This week's Creative Mother is Shelli Bond Pabis. I love Shelli's photography and I am really excited for the new homeschool magazine she's working on to come out. Her ability to create even with distractions is definitely something I can relate to and I'm sure many mothers can. We all have many hats to wear and many different directions our daily lives take us. I think when you become a mother, whether you homeschool or not, you finally realize what's important to you and what you really want to make time for just like Shelli.
Do you feel that motherhood has brought more focus to your creativity?
Thanks so much Shelli for sharing your story!
I love being creative in many ways, but my main mediums are writing and photography. I used to write poetry and fiction, but for practical reasons I have shifted to freelance writing, and I have written a weekly newspaper column about motherhood, homeschooling and daily life for almost five years now. I don’t know if you would call what I’m writing now “art,” but it’s definitely a creative outlet for me. Someday I will probably venture back into writing fiction and poetry, but right now I’m very happy with what I’m doing.
I do it for pleasure, of course, but my husband and I have to pay our bills too, so I’ve been trying to find ways of earning a little bit of extra income while using my talents and in a way that will allow me to stay home with my children. I feel fortunate that my husband is supportive and we are getting by on his salary because so far, I have not been successful in making a decent, steady income. But not working an outside job has given me a chance to explore different options, and I’m grateful for that. My husband has definitely helped me learn how to focus and do what I love, but think about doing it in a practical way.
1. What is your earliest memory you have of creating?
I can still remember the first poem I ever wrote:
I love you
Do you love me? I love you,
So you love me.
Ha! I don’t remember how old I was when I wrote that, but I was very young. Eight or under.
I also remember writing my first novel in the 6th grade about a child and a horse. I gave my 3-ring binder with what I had written to my teacher, and she read it. I don’t remember what she said about it, but I’ll never forget her happy, encouraging face as she handed it back to me.
Also, somewhere buried in my old stuff at my mother’s house (I hope) there is a letter to me from Madeleine L’Engle because my fourth grade teacher was related to her by marriage. After learning about my aspirations and knowing I loved L’Engle’s books, she let me write her a letter. L’Engle wrote me back and told me if I wanted to be a writer, I should read, read, read.
I started saying “I want to be a writer when I grow up” when I was about 10 years old.
3. Why do you create? How would you feel if you could not create anymore?
I don’t know why, but I have to write. Even if there were no blogging or publishing outlets, I would be keeping journals because writing is how I process the events in my life. I prefer writing letters and e-mails to phone calls. If I go too long without writing, I start to feel exhausted.
It’s been in my later years that I’ve learned this about myself, and particularly a few years ago when I got frustrated at the prospects of getting my fiction published. I learned a lot about the publishing industry, and I realized even if I stuck with it and improved my writing skills, getting published was still a long shot. So I decided to stop, and I considered never writing again. I was having babies anyway, so it seemed like a good choice.
But after a few months, my writing brain began to tick again. (Because of this experience, I am all for taking long breaks, if needed). I felt refreshed and ready to try something else. This is when I began writing my newspaper column.
4. Did you create before you had children? After? How has becoming a mother changed or enhanced the way you create?
Like I said, I had always been writing, and having children didn’t stop me from writing, but around that time, my focus began to change. I had a family, so I wasn’t so focused on my own goals anymore. I was ready to look at where I was at in life and what my talents were and align my goals to fit in a practical way. Of course, some people would say that trying to be a writer or photographer is not practical no matter what, and that may be true, but I’ve been gifted this time at home with my children, and I’ve been able to carve out a little time to work toward my goals. If I don’t succeed, I know that I’ll be happier for having had the opportunity to try. (I thank my husband for that because I know he would like to be more financially secure. I should also point out that for both of us, our priority is our children and their education, and that is the number one reason I’m staying home.)
I have had an interest in photography since I was very young too. (My father was an amateur photographer.) But before I had children, I never took photography that seriously. I may have, if I could have afforded the costs to print film! I did take a lot of “artsy” photos, though, worked in a film developing shop for a while, took a photography class, and loved viewing beautiful photography. When my first baby was born, my husband bought me my first digital camera, and this other passion grew. With the ability to take digital photographs, I had the luxury of taking lots of bad photographs until I learned how to take very good ones in manual mode! I started reading photo blogs, photography books and sharing my work online, and again, my husband has supported me by helping me buy more equipment.
