair. It felt awful sending away this baby and all the years of work that are on it! But I just got it back today so life can carry on.

SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
LP: I would love for me and my husband to feel that we have arrived. He is a musician (Tiny Leaves) and we still kind of feel we are in the uphill struggle. I would love to travel more with our children. As our daughter is Type 1 diabetic, everything a bit more complicated when it comes to travel.

SM: What are you reading right now?
LP: As mentioned above, those are the ones I’m reading right now, but am also partway through the stack of books that are teetering on my bedside table. I’m halfway through All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (which is amazing) and I’ve just ordered Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual as I have half a plan to try to extend a short story that I’ve written into a novel this year — it’s about a bunch of different people living in a terrace of houses and I thought it might be interesting to see how he did it.

SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?
LP: I’m finding Instagram really great for finding fellow hand-letterers and other creative types — and I love how people discover my work through hashtags. I seek out great sites like Studio Mothers that highlight these fantastic, creative women, juggling motherhood and creativity. Ella Sanders has a fascinating Instagram account, merging poetry with image — and I’d love to find more people in this field. I also love Popshot Magazine for its fresh dose of positivity and questioning whenever it arrives on the doormat. I feel like I’m out on a limb a bit with my hand-lettered poetry because I can’t find anyone else doing what I’m doing. It’s not a graphic novel because it’s not sequential, and it’s not visual poetry. I don’t even know what to call it but I feel happy that it exists.

SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
LP: To get my work out there instead of waiting for external validation. It has been the source of a lot of frustration! Also, to like myself a bit more and to be patient with myself. But maybe they were things that I couldn’t have known 10 years ago because I had to go through the journey that I’m on to get where I am now. So that’s OK.

SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
LP: I love Quiet by Susan Cain. One of the encouragements she offers is that it’s ok to have a niche and to go deep into that one area. Be a specialist. Concentrate on what you do best. And don’t rush. There is so much pressure to rush with social media. I am noticing that for the last three years, I have had one major output per year. And when the kids were really little, it was like zero output per year. It is only now that I have the time and I look back and find all these treasures that I created when I didn’t have time that can be worked on again.

The year before last, I spent all my time redrafting my novel. Then last year I was submitting it, but also working on my hand-lettered collection and the business was starting off. This year, there are lots of things that I’d like to do. But headspace and finding a balance is important too. I also think that times change. There are different seasons when we want to concentrate on different things. The year before last, I was doing a lot of teaching but now I find I am doing more hand-lettering. I like the variety though, it keeps it fresh.

Find Liz!

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How She Does It: Kimberly Wachtel

Happy 2018 — and welcome to the first “How She Does It” post of the year. It’s a delight to introduce you to Kimberly Wachtel. Based in Western Massachusetts, Kim has more creative mojo than than we can really fit into a blog post. But we tried. Enjoy!



Kim_WachtelSM: Please introduce yourself and your family. Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
KW: Hello! I’m Kimberly Wachtel and I’m a painter, singer, gardener, wife, and mother of a 5.5-year-old boy and an almost-3-year-old girl. I have a design business, Where Earth Meets Sky Designs, where I make and sell paintings, paper cuts, and embroideries as original pieces, greeting cards, and archival prints. Where Earth Meets Sky Designs also includes my garden business: I work in clients’ gardens doing design, plantings, and upkeep in the warm months.

I sing and perform with my husband as Radio Free Earth. We present rare gems we’ve unearthed from the tremendous heritage of American and world music during the past hundred years, along with insightful, incisive, humorous, and moving originals. Radio Free Earth forges a coherent repertoire from diverse elements. At once irreverent and serious, humorous and instructive, acoustic and electric, political and spiritual, Radio Free Earth takes you on a musical journey that illuminates the human condition along with possibilities for transcending our present circumstances. I’m involved with other musical projects in my community as well.

