How to combine new motherhood with the pursuit of a creative practice

Pursuing a creative practice with a newborn is not so straightforward. The first weeks I did not find the time, nor did I want to, for many creative pursuits.

After 2 months I knew more about my son’s needs and patterns and found the time to sketch all sorts of things to do with my new situation, searching for the seed of a new project.

In the end I also wanted to learn a new skill so I found out how to use a DSLR camera. Using long exposures I photographed the time I spent on my own in the small hours learning to care for a baby. My online exhibition ‘Duo in Solitude’ lets you in on these private moments between a new mother and baby.

Photograph from ‘A duo in solitude’

A new idea: he naps, I draw, he wakes, I stop

But babies grow quickly and the old predictable moments evolved into new patterns and a catnapping baby with a preference for 30-minute naps. That’s just enough time for an idea to surface, but not enough time for it to take hold. How could I pursue a creative practice spread over 3 30-minute naps a day?

The only thing for it was to use the time I did have – not for mulling but for doing. The idea: draw the same still life for a few consecutive days. The catch? I could only draw for as long as my son napped. The moment he woke up was the moment the drawing was finished.

Each time my son started a nap, I grabbed the baby monitor and raced to my corner. Flowers, paper, pens and paints left exactly as I’d abandoned them last.

The bouquet on day 1 and day 6

The technique

Once I was at my seat I:

  1. Picked up a tool (what shall I start with this time? Pencil again? Or should I be daring and dive straight in with paint?)
  2. Found the correct time slot on the page for the starting time (each sheet had 24 slots along the top, dividing the page into hours of the day).
  3. Dropped right in and started drawing, with no idea of how much time I’d have.
  4. Found the correct time slot at the bottom of the page and slid right out of the drawing again when I heard the murmurs on the baby monitor getting louder and louder.
One drawing during nap

Almost giving up before even starting

Starting that first sketch was difficult: I hadn’t done any drawing in a very long time and the flowers and leaves overlapped in impossible ways. I almost gave up there and then, exclaiming that this was too far out of my skill level. But I drew some tentative pencil lines anyways and finished the first of 18 unfinished still lives. From there I went on to draw the bouquet in various ways:

  • in a single line, without taking pen off paper
  • in one stroke outlining its shape
  • terribly
  • wonderfully

There’s nothing particularly charming about any individual sketch. Yet together they are a very tangible reminder that you can find creative fulfilment in the doing, rather than in the finishing. And for me, they contain all of ‘my’ time during my son’s twentieth week on the planet.

All the pieces of the artwork meet

Go see for yourself

Contemporary Art Practice end of year exhibition at Patriothall Gallery in Edinburgh

You can see the sketches, along with some excellent pieces from my fellow students on the Leith School of Art Contemporary Art Practice course, at Patriothall Gallery in Edinburgh until 4 July 2021.

The series of unfinished sketches will show you:

  • the napping schedule of a 20-week-old
  • what happened to my confidence and drawing style the more I drew
  • the bloom and decay of a bouquet

Published by scissorsandglueandyou

I am