I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am to share Erin Spencer and her work with you today! She is one of, if not the first, artist mother I found online, and I have followed her work and progress ever since. She has inspired my art and my confidence as an artist and mother. She took breaks from her art when she needed to, and her sharing that many years ago helped me to see that it was okay to have ups and downs. That it was okay to step back from art if I needed too. And even though she probably doesn't realize it, she taught me how to use oil paints when I had no idea what to do. Her sharing some of her process and how she uses oils in some of her early posts helped me figure things out a bit. I do hope she starts teaching classes one day, wink, wink! Anyway, enjoy the amazing work and wisdom from an amazing creative mother! Sorry, not sorry for the fan girl gushing LOL!
Thank you Erin for sharing your work and insights with the world for all of these years. I'm so glad to have you in this series!
Where can we find your work & connect with you?
Etsy shop: erinspencer.etsy.com
Describe your art and creative process.
I am primarily a landscape oil painter, working mostly from my home studio in the tiny state of Rhode Island. New England has a lot to offer an artist like myself, with landscapes practically begging to be painted. My landscapes feature a lot of the rural scenes I encounter in my daily travels around town and around the region. I also draw on times when I travel to other places, like California, Utah, and Holland. I am an avid sketch-booker, so I jot down impressions and thumbnail versions of ideas just about every day. I bring my sketchbook with me everywhere. I draw heavily from my sketches in my choice of compositions and ideas for paintings. I keep notes of colors and lighting details next to sketches in order to remember what that particular impression was like at the time. Often from these sketches I'll work up color studies, sometimes on canvas panels, sometimes in the sketchbook itself. Once I feel confident to put it all down in a painting I get to work.
I often have several paintings going at the same time, in various stages of progress. The actual act of painting is sometimes scary, always invigorating, and forces me to take chances and try new things.
I also build most of my own painting panels, so my process is sort of all out of order at times. I go from the garage to the easel to the sketchbook to the color studies and back around again. The prep work in getting panels ready for painting is a project in and of itself, but I enjoy keeping my hands busy with all the stages of creating my art. Sometimes it slows me down, but usually I find that the busier I am with all aspects of the creative process the more productive I am!
What's a positive way that your creativity has changed since you became a parent?
We adopted each of our three beautiful children, and with each arrival our lives have taken new shape and meaning. When we adopted our first I decided to set aside my art for a while, to focus all of my energy on nurturing and caring for this new tiny baby. It took about 6 months and I knew it was time to carve out a space in our home and in my time for painting again. I noticed that I had an intense renewal of that spark that propels me forward to create. I have a vivid memory of driving home from an appointment when my son was about 7 months old. The clouds in the sky were so dramatic. I rushed home, plopped the little tike down on the floor and pulled out a canvas to get the clouds out of my mind and into a painting. I have taken other pauses and breaks over the years, but I always find that painting calls my name and I have to answer. I think that because I have limited time to paint and create I have adapted to consolidate my efforts into an ultra condensed frenzy of art making. It helps that I am a somewhat fast painter. I don't deliberate when I'm in front of the easel. The deliberation happens in the times I am away from my studio, with the paintings floating around in my head. Sometimes I close my eyes just before falling asleep and I see a solution to a composition or color problem I've been having. It's a stroke of inspiration. I also pray over my art. I ask God for help, and I seem to receive it quite often. I have sometimes teased my husband that creating art is my way of participating in creating life, since motherhood came to me in such a different way. Although I joke about that, I believe there is some truth in it. My art is uniquely my own, sprouting from my heart and mind and hands. It's a piece of me in the world, and I am compelled to create.
When are you most productive & what helps keep you creating?