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SM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
KW: My dream is to have my life be my art and my art be my life. I have always loved singing, music, creating, and appreciating art — and a little later I fell in love with gardening. Slowing down to look carefully, listen fully with my heart, smell intently, taste the products of my and others’ labor, and to feel with my whole body is what brings me the most meaning and joy. For me, art, singing, music, and creating is about deeply connecting. I try to take moments in the day to do this even when I’m not in the studio or I’m not officially “working.” I pull the car over to take a photograph; enjoy the aroma, color, and textures of the plants I’m working with or the food I’m preparing for dinner; turn the music up loud to fully enjoy a song and let myself look out the window and get lost in a daydream.

Orange_and_Turquoise_Folk_FlowerThe year before I became pregnant and had my first child I grew interested in and passionate about looking back to traditional methods, particularly the folk art and practices of Poland, Hungary, and Eastern Europe, as a point of inspiration for my life’s work and art. In 2011, I spent six weeks in Poland and Hungary. I was part of a summer program at a university in Krakow where I studied, in particular, Polish folk arts. I spent quality time with my family in Poland and Hungary as well. My art, gardens, and cooking especially connect me to my ancestors who worked the land and had trade skills there. My goal is to learn more and return to Eastern Europe with my family to meet others who are the keepers of traditions, conduct a research project, and write about my connections there.

Humankind has taken a turn towards living a polarized, disconnected life. Often in our contemporary, capitalistic, consumer-driven culture we lose touch with our connection to the more basic and beautiful natural world and rhythms. The old peasant ways show us the natural life cycle rhythms that create a real and sustainable connection to our place on Earth. Learning from and practicing folk ways may be an antidote to what ails contemporary society: mentally, spiritually, politically, and socially. People who work the land are deeply connected to the seasons and their immediate landscape: plants, animals, weather, seasons, and life cycles. My goal is to reflect this idea in the images I create, in the gardens I tend, in the food I make, the songs I sing, and the research I want to do in future when my children are a bit older.

I’m happy that my desire to be an artist, a desire I’ve had my whole life, is reality.  As I grow my card business throughout the year, make new art in the colder months, and work in the gardens during the warmer months, I see that my work is connected to the cycles of the seasons of New England. Doing seasonally appropriate work helps my business become economically viable and keeps me engaged physically and creatively to the seasons and cycles. Along with my above-stated goals, I hope that my art and garden design work creates sustainable income for me and my family in years to come.

SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
KW: Motherhood has been mainly a blessing to my creativity. At the same time, being a mom is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom with my kids while they were infants and young toddlers. For about four years I stopped working for other people. I spent some of that time working on my own art business. This period, as I learned how to be a mother of two children, gave me space and perspective to reimagine the kind of work I really want to do and how I can do it. Being home with my kids during their young years really pulled me away from my studio practice and my ability to take on regular garden business clients. All of that began to change last spring when I found regular, full-day childcare and preschool for my kids 2-3 days a week.

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Before kids, I was really good at wasting time and putting others’ needs before my own. Now, as a self-employed mom with art, garden, and music projects, I can’t waste my time. All the extra tasks and attention that came along with motherhood definitely made it harder for me to waste time. I still struggle with work/life boundaries and get pulled out of my creative time to problem solve a family task, like putting away the toys littering my living room. I’ve become better at really using the three six-hour days I have to myself each week to get into the studio or out in the gardens to work. I am extremely gratified to see that getting clear on my artistic vision and abilities, taking risks, and slowly putting one foot in front of the other have added up to much meaningful, creative work and a meaningful, creative life with my family.

SM: Where do you do your creative work?
KW: I do my art in my home studio, a lovely room we made out of a three-season porch the spring before my son was born. I had been working in our second bedroom but that had to become our kids’ room. I feel so grateful to have this beautiful space (with doors!) that is fully mine. I work outside in my gardens and others’ gardens. I practice music from my home and others’ homes and perform out and about, mostly locally. I travelled to Poland and Hungary in order to understand and connect with my creative muse.I plan on doing more of my creative work and research while traveling with my family when my kids are a bit older.