For a while, I entertained the idea of doing portrait photography part-time, and in fact, I’m still open for business! However, while I could find the time to have, say, two customers per month and give them high quality care, I do not have the time to put into the marketing side of a business, and I don’t have time to go out and get involved in the community by offering and sharing my photography – something I would love to do. After taking the time to read and learn about the business side of photography, I decided not to put so much effort into that right now. Maybe some day when the boys are grown, I can consider this again, but I’m not worried about it. I have actually found a lot of enjoyment out of turning my website into more of a showcase for my nature photography – not something I would mix with portraits, if I were trying to maintain a business.
I will add that shifting my focus for a while to photography was a wonderful way to recharge my writer’s brain, and I think the two mediums feed each other. I don’t think I will ever just write or just photograph, and I will dabble in other arts when I can. What is more important to me now is being creative and fostering creativity in my children. I’m finally wise enough to realize that I don’t have to make a lot of money or become famous to be happy. I just have to create!
I could easily say that time is my biggest challenge, and it can be, but actually, I accomplish more now than I did before I had children. I wasn’t disciplined or focused when I was younger, and it was only a few years before I had children that I started to set aside time everyday for writing. When I worked full-time, I got up at 5:00a.m. and wrote for an hour before work. Now I write in the afternoons when the boys are watching their educational children’s programs or in the evenings. Having children has taught me more about time management than I ever learned anywhere else. More simply, I don’t waste the little time that I have.
But the challenge is that because of that, I rarely do something for no purpose whatsoever, i.e. relax. Sure, in a way, writing is relaxing for me, and I get a lot of joy out it. But it’s also my work, and it can feel like work. I am working on trying to remember that when I feel tired, blah, and like I don’t want to write anymore, that probably means I need a break from it and a break from my computer! I feel fortunate that my lifestyle allows me to alternate tasks frequently during the day, and as a family, we try to get out into nature a lot. That helps me tremendously.
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?
Neither of my boys can write yet, and my seven-year-old doesn’t care for it, but he loves listening to me tell stories, and once in a while, he will make up a story to tell too. Both my boys love to do puppet shows too, so maybe someday this will lead into more writing.
My seven-year-old seems a little more interested in photography. He wants to be a scientist when he grows up, so he’s interested in using photography as a way of documenting his observations in nature. A year ago we bought him his own point and shoot camera, and he enjoys using it. I’m not pushing my love of photography on him though. So far I have gently helped him concentrate on how to hold the camera steady so he can get focused images, and I think by looking at my photography, he’s naturally catching on to what makes a good composition! As he gets older, I’ll help him learn more, if he wants to learn.
Since his older brother had a camera, my four-year-old wanted one too. We bought him an inexpensive point and shoot too, and he likes taking pictures alongside his brother on our nature walks! More and more often, I find myself leaving my camera at home and letting them do the picture taking!
As for whether they inspire my work – why, yes! As we have begun homeschooling, I have found I am most interested in writing about our lifestyle and helping others who want to homeschool too.
7. What have you sacrificed in order to make art?
A stable income, a clean house, regular exercise and sometimes a healthy diet.
8. What have you gained from creating art?
It keeps me steady. It brings me joy.
9. Where do you want your art to go over the next few years? Goals?
Recently I was approached about coming on board the staff of a new magazine for homeschoolers: home l school l life. The first issue will be released in April. I’m the magazine’s senior editor, and I’m thrilled that this may be my opportunity to make a little income while using my talents as a writer and photographer as well as editing, which I enjoy too. So for the foreseeable future, I will be giving my all to this magazine and hoping to make it a success. If it is a success, I think there’s a lot more we can do to help the homeschool community, and I’m excited about the possibilities because more and more, I find that connecting with others and encouraging others makes me very happy.
As my boys get bigger and depending on how the magazine goes, I will focus more on freelance writing and writing e-books. I especially want to write a book for parents on how to tell stories to their children. It’s always my goal to become a better photographer, and I can’t wait until I have the time to join one or two of the local photography groups near where I live. I would like to meet other photographers and just have fun sharing images and setting small goals for ourselves.
In the distant future, I can see myself teaching some adult continuing education classes (I’ve done this in the past and enjoyed it), probably on writing. I would love to be a speaker and advocate for homeschooling too. I love connecting with other like-minded people, and I want to be available to encourage people to live the lifestyle that makes them happy while maintaining harmony with others!
10. At this time, what could you sacrifice, change, or simplify to help reach your artistic goals?
A long time ago I shifted my focus and made my goals more manageable and realistic. Being content with what I have now is important because if I can’t attain any of the goals I have now, I’m willing to change them again at some point. Realizing that there is a huge world out there and many creative possibilities has helped me tremendously. I think it is a mistake for an artist to work for years in a single medium or on one project without any success and not be willing to explore other creative avenues. At least, it’s a mistake if they are not content with where they are.