If you were a fly on my wall you might find me in and out of my studio all day long. I tend to be most productive during my youngest's nap time, when I can put a video on for the second youngest and I can slip away to paint. But I sneak into my studio throughout the day. If my palette is open and there's a painting on the easel I might dash in and tweak a cloud or put another layer in the foreground or fix the values of some trees. My baby is almost one, and she loves to follow me around the house, so she is often at my feet, playing with something pseudo safe for a baby! Sometimes I am having conversations about Legos with my middle son while he builds his own creations and I paint. Sometimes I'm working in the garage, building panels, and the kids are playing outside on the tire swing or with bikes or in the sandbox. It's often a bit of a circus around here, and I am always moving. I go back into my studio in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. Sometimes I will work on larger pieces, but often I will work up color studies or just paint small impressions. Then I close up shop for the night. I find I am pretty motivated to paint and create, but there are times when I feel a lull. Usually this coincides with other interests creeping in, like finishing a great book or watching a movie at night or knowing I need to spend some extra time with my family. When I feel that lull I grab it and run with it for a while. I feel I am better equipped when I take a step back and see life in all its beauty, variety, and imperfection. I might begin to see the world in a new way that gives me new impetus for my art. Music also helps me to be more creative. I often say I want to paint like Debussy composes, with beautiful textures, surprising and unique twists, and moodiness. Just today I thought I want to paint like a song I heard on the radio. I always listen to music when I paint, too.
What inspires your work the most?
Like I just mentioned, music inspires me in my work. But, I am also very inspired by other artists. I have stumbled on many contemporary artists that have inspired new avenues in my work. Paul Ferney is an artist I have admired for years. His landscape compositions helped me to be braver in my own. Simon Addyman is an artist whose work I love to explore. When I feel I need to loosen up my work I just peruse his beautiful work and take a deep breath before returning to my paintings. I think the number one inspiration for my work, though, is what I see with my own eyes. My husband used to constantly remark on how beautiful the view was as we drove here and there. It kind of drove me crazy for years! But as my eyes became more and more aware and more and more astute at seeing color and contrast and shape and value and balance I'm sure I have caused more than one exasperated look from my husband as I exclaim about the beauty of a hedge of forsythia blooming against a misty backdrop of gray sky or about the golden yellows and dusky purples hiding in what appears to be a fluffy white cloudscape above. Seeing beauty in the mundane has seemed to take over my life, so I find I am most inspired by what my "artist" eyes are able to discern in the landscape of life all around me.
Parents have challenges and other schedules to think about. What are some ways you make sure you give your art the time it needs?
Really, my art makes time for me. I wish I could say I have this all figured out, but I don't. The needs and demands and wants of three young children calls for a life of routine and patience and an overabundance of love and learning! Up until this last Christmas we homeschooled our oldest (and our middle child who is only 5). We made the decision to place him back in public school, and it's been great for him and us. Not always easy, but the right thing for us right now. I found that I had time to paint even when our days were fuller of school work, long hours of family time, and outside adventures. I think since painting is a part of who I am, my children have always accepted that about me. They know it's just a part of our family life. They go through their own phases of creativity when they want to paint like I do with an easel and brushes and canvases. But they also explore the world in their own ways. They support me, and I support them in their interests. My husband is a good man and a wonderful father who is so incredibly supportive. He knows me and understands my desire to paint and create, and he makes it so easy for me to do! We share the responsibility to love and nurture our children. We are a team, and we are working together to drive this crazy Spencer train through life! Hopefully our children will see our love for them.
Name a creative mother or father who inspires you and why.
I have close friends who are not social media moguls or running businesses, but they inspire me in how they are complete people. They share themselves with their children by developing their talents, not shirking from getting their hands dirty with interesting projects, trying new things, and being devoted to finding happiness. There are other mothers and fathers who are working at making a living with their art who inspire me, as well. I think first of other mothers. Here are a few:
Beth Allen http://bethallenart.com/
Julia Blake http://www.juliablakeart.com/
Leslie Graff http://www.lesliegraff.com/
Stacey Peterson http://staceypeterson.com/
It's not easy, so my hat's off to these awesome women who pursue their art while being wonderful mothers!
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