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SM:
Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
KW: Yes! Monday, Tuesdays, and Fridays my son is in kindergarten and my daughter is in daycare/preschool. I work best in the mornings. I try to get into my studio by 8:30 am to 9:00 am after driving my kids to school. I work for a couple of hours then take a break. Then I work until I need a walk around 1:30 pm — or I skip the walk and work straight through until I need to be with my kids around 3:00 pm. Daytime hours are best. I’m too tired and mentally foggy at night to do good work. I’m not good at working while my kids and husband are home. The threat of being interrupted looms large and is too much to bear. Sometimes I steal time on the weekends when my husband can be with the kids for a few hours. Music practice and performing is year round and mainly done in the evening after the kids are in bed. We practice music in the living room or in my husband’s “music shed” in the backyard so a babysitter is not needed, thankfully. However, having relationships with a few really good babysitters makes gigging out in the evenings possible.

SM: What does creative success mean to you?
KW: Creative success means never giving up on your creative dreams and practices. Sometimes I have to accept that I will not get a lot accomplished or completed. This is hard. For example, in the three years since my daughter was born I have not made a new painting. All of that is changing now and I’m beginning to paint again and make new designs. Putting one foot in front of the other and making even the tiniest steps towards fulfilling an idea or meeting a goal adds up and eventually leads to completion or accomplishment. I feel most successful when I’m able to complete a project or fulfill a goal. It also feels really good to see my card business growing and my designs being enjoyed in stores. I’m happy that my art and garden business are able to bring in some money for my family. Creative success is engaging with myself and others to bring something beautiful into the world. The beauty shared may be a moment in a song, a sound or lyric sung, an image that reminds one of someone or something that is loved, or planting a beautiful garden that pulses with life and color.

SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
KW: Laughing, smiling, cuddling, talking, teasing, reading, playing, and connecting with my kids. The moments truly connecting with my children make me and them feel really good! Growing and making healthy food and feeding it to my family also feels good, although I’m not sure how much the kids appreciate it yet. As I work on having clearer work/family boundaries I think I will more fully enjoy time with my kids and time with my work without feeling guilty, like I’m always pulled to do other than what I’m doing in the moment.

Kim_Wachtel_kidsSM: What do you struggle with most?
KW: I struggle with the endless tasks, messes, noises, to-do lists, and attention my family needs from me. These things pull me away from where I feel most at peace and happy, the quiet moments reflecting, appreciating and/or creating something beautiful. I struggle with feeling angry with myself and my family because I can’t always figure out how to create clearer boundaries and more space for myself, my work, and time to just enjoy playing and engaging with the kids.

It is hard to have so much work, so many ideas, and so little time to myself. Since my husband is the main breadwinner, his job and work responsibilities come first. At any time my work can be interrupted by a snow day, illness, holiday, or an absolutely must-do task.

SM: What inspires you?
KW: Beauty, beauty, beauty! Authenticity, imperfection, nostalgia, the handmade, nature, plants, desire, horizons, warmth, love, the sky, bright colors, folk traditions, seasons, life cycles, mystery, the moon and stars, passion…

My card designs are especially inspired by the folk-art traditions of my ancestors. I love the colors and patterns found in embroidery from Poland and Hungary. I love the designs that decorate pisanki (decorated Easter eggs), woodcarvings, paper cuts, and folk paintings.

SM:  What did you do in the last month that felt hard?
KW: The past month or so has been an exercise in me letting go and accepting that I can’t control my schedule. I had some health issues come up, out of the blue, that made it impossible to work for a few weeks. Then my son was home sick, we had a snow day, and finally the holiday schedule made it difficult to get momentum going in my studio. I’m working on new card designs and am preparing for two art openings in the spring. I have deadlines looming at the end of February so I feel the pressure to get things done. I find it hard to be the person in the family who constantly needs to adjust to changes in schedules because of health, weather, and holidays. This reality eats into my already limited alone hours for work.

SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
KW: In a coupIe of years both kids will be in school fulltime. As this happens, I want my art and garden design to be a source of sustainable income. I want my body to continue to be healthy and strong so that I can keep up with strenuous garden tasks. I want to live in Poland with my family for a year and perhaps travel back and forth regularly to continue my study of Eastern European folk traditions. I’d like my children to see how other cultures live. I’d like them to learn another language by living somewhere where English is not spoken as a first language. I’d also like to learn Polish well enough to get around easily and converse with family, friends, and others I meet on this journey. I’d like to bring our music overseas and play out while we live and travel. I want my kids to be healthy and engaged, in a kind way, with the world around them. I want to share the beauty found in this world, firsthand, with my children and others through my art, music, and work. I’d like to engage in all this over the next 10 years.

SM: What are you reading right now?


SM:
What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?
KW: I just started up my Instagram account and I’m a bit obsessed. I love posting pictures of beautiful things that I see as I go through my days. I also seek out the beauty that other people share from around the world about their lives and creative pursuits.

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I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. I love and hate it. Facebook is great for keeping in touch, even if superficially, with family and friends near and far as well as social and cultural events. I use it as a tool for posting my own events. I hate Facebook because it sucks me in and I can easily waste time. Facebook can really feed the things I find so ugly about our contemporary world. I must be mindful of what I read and post. I don’t want to feed my fears on Facebook’s extreme negativity and polarization.

I used to blog regularly and follow other blogs on Blogspot. I miss it and the relationships I made with fellow creatives around the world. Since my daughter was born, I no longer regularly write posts and read those of others. I have a “Musings” page on my website and think about writing more regularly there. Instagram feels like a shorthand version of what I experienced when I blogged, and is more doable with the time I have available.

SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
KW: I wish I’d had more confidence and believed in my artistic desires, pursuits, and abilities 10 — heck, 20 — years ago! As a young adult, I put other people’s ideas, projects, and dreams before my own. In my 20s I was not super clear on what I wanted. I’ve been working on music and performing regularly with Radio Free Earth since I married my husband 16 years ago. I taught art, continued adult painting classes here and there, and never gave up on learning about and making art as a young adult, although I didn’t know then that one day my art would become a business. Luckily when I was 34-35 years old I was able to sort out some things for myself, get clear on my artistic vision, and begin to more deeply pursue art and creativity. This happened right before I had children. In a way, my creative self was born through maturing, preparing for, creating, and giving birth to my own children. When I look back on the last 20 years I see that I’ve been on a creative path all along. Everything that happened and that I chose was and is part of the evolution of becoming. This is the path I continue to walk. I’m not there yet and I still have a lot of work I want to do.

SM:  What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
KW: My advice is to quiet down and listen to that deep inner voice/pull. Make time to connect with it. Listen to your deep knowing and follow your intuition. Things happen in mysterious ways. Take risks, do the work, and make your needs and work important enough to give them proper attention and energy. Don’t push your creative desires aside for too long. It’s ok to hire a babysitter, find a suitable and loving daycare, send your kids to school, and ask for space away from your family. Something always has to be ignored in order to give full attention to something else. Just try to keep it all in balance. Even when your children are young, it’s OK to claim space and time for yourself, even though it can be very hard to do. Continue putting one foot in front of another, even if baby steps, towards goals. You’ll be happy and surprised that in a week, a month, a year, or 10, you’re able to get things accomplished and make your dreams become real.

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Creative reader! Would you like to be featured at Studio Mothers? Send a note to Miranda at ideas@mirandahersey.com.

How She Does It: Keiko Elizabeth

Keiko_ElizabethOf all the ways to combine creativity and motherhood, the performing arts are among the most challenging. But the obstacles inherent to this path are no match for the fierce passion, commitment, and intelligence of Keiko Elizabeth, who you may already know from her work on stage and television. I can’t wait for you to read Keiko’s highly articulate and introspective interview! (Spoiler alert: Inspiration by the boatload.)

Keiko is from in Sacramento, California, and graduated from Stanford University with a degree in biological science. After a stint teaching middle school science to kids coming out of juvenile hall in San Francisco, she decided to pursue a professional acting career. Keiko received an MFA in acting from Cal State Fullerton, where she studied with renowned Russian acting teacher Svetlana Efremova.