Also, it has been important to keep my priorities straight. My first priority is not my “art.” It’s my children. However, I have found that raising and homeschooling my children is an extremely rewarding and creative job, and it makes me happy. This has given me the energy to do even more. (Believe me, when I worked in an office full-time, I was so drained and depressed, I had little energy for anything when I got home.) So I have been surprised that I’ve been able to write, blog, and dabble in photography while raising my children.
Prioritizing the rest of my life has been important too, or I wouldn’t get anything done. I definitely had to choose what I wanted to do the most. I can’t focus on writing for money and doing photography for money at the same time. Writing was my first passion, and photography required me to leave the house more (and I can’t afford a babysitter), so it was a no brainer to concentrate on writing and let photography be that thing I do for fun.
I also keep life simple. We are not socialites. We don’t have a rigid schedule. I am not trying to “keep up with the Jones” so to speak. All this frees up a lot of time and mental energy!
11. Do you homeschool? Do the kids go to school? How does this affect your creativity and art making?
Yes, we homeschool, and this does affect my creativity. As I said before, I find the job so rewarding, it’s given me energy to do more. I actually think what we have is more of a “lifestyle” and family culture where intellectual and creative pursuits go hand in hand. We all have something we are working on, and we share our work with each other. I’ve talked to my eldest son about my work and how I’m trying to make some extra money so that we can feel a little freer to do some other fun things. I think this helps him understand why I need quiet time to work too.
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?
Our schedule has evolved over time, and I finally let go of what I thought our schedule “should be.” Although I love the mornings, I’m more of a night person, and so is the rest of my family. I let my boys sleep until they wake up, and some mornings that’s quite late and other mornings it’s earlier. In general, we sleep until about 8:30a.m., and we do “homeschool” between breakfast and lunch and sometimes a little after lunch. In the afternoons the boys play by themselves, and they also get time to play on their digital devices and watch television. Unlike most parents, I don’t think screen time is a bad thing as long as it is balanced with plenty of other good stuff. I work in the afternoons, early evenings and after the boys go to bed – whenever I need to. I also do my housework during that time. Of course, no day is exactly the same, and there are days when I’m spending more time playing with the boys and doing projects with them.
There are also days during each week when we are not at home, so that changes everything. We may run errands, meet friends, attend classes, and on nice weather days when daddy doesn’t have a lot of work to do, you will find our whole family out hiking somewhere!
13. Can you offer any advice or tips to other creative mothers on? Inspiration, wisdom?
If you want to do something, then you just need to do it. Don’t feel guilty about either. By managing your time well and working on what is important to you, you are modeling good behavior to your kids. Do you want your children to be creative and pursue interesting endeavors? Then you need to do that too.
I have a friend who teaches the introductory news writing classes at a nearby university. He told me once that he will give his students a set amount of time during class to write an article, and he’ll turn on a radio or two while they are writing. He said he does this because if they become news writers, then they’ll have to work under pressure, and the newsroom might be noisy! When he told me that, I realized that if he could train young journalists how to write quickly and with distractions, then I could train myself to do it too. (As I write this, my boys are being very noisy!) Writing a weekly newspaper column has been great training for me too. It has shown me how to work regularly and get something done and let go of perfection.
My favorite quote is "A year from now you may wish you had started today” by Karen Lamb. You may not feel like you are accomplishing very much, but do a little bit at a time, and it won’t be long before you have built up a nice portfolio of work.
14. Finally, name an artistic mother who inspires you. Why and how does she inspire you?
Gosh, I think what inspires me the most is living in an era where so many mothers are doing such amazing and creative things online. I see so many blogs and artists online that I wish I had time and money to read them all and buy their wonderful handmade art. I know it can be frustrating to try and find our niche among the thousands and thousands of people trying to do similar things, but how wonderful it is that with the click of a button, we can share our work with the world! Our grandmothers were much more isolated than we are!
I should mention the two mothers and bloggers who I found early on that still inspire me today. They validated so many of my own thoughts about how I wanted to raise and homeschool my children, and they made me think more in terms of creating a lifestyle and family culture vs. just a “school” inside my home, and for me, this did so much to create that creative life I always wanted. They are Renee Tougas of FIMBY and Lori Pickert of project-based-homeschooling.com.
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