Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Art and Family


In this 1866 cartoon by George Du Maurier from Punch, the caption says, "Mrs. Fred doesn't care how long she sits for her 'dear Fred,' so long as her 'darling Freddy' is in some safe place where he can't get into mischief."

A cartoon by Charles Dana Gibson shows the artist painting away while his wife or girlfriend waits nearby.

Balancing art with family can be a challenge. We artists owe a lot to those around us for their long-suffering patience. I understand how some artists need a separate studio, but I've always had my studio in the house, and I feel lucky that I could have my family around when I was working. Before we had kids, Jeanette would often read to me while I was painting. 

Jeanette Reading, 1985, Oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches
When my kids were little I set up a play space in the studio near the painting table. We always had toys and art supplies for them, and they built forts in the attic storage spaces. 

We brought along sketchbooks for them when we traveled as a family. One time in Venice the kids from the neighborhood invited them to join into their soccer game. 

In the studio, when I was occasionally in "concentration-mode," and my wife or kids asked me a question that I couldn't focus on, I tried to explain that it was OK for them to talk, but that I couldn't respond. 

It was pretty rare that I had to banish them from the studio, and that was usually when I was writing or concept-sketching or doing a radio interview. One time while I was talking to a paleontologist on the phone, I had to explain why there was a squeak toy going in the background.

Do you have a story of how you have reconciled the pull of your artwork with the needs of your family? Please share it in the comments!
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Previously on GJ: The Muse and the Marriage

25 comments:

Eric Millen said...

i really like the idea of saying, you can talk as much as you need, but as i'm concentrating and i wont be able to respond.

anything beats yelling, I"M WORKING! haha, great advice!

Garrett Hines said...

This last summer was my first school break with our son who was about 6 months at the time. He had just learned to crawl, so I set up a "crawl space" between the wall and my desk. He would crawl between, say hi, then crawl around the desk. He would do that over and over and over. It was so fun to share that with him!!

Dean Kalman Lennert said...

I maintain a very regular schedule for when I'm working in the studio and when I interact with the rest of the world. My family isn't forbidden from visiting me during this time but they are aware that, if I'm in full concentration mode, I may jump and shriek a bit when disturbed. There are occasions when I think they enjoy this character trait too much.

T said...

My husband and I are both artists, and proud parents of an 8 month old. I must admit he seems to find more time to work on his art than I ever do. I've noticed this with other artist couples. I wonder if there is a general divide between the genders? How did having kids affect Jeanette's work? Anywho, great topic!

Tom Hart said...

Like you James, I can appreciate the attraction of a separate studio space, but I've always enjoyed - and benefited - from having my studio in my living area. I love living with a work in progress, being able to jump up at a monent's notice to make a correction or put in an additional hour on a piece.

When my son (now 16) was a baby, I, being concerned about the toxicity of some of the pigments and solvents I was using, would set up even in the cold New England winter in the windowed-in, unheated porch which was visible through our living-room windows. One of my fondest memories is of my (then) wife holding our infant son up to the window, showing him how I worked on the still life. I remember the piece and the situation as if it were yesterday.

And as my kids have grown, they became used to seeing my pieces - then moved indoors, within feet of the living room couch - where they could see paintings grow and develop. My easel (and there are sometimes two) is a permanent fixture in my home. It's as much an essential part of my home as my kitchen stove.

Rachel Konderla said...

I'm not a full time artist, rather a full time student in the Visualization program at Texas A&M. With my little one the best solution has always been to give her a project to work on alongside me. There have even been a few times where I was painting that I sketched out a drawing similar to mine on some scratch canvas just for her!

Bobby La said...

I've responded poorly to the demands of family. Violent rages, beatings, affairs, a near total reliance on alcohol and other illicit drugs. Never sold a cracker either. Burnt most of it. Now I just sit around and watch tv waiting for my liver to pack it in.

...nahhh....not really....a picture of sober restraint here, but I've known of a couple that do fit that profile. One of them sold a few pics and was regarded in some circles as an enfant terrible. Dead now. Total ratbags.

KHo said...

I have always worked alone in my home or apartment (mostly after a day of other work.) In Los Angeles, I would wait for the wild Mexican kids to play under my window in the parking lot before I started drawing. I loved their screaming and company. Always longing for a family and the noises of people moving in and about the room: It's wonderful to read about families and workspace. I'm sure I have been blessed with solitude and independence, but having just one other person around helps tremendously in an otherwise lonely experience. People always think the grass is greener on the other side. These stories bring a smile!