Since graduation,Keiko has worked on a range of TV shows including Days of Our Lives, Hawaii Five-0, and Hot in Cleveland. Keiko is a company member at Theatre of NOTE, where she recently originated the role of Naomi in Supper by Phinneas Kiyomura. She lives with her husband and two children just outside of Los Angeles. 


SM: Please introduce yourself and your family.
KE:
I’m Keiko Elizabeth, I’m an actress, mother, wife, producer, writer (sort of). I work in television, film, and theatre and have a son and a daughter — 9 and 3.

SM: Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
KE: 
I discovered acting rather later in life. I went to college with hopes to become a doctor, then I nearly went to law school, then I taught middle school students coming out of juvenile hall. It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I stepped on stage for the very first time. I knew right away it was something I wanted to do well and for the rest of my life, so I began applying to acting MFA programs with probably the least amount of experience of any MFA applicant in the history of MFA applicants.

Keiko_Elizabeth_4It just so happened that as I was applying and auditioning to MFA programs, I got pregnant. The funny thing is that we were trying. It just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to do both things at once. I had very little experience with babies and I just thought they’d sleep all the time and not move or talk that much (oh, the naïveté). My son was born my first week of my MFA program, and truthfully, that first semester was blisteringly hard. I returned to class full time after two of the shortest and longest weeks of my life, and had to sit on a donut or lie down on a yoga mat in class because I couldn’t sit on a regular chair. I was not only the least experienced actor in my program, but I was now behind, my boobs leaked at random times, and I had to go into evening rehearsals for a play when my son was only 6 weeks old.

But I didn’t quit. In fact, I loved every excruciating minute of it.

And now, I’m a working actor in Los Angeles. I was just in seasons 3 and 4 of How to Get Away with Murder, I’ve been on a variety of television shows and films, plus a commercial or two. I’m a member of a theatre company here in Los Angeles called Theatre of NOTE. I love being a part of the theatre-making process — we are a democratically run company and we read and select all of the plays in our season as well as self-produce every show.

I’m also developing a couple of film projects — a documentary and a scripted feature.

supperSM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
KE: 
This is such a great question. My goal for my art is continued growth and expansion of myself as a storyteller. So that means playing complex women with lives, beliefs, and tendencies that are different than my own — that’s where the fun is. It also means telling stories on larger platforms that reach more people, and working with other artists who have similar vision.

You know, it’s interesting, acting is one of the arts that really requires other people in order to do it. I can do my own creative and imaginative work on a story or on a character, but at some point the creative cycle feels incomplete if you don’t get to play with others and for others. Seeking out collaboration and work is fundamentally important to being an actor. It’s like when you were little and you’d go over to the neighbors’ house and say, “wanna play?” Part of creative success for an actor is finding people to play with.

SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
KE: 
I really became an artist and a mom at the same time, so I only know myself creatively since becoming a mother. But I will say that being a mother focused my creative work in a way that nothing else would have. It raised the stakes on everything I was doing, and for me this was a good thing for a while, until it wasn’t any more. At first, I took my studies and my development as an actor very seriously, because it was taking me away from my baby, so I felt that in order to make that worthwhile I had to be good. But as any artist knows, at some point you have to give up the desire to be good to make anything remotely truthful. There came a point when I had to let go of tying my worth as a mother to my talent — “I’d better be good and successful, because so many people including myself and my child sacrificed so much for me to do my art.” That’s too much pressure for the muse to work under, it’s incredibly narcissistic, and it’s a belief that resulted in a lot of unhappiness. I had to get back to my mission as a storyteller, to my imagination, to my sense of play and aliveness, and my children helped show me how to do that.

SM: Where do you do your creative work?
KE: 
I have a little nook in an upstairs dormer of our house that I’ve set up as a quiet creative space. Most of my work is imagination-based, so I don’t need a lot of materials. I also have an office studio where I have a light kit and backdrop for taping auditions, which I do fairly often.

SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
KE: 
Every morning I wake up and do imagination work for 1 hour and 20 minutes either on a story I’m working on in acting class, or a play that I’m interested in exploring on an ongoing basis. This morning time is like imaginative barre work for me, so if I have an audition or a job that I’m preparing for, I’ll schedule additional time to work on it during the day. The consistency of practice every day, even on weekends, is really important for me—it keeps me emotionally, imaginatively, and spiritually accessible, vulnerable, and creative. I often need to be able to fall seamlessly into a story with less than 24 hours to prepare, and in order to be able to do that, my emotional and imaginative accessibility needs to be very high.

Keiko_Elizabeth1SM: What does creative success mean to you?
KE: 
Creative success for me has a lot of do with my ability to empathize and then translate that empathy into action within the story that I’m telling. So that means in every creative encounter — in every audition, every performance — was I able to put aside my own beliefs and life circumstances to step into the shoes of this other person’s life circumstances and beliefs, and engage with the people of my imaginary life as if it were my own? And can I do it every single time? And tomorrow with an entirely different set of life circumstances and beliefs? If I can answer yes to all of those questions, that is creative success. Beyond that, if people see it and want to pay me to do it, that’s cool too.

SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
KE: 
I think the feeling of success as a mother comes for me in fleeting moments. When I see my child genuinely connecting with something in a pure and loving way, it feels like I also am experiencing that connection, and it feels really divine. For example when my son is really enjoying playing a particular piano piece (that maybe he hates playing the next day), or when I hear my children playing pretend together (instead of fighting and crying). It’s like a feeling of rightness, of coherence, of connection. I try to really inhale those moments into my bones, so that when I inevitably have shittier moments, it’s still okay because I know those good ones at least existed so I can’t be that bad.

SM: What do you struggle with most?
KE: 
I think what motherhood and acting have in common is that there is a lot that you can’t control, because both endeavors involve other human beings. So the best you can do is show up authentically, give as much as you can in that moment, and then keep engaging rather than retreating.

Since I tend to be a control freak, having to let go of that tendency was really, really hard, and continues to be hard. But when I do surrender control and go with the flow, I’m so much happier, everyone else is happier, and my work is better too. But it’s like I have to keep learning the lesson over and over again.

SM: What inspires you?
KE: 
Other women, especially artist moms who perform great feats of creativity and great acts of selflessness in the service of their children and families and humanity on a daily basis. I started a community for actors who are also moms called the Mama Actor community and these women, 100% of whom I did not know before starting the group, inspire me every day.

I also have creative mentors, three women who, at different times, gave me just the artistic gift that I needed. These women continue to provide creative nourishment and inspiration.

Keiko_Elizabeth_3SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
KE: 
In 10 years, I want to be developing and producing TV shows and films under the banner of my own production company. I want to be starring in films and television shows that I’ve had a say in creating, that tell the stories of interesting and unique and flawed women. In 10 years, my son will be going to college and my daughter will be just entering her teens years, so I imagine it will also be a time to double down on my family and what’s important for us to teach our children. Ten years from now is going to be the time of my life.

SM: What are you reading right now?
KE: 
I just finished reading Outlander, which was like eating the last piece of a rich chocolate cake — so indulgent and delicious, but now that it’s over I miss it! I’m not even sure I want to watch the series, because we all know how that goes. I just started The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferucci.

SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?

  • The Poetry Foundation
  • The Send Me SFMOMA project, where you can text a word to SF MOMA and they’ll text you back the image of a piece from their collection inspired by that word.
  • The Mama Actor blog and FB community. That’s my FB group, so if you’re an actor and a mom, find us.
  • Moms In Film. Doing great things to advocate for moms (and dads) who are filmmakers. They ran a childcare trailer at SXSW last year that got a lot of press.
  • The SAG-AFTRA Foundation has a huge resource library of videos for those interested in pursuing acting.

SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
KE: 
I wish I’d spent less energy on self doubt, worrying about what other people might think, and feeling like I don’t belong. This one life we have is so precious, I just think to my younger self, “Go! Do it! Say it! Don’t be so afraid!”

SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
KE: 
Three things. One. Just carve out time. It’s important. It’s important to you, it’s important to me that you do it — and I don’t even know you. If you have to leave 15 minutes early for an appointment and sit on the side of the road to have some quiet alone time, so be it (that’s a personal story; I guess it depends on what you need for your own creative expression, if it’s paint, maybe the car isn’t the place).

Two. Distraction is really the killer of creativity, and if you’re just returning to focused creative time after not having it for a while, it’s normal for your brain to be squirrelly. Don’t give up on yourself. Just keep showing up and the focus will return, even if it takes a year. It will return, I promise.

Three. Find a community of creative mamas. Like this one! I didn’t have one so I started one and it’s saved the lives of many of us who are in it. You may feel like an inferior imposter, you may feel a superior artiste, it doesn’t matter, you still need a community. These women will inspire you and give you their own pilot light until you can find the inner strength to relight your own.

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Connect with Keiko!

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The Monday Post: 11.6.17

Ursula K. LeGuin quote

Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how! And if you commented on last week’s Monday Post, let us know how things went: the hiccups as well as the successes.

The Monday Post: 10.30.17

William Wordsworth 2

Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how! And if you commented on last week’s Monday Post, let us know how things went: the hiccups as well as the successes.

Cars on the Ivory Keys: Becca Hitch

becca_hitchBecca Hitch is a musician, writer, and music therapist. She lives in England, just outside London, and has three fairly wild children under five. She holds as many degrees as she has children but is happiest pottering around her garden, writing songs, and getting behind the mic. She has found the highs and lows of motherhood to be both frustrating and inspiring in her creative journey, and hopes that when she has finished dealing with nappies, she will maybe have time to finish some creative projects. 

In the following post, written prior to the birth of Becca’s third child, she explores the inherent push and pull that come with creativity and motherhood. Becca’s story is very likely your story, too.


Becca Hitch

I have recently become aware of a feeling within me that has been difficult to name or put my finger on. Unconscious of its growth, I have come to a point where I can no longer ignore it. Brewing within me uncomfortably, like yeast expanding in a small space, it sits in the background. Present in my days, I cannot shake it from the front or back of my mind. It looms and wants to be acknowledged, though until recently I have not had the words to shape or describe it. It has been affecting my being; my coming and going; my loving and helping; my general joy and peace of heart. “Shouty Mummy” has been increasingly emerging — forget the children, I am currently the nutter in our household.

cardi-windowWhat, you say, can possibly be the matter? With two beautiful kids, and another on the way; the fittest and finest of husbands; the house; the happy extended family; the wonderful friends… I have it all in many ways. And I do. And I love it. There is nothing the matter, and there is everything the  matter.

I recently discovered a book called The Divided Heart: Art & Motherhood by Rachel Power [reviewed at Studio Mothers in 2009] and suddenly it all made sense. Someone had put into words what I was feeling. I am a creative person at heart — a musician. And whilst I have managed to keep little things going alongside being a fulltime mother, it has been minimal. I teach from home in the evenings, work gigging or doing session work occasionally at the weekends, and do a few hours of music therapy every week. I keep my hand in and this headspace open — mainly to help pay the bills, but also because, although I personally feel very strongly about being a fulltime mother where possible in the early years, that is not all that I am. And it is not all that I want my children to know me as.

However, as musical as this work is, it is not creative. It is not an outlet for self-expression. Before having children I used to spend hours writing or recording in studios, or at fellow writers’ homes, or in my own solitude. I would spend eons pouring over the details of lyrics, re-recording lines over and over again, rehearsing with musicians at anytime of the day and night until things sounded perfect. I was unaware of the precious nature of those minutes that I took for granted. And not just the minutes, but the freedom to do that at any time I so desired — to drop everything and wander through commentaries and thesauruses looking for that glimmer of the perfect lyric. To chew over; journey; ponder; wade through the depths of my soul in pursuit of my craft. To nurture, sculpt, and chip away at a song until its shape suddenly emerged from the stone and resonated with my eye and heart.

To create.

To feel something and express it.

To communicate.

