It's been a while since I last posted here, but at least I have an awesome interview with an amazing painter and mama, Amy Bay. We actual run in the same circles here in Portland, so I am hoping to meet her in person soon. Her work is beautiful, and I am so happy to be able to share her interview with you! I love how her son gives her feedback and ideas for her paintings. It's so wonderful to see how her children are connected with her work that way.
Thank you Amy Bay for sharing your thoughts and insights with us! I hope to meet you soon!
1. What is your earliest memory you have of creating?
I wasn’t one of those kids who drew or made things all the time. When I look back at stuff I made that my mom saved from my childhood – mainly from school assignments – I can see that I always sort of rushed through it. The lines would get sloppier and less exact as the drawings progressed. It doesn’t seem like I enjoyed it very much and I don’t recall enjoying it either. At one point I started adding these goofy cartoon eyes that one of my mom’s friends taught me how to make. So I have these drawings of the Stations of the Cross (I went to a Catholic elementary school) that depict Jesus with these cartoon googly eyes.
One of my first distinct memories was making these drawings of my two dogs – I was probably about 12 years old or so. I traced some illustration I had found of dogs that looked like my dogs, then colored them in with colored pencils. I told everyone I had drawn them myself and I really did feel proud of them, though slightly ashamed about lying to everyone. It’s funny because at different points in my work over the years I have happily traced and borrowed imagery. I still really love the look of a traced line.
2. When did you realize you were an artist, writer, creative etc.?
Probably when I was an undergraduate – before art school. I went to a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania for a few years and I had a very encouraging art teacher who used to let me come into the art studio after hours to work on my paintings. That was when I first started making work because I felt this very internal need to make work. But I don’t think I really felt like an artist until I finished art school. I always struggled with people telling me it was impossible to be an artist – maybe it was the community I came from (there were no artists) or because I was female, or just a message I got from the greater culture but I always felt it was a crazy pursuit. Art school helped me figure out how to try to make a living being an artist, so when I started actually balancing all the life/work/art stuff I felt more like I could actually make a life as an artist. This was in the early 90s when the art market was not doing so well and that message was really strongly coming at me. Miriam Shapiro spoke at my graduation and I remember her advising us to work in another field to support our art. It was pragmatic advice at the time, but a little sad in retrospect.
3. Why do you create? How would you feel if you could not create anymore?
I really create out of some internal need to create. I actually stopped working for a few years when my kids were littler and it was too hard to balance everything. We had moved to Portland, OR from Brooklyn, NY and hadn’t integrated with a community yet, my son was struggling with some health issues and the little work I was making was really bad. I just didn’t have the headspace for it at all. So I pulled back and decided I wouldn’t work anymore. It just didn’t feel like the right time. But even then, I was making stuff. It was mainly stuff for my kids – clothes, costumes, Christmas decorations and stuffies and such. And I was able to work in my garden and spent a lot of time growing edibles. But I realized I just couldn’t stop myself from making. At a certain point when things started to become easier in my family, I started craving making my own work again. I hadn’t even really thought through whether or not I was going to try to do anything with it. I just wanted to make it. So I started making these little gouache paintings on paper at my living room table -- just scooching all the clutter out of the way and painting in the midst of the chaos. It was the only way I could think to do it at the time.
4. Did you create before you had children? After? How has becoming a mother changed or enhanced the way you create?
I worked as an artist for about 10 years before having kids. I was actually pretty ambivalent about having kids for a while because I always worried about how to balance everything and I feared losing this huge part of my identity. It was hard enough living in NYC without kids and I just didn’t know how it would even be possible. In the end it was too hard to do in New York. We ended up moving to Portland after having our second child and in lots of ways it has been more manageable here. The biggest change in my working process has been that I don’t really look out at the world anymore for source material for my work - at least not as much as I did before. I make paintings exclusively now, which I hadn’t done since art school. And my paintings are very self-referential – it’s really a studio-based practice. So the work ends up becoming largely about what happens on the canvas or paper, what happens with color and the paint. This is a pretty large shift from the work I was making before having kids and before I took time off from working. I used to make a lot of site-responsive/site-specific drawings and some sculpture and the work had a much more overtly conceptual thrust than it does now. I read an article about 4 women painters recently – Laura Owens, Amy Sillman, Jacqueline Humphries and Charline Von Heyl. It was the first time I was introduced to this term “unknowability” in painting – this idea that the process unfolds as you work and that you respond to problems as they come up in the painting. I suppose it’s not such a new idea, really, but I like that term so much and I would say that my work now is so much about “unknowability”. I don’t think I could have made this kind of work before – I was too entrenched in this post-graduate school idea of the work needing to have meaning and to be some sort of reflection of, or commentary on, the world. Coming back to making work after taking a break I had to really figure out what it was that I wanted to make – or rather, what part of making work I liked. I ended up shedding a lot of the content of my old work. It just felt forced. It didn’t really interest me anymore.