Jared Cullum said...

Wow! What a sweet memory to have with your wife.
With a newborn, this has become an extra important topic to me. I have just been trying to work when he sleeps. I get a solid 4 hours or so every night since he turned 3 months old but he changes habits all the time. Also, if I'm close to a deadline, my wife has been very supportive in taking control while I work, if I'm stressed. We've worked out having family time but also tag-team personal time. I use every minute of mine to paint, haha

Lee Leslie said...

I successfully landed my first paying graphic novel gig shortly before our son was born. Since I was working late into the night regardless, it gave me a great opportunity to hang out with the little guy one-on-one with his little rocker next to my drafting table. It also gave my wife some much needed and deserved rest those first hectic months.

Jennifer Branch said...

I love your stories - and it makes me feel better to know someone else simply doesn't hear the world around them while painting! I've always been a full time professional artist and it was quite a shock to transition to full time mom as well! Right now my 2 year old has reached the dangerous stage (literally climbs the window mullions) if he's unsupervised for a minute. It's cut down on painting just a bit! On the other hand, it's the first time I've had the freedom to just sketch without thinking about selling a piece. My painting has improved immensely as a result! I can't count how many sketches have been done holding a child in my lap. It's a juggling act but worth it to have painting part of everyday life instead of separate.

Kimberly M Zamlich said...

I've learned early that if you are a woman artist you do suffer. Behind many a great successful artist is a wife who can help facilitate finances, invoices, maintaining home and children and keep the artist separate from the simple but everyday mundane responsibilities in life, laundry, cooking, meals, etc. In a candid conversation with mentor, Barbara Bradley of the Art Academy of SF, she told me that in her experiences female students tend to be the most promising of talent, but then after graduation from art college they often disappear because they get married, have children and support the husband. When my daughter was born, I never slept. I would be up all night nursing her, then go to work at Disney Feature Studios in the morning to work full time, come home, make dinner, do laundry, be up all night again to nurse my daughter. I was insane literally for her first three years. I never slept, my only night of sleep was on Saturday nights. Routinely I would only sleep on the 6th night. Hence, the divorce I am embarking on now. Daughter is now 13. I work furiously at home for Disney Consumer Products now, but towards 4 oclock, have to stop everything to make dinner and do dishes and laundry, etc. I eek out five mins here and there to work on my own stuff. When I am with my daughter, she has my full attention. And through everything we still have a very good relationship. But everyday is hitting the ground running, 7 days a week. I don't watch tv. I don't have a social life. But things are mighty peaceful here now and my companions are my little dog and rabbit and life is the best it's been in 13 years~KMZ

NJL said...

It's wonderful to be read to as an adult! I don't get the opportunity much, but that's why I enjoy podcasts so much.

My wife and I have a small apartment, and while storage space can be a problem, I've decided against getting a separate studio as I appreciate the time at home, and being able to take small breaks. I do have a problem with ambient noise, so I tend to work with headphones, and I find that the isolation I get that way overrides my desire for actual physical isolation.

Painting or drawing while listening to music takes me a million miles away from anything, even if someone is sitting 5 feet away.

Mary Bullock said...

Once when my daughter was about 3 years old - I was working on a commission and was about half way done when the phone rang in the other room. As I was talking on the phone, there was a little voice in the back of my mind that kept saying that she was doing something with my painting. Sure enough, when I got back there she was painting large swaths of green paint all over my painting and said brightly "I helping, Momma!" - I had to start over.

Doug Hoppes said...

Excellent article, James! Since I have a full-time job and need to get painting done at night, my wife has generously allowed me to have the easel and paints in our living room. She understands that I need a lot of time at the easel to get work done.

So, now, when I get home, I get to paint/draw at night while she watches TV. My dogs are also there and, they'll sometimes come over to drop their toy in front of me. It's a nice 5 minute break away from the easel. Since I've learned to talk when I paint (discussing what I'm doing when painting plein-air in front of customers), I'm able to talk to her, engage in a conversation and still get my painting done.

Seems to work great for both of us and we still get to spend some time together.

Len De Angelis said...

There is always a competition for time.
Whatever the obligation or want or calling I always found a balance. Exercise? I got up earlier and ran.
We all have 24 hours in a day and as Mary Oliver posed, "What will you do with your short precious life?" So, we find a balance. Resentment never made one satisfying over the other and if resentment ever surfaced, I'd ask for a delay, or dinner would taste greater a few minutes later, or if this one idea was interrupted maybe it was because it needed more thought and when I had time I discovered a better idea. Artists can make everything work--it is part of their artistic DNA. Peace, Len DeAngelis

Carolyn Allison said...