Connect.

Vocalise.

Let the songbird fly.

To be myself is to make.

Not necessarily for a purpose but because it starts to hurt if I cannot let it out.

And so I find myself in this dilemma. Living in the tension between the beautiful call of motherhood, and the intrinsic call to create music. For who can really justify spending two hours writing a song when the dirty pots and pans cover the surfaces; when the laundry piles high and never seems to make it up the stairs; when the hungry little mouths call to be fed; and the grainy floors crunch under my feet like walking on the bottom of a toaster. The creation of a new song into the ether does not bring more money into the purse. It does not save lives or change the world. It does not change nappies or enable the cooking of dinner. And yet I need it. And crave it. I feel like my right hand is missing without it. And perhaps, it does somehow save me. Not just the creation but the expression. For what is an artist if not just a maker, but a public expresser of their art form? Writing only for the pleasure and viewing of the drawers that contain my journals is still creative but somehow lacks fullness if not fully released and heard by other ears — its journey is somehow not completed… like a grown up child who never leaves its mother.

Becca_Hitch_kitchen.jpgI have learnt to adapt my writing for this new season. Song ideas are hastily jotted down on paper amidst the battleground of cooking dinner with children attached to my legs. I record snippets on my phone either in snatched moments whilst children sleep; or to the accompaniment of screaming, demanding voices, and shared instrument participation from tiny hands. I am pleased by this. It is something (although my recordings could not be understood by others).

When little heads hit their pillows I try to force my eyes to stay open and push through the tiredness of body and mind to write something. Anything. But to find the flow is hard. I have learnt to create in a stilted, jilted, unrelentingly jagged sort of a way. Gone are the days of finding momentum in a thought and running with it; of getting lost for hours in the resonant, all encompassing chords of a piano. I learn to snap myself out of the creative dreamland and push myself into the reality of the need of that mothering moment. To stash little ideas away, collecting them like shards of shiny, broken glass until at some point I can open the box and have time to put them all together. My pace is slower, my frustration higher. But it is something at least.

I have memories of breastfeeding my four-month-old daughter backstage in the dark before flinging her into the arms of a waiting grandparent and launching myself onto stage. I have found an ability to, somewhat jarringly, shift myself between these extremes. It seems pointless at times to put myself through this just for an art form. But surely the call is not give up what has always been the gift? I cannot just give up and let it walk away, even though the network of musicians I have worked with seems to ever walk further and further away from me. The gap increases. Their journey and ascent goes on to ever dizzying heights. I plod. And with my fingernails scrape together a creative offering that seems so small. And yet I am aware that motherhood has distilled it down. There is a focus and a fragrance to it that was lacking previously. An urgency and purity of form that is new. And surely this must be good? The loneliness and isolation of motherhood is my filter. I cannot now do everything, and so I now do only what I absolutely must. Only the finest work gets through the net. I catch it and treasure it. But is it enough?

Motherhood, like some huge sieve, drains me, but amongst the residue is something of the best of me, too. Can I continue to live like this? Ever swinging from the demands of motherhood and into the guilty arms of the creative space? I have no choice but to try. To eke out the best creative life I possibly can, whilst ever working out how to be the “good enough” mother that British pediatrician and psychoanalyst DW Winnicott describes.

And who knows if I will ever be the “good enough” musician?

For what does “good” mean, anyway?

I must be more intentional. More expressive. More proactive. Be gone with the resenting of the sacrifice and figure out this new battleground. Surely it is possible to be and do both? To walk the tightrope of tension between motherhood and creativity? Guilt surround the two for many different reasons, but I cannot suffocate under the weight, responsibility and rigours of motherhood. I am a better mother when both parts of my life are expressed.

The practicalities of this overwhelm… but I shall keep trying. Keep dialoguing. Keep yearning. Keep crafting, solitude or no solitude. And I shall buy myself a piano. And write my clunky, not-quite-masterpieces as the kids run their cars up and down the ivory keys.


Find Becca on Instagram @livinginthetension and at her website.
Photos in this post by Emily Walker.

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