5. What is the most challenging thing about being a mother and an artist? How do you handle those challenges?
The challenges seem to change over time and they seem to correspond with changes in my kids and their needs. At the moment, the difficulty is connecting with other artists and participating in the art community here. We unschool (a progressive type of homeschooling) so I’m with the kids a lot. It makes it difficult to get out there and to get my work out there. I’m doing it bit by bit, but I can’t, and actually really don’t want to, spend all that much time away from my family at the moment. So, I do some connecting with other artists online and I also try to get out to galleries and some openings. I’m part of a local art book club that does readings on contemporary art and meets to discuss them. That has been really great – just getting together and having focused discussions about the readings with other artists. But it is challenging. Part of the issue for me, I suspect, is that we moved to a city where we didn’t really know many people – and it has been hard to meet other artists. In NY, most of my community was made up of artists, including the friends who had kids. I just haven’t found that here in Portland yet. And when I do meet artists that I like and would like to hang out with, we just seem to live in totally different worlds and it’s hard to nurture those relationships. I try to remember that this is a very short period of time when my kids will need this degree of support from me. And I really want to be in it – I don’t want to wish this time away or to spend all this time trying to carve out time for myself. So, I ratchet back expectations with the understanding that there will be a time when I can do that stuff more. Right now I am just grateful to be able to make work and be learning and living alongside my kids.
6. Do you ever involve your children in your art? Do they inspire, help, mimic your projects, ask to learn, or be involved in your art?
The kids are always around when I am working. I now work in my studio in our basement instead of the dining room table, but they are welcome to come in and out as they please, as long as they don’t get super disruptive. I have a mini-trampoline, a ladder swing and a kid’s easel set up in my space because I want them to feel like there is a place for them there too. Often when I work they are doing their own projects/playing in other parts of the house, but they do come into my studio and talk with me or ask me to set them up with materials so they can work. My daughter does this more so than my son. She’ll ask me to set her up with paints or stuff to draw with. Mostly my son comes and talks with me about what I’m working on. He tells me what he likes or doesn’t like and will sometimes make suggestions about things he thinks I should do with my work. He actually recommended recently that I start integrating some diagonals into my compositions and it was a great idea! It was one of those subtle shifts the work was needing. So I’m really happy to have them around when I’m working and to have their input.
7. What have you sacrificed in order to make art?
Hmm, I don’t know if I’ve really sacrificed anything to make art. Money maybe? Or rather a career that brings in a lot of money. I don’t know if I would have ended up choosing the kind of work that would bring in a lot of money anyway. Being an artist has actually made my life incredibly rich – I’ve worked with interesting people, traveled for projects and education, and learned a bunch of new stuff -- not to mention the contentment that comes from pursuing my own thought-lines and questions. And being an artist has made it easier to be home with my kids because I feel very engaged in what I am doing – both in my studio and in my life with them. Though my garden suffers. And my house isn’t very clean.
8. What have you gained from creating art?
Oh, I think I just answered this one above.
9. Where do you want your art to go over the next few years? Goals?
I’d really like to find my place more in Portland - to start showing more locally and connecting with more artists. There are some interesting spaces in town and I’m actively trying to keep track of all that goes on here and trying to gauge where my work might fit. I’m also still really drawn to what is going on in painting in NYC – especially in Brooklyn. I’m in a small group show there this month at Peninsula Art Space with Molly Herman and Meg Lipke, two painters whose work I really admire. I’m really looking forward to that and to continuing to have a relationship with that culture. I’d like to teach more too. I’m going to be teaching a short class through PCC’s Community Ed program in the spring called “Exploring Contemporary Art in Portland Galleries”. We’ll visit galleries to discuss the work. If it goes well, I’d like to try to offer more sessions in some of the more experimental and alternative spaces. I also love the idea of teaching/sharing with the local homeschooling/unschooling community too.