I love the idea of your wife reading to you. I was still reading to my children when the oldest was in high school. I had to. My children were avid readers and would get into a fight over who would get to read the new book first. I would tell them that since I had bought the book, I would be reading it first, and that if their chores were done by a certain time, I would be reading aloud. This solution worked great and we had some great evenings together. :)

S. Stipick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S. Stipick said...

Sadly sometimes art and loved ones are not reconcilable. While not looking for pity in any way, and looking back there were many failings that led to the end of a very important relationship, I can assuredly say that the single biggest moment that clinched the inevitable dissolution, was when an ex proclaimed that "I was to give up all art and any friends or colleagues related to art, or the relationship was over." It wasn't a surprise as there was a concientious effort from the beginning to push art and the creation of such out of my life. It was not a malicious attempt rather one made out of ignorance and misunderstanding, where peers and a poor education viewed such endeavors as silly and unfruitful. I'm am lucky enough to be in a far better place than I was in the relationship and in many ways it was the perfect test of persistence and passion. My former relationship partner has turned out to be an excellent mother and truthfully we are far better off apart. So art continues on and I learned many important lessons from what many would consider a bad situation. In the end, I'm better off for it and it has only strengthened the relationships I had with other artists and my appreciation for the creation of art. So in the end perhaps art and friends and family don't have to me mutually cooperative to be beneficial. But it is probably a heck of a lot less stressful and cheaper.


On the plus side, I have an incredible daughter who thinks it's cool when dad breaks out the pochade box by the lake or when we head upstairs to the studio. Which, on second, thought, I probably don't do enough with her!

Robert J. Simone said...

I love it when my wife says, "let's go to such and such. You can paint while I read..." Invariably such outings involve someone pacing back and forth, repeating the phrase, "are you done yet, are you done yet.." Guess I paint slower than she imagines I will. It works best if there's beer where I'm painting and/or we went in separate vehicles.

Luca said...
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Luca said...

I don't have a family related story (...yet) but your nice post about artists and families made me think to Frank and Ellie Frazetta, somehow: i've read fun stories about them and i've always found very fun that the only person that could influece super macho Frank was little Ellie... :)

Woos Art said...

Art and family can definitely go together. My husband and I are both artists. We have made some deliberate decisions that work for our family and enable us to be invovled parents as well as artists. Some of them are:
1. We live very simply so that we don’t HAVE to take every job that is offered.
2. We have a weekly/daily work schedule that we stick to. We only accept jobs that fit within that schedule (if we really need more time we work before our kids get up or after they go to bed).
3. We share house work and consider the daily life-routines to be a shared responsibility
We adjust things as we go with the thought in mind that our kids will only be young for a very short season of life. We want to make the most of it. But we are also glad we get to do what we love. I feel pretty lucky to have a partner that values me as an artist, partner and mother.

Carole Pivarnik said...

My husband likes to fish and while I don't mind hanging out on a boat on the water, fishing doesn't do all that much for me. Sketchbook to the rescue! Sketchbook to the rescue just about anywhere we go, for that matter!

My studio is one of the coziest rooms in our house, so he often hangs out there with me in the evenings when I'm working. Of course, I have to endure the "Here, let me tell you what I think of that painting...I'm a professional critic, you know!" (He's not, by a long shot; it's a running joke whenever I show him my work).

Joanna Pacek said...

I have younger sister (she is like 7 years old)and when she gets bored, she will end up in my workroom while I paint.Most time she will look around for 10 mins ask what I'm doing and walk away to find other entertainment (she knows that I'm not ignoring her on purpose just the most time I'm too focus on my work to talk coherently to her).

But one day it was only us in home and she was like: what are you doing, what is for, what are you painting, I'm booored, can I watch TV, what is my purpose on the Earth and other hundreds questions which fell from mouths of bored 7-years old humans.

Because all distractions tactics didn't work (like:Go do some sandwiches because I'm hungry.)I employ drastic measures.
"Yes Sophie I'm painting with oils do you want paint with me?"
From previous experience I know that normal paper and watercolours won't work for long so I give her exactly the same set up as mine :D easel, 100x70 cm cardboard painted white and oils. 3 hours of blessed silence...
The most funny thing was that she was so overwhelm and mesmerise by canvas size. Completely opposite to beginner art students who are afraid of bigger canvas the most time :D In all excitement she was forgetting that she is using oils not watercolours like normally and dipped brush in water :D