10. At this time, what could you sacrifice, change, or simplify to help reach your artistic goals?
So much of that depends on what is going on with my kids and where they are developmentally and emotionally. For the first time, we started hiring a sitter to come over a few hours a week – with the idea that I could get some stuff done that my kids don’t like to do with me all the time. Things like visiting galleries or going to art bookstores or just running studio errands. It’s nice to have the time, but it feels like there is a fine line there and I don’t want to rush things. I don’t want to just spend all my time trying to get away from my kids. So…we sort of have to see how it all unfolds. And sometimes that means pulling back.
11. Do you homeschool? Do the kids go to school? How does this affect your creativity and art making?
I think I have pretty much covered this above – but we homeschool (unschool). I find it to be a great way to make my work and spend time with my kids.
12. What does a typical day/week look like? Are you a morning or night person? Do you stick to a schedule or create whenever you can?
I generally wake up before the kids do. It’s the quietest time in our house, so I usually try to do things that require some thought during that time, like writing about the work, reading, or planning studio related things. Then the kids get up and I spend time with them and get them set up with breakfast. By around 10 am or so they are into their own stuff and I head to my studio in the basement. I can usually work until noon, but sometimes later. Then we have lunch and head out for the afternoon. We meet up with friends, go to museums, parks, the pool, the library…that type of thing. It’s actually a really nice life. I feel so lucky to be able to have this time with them.
13. Can you offer any advice or tips to other creative mothers on? Inspiration, wisdom?
When you are balancing making work and having a family, life gets in the way of working sometimes. I really try not to give this too much weight. If I have something that interrupts my schedule for the day or even the week, I try to keep my thoughts somewhat connected to my work – I might try to write more about the work, or look for calls and opportunities, maybe try to do some readings about other artists or shows here and there. But I really try to keep myself from feeling despair about it, and I try not to walk around in a funk because of it. I just try to trust that I will get back to work as soon as I can. And writing has been a total revelation for me. I try to write regularly about the work and my thoughts – sometimes even just about life and practical stuff. And I always do it in the morning. Somehow it really clears my head and prepares me to get to work. I have found that I don’t have to go out searching for ideas and inspiration – they are already inside of me. I just have to access them. Writing has been the way to do that.
14. Finally, name an artistic mother who inspires you. Why and how does she inspire you?
Anne Truitt. I recently learned of her work and just started reading her journal “Daybook”. I’m really not that far along in the book, but already I feel so moved by her writing. One of the things I love is how she talks about the importance of intuition – I don’t even think she calls it that directly. She talks about it as trusting something central inside of her and how it simultaneously masks and illuminates. I love that idea because it mirrors my experience of making art. Somehow it makes me feel more confidence to hear her frame it this way. And at one point she talks about how all the practicalities of having a family had to be woven into her experience of being an artist. It’s almost as if caring for her children was a grounding force. I think it can be hard to keep that in mind when we are trying to balance being mothers and artists – we have come to see these things as being in opposition to one another. But there is really no reason why it has to be that way.
Are you a Creative Mother, or do you know one? Want to be interviewed? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the interview questions and info that I need.
I'm no longer doing Creative Mothers interview, but this will remain as an archive. Thank you for all of the love!
About the Series
Let's face it, being a mother can be the most challenging, and the most rewarding thing. Being a mother who needs to be creative can be even more challenging, it can even feel lonely at times.
So let's dig deeper into the lives of creative mothers, share their amazing work, and get some insight into creating while parenting. Hopefully, inspiring other artistic, creative mothers, and women who may one day be mothers themselves, along the way.
Explore Past Interviews
Suzi Banks Baum
Shelli Bond Pabis
Elizabeth B. Borowsky
Kellee Wynne Conrad
Kisco Print Shop
Art by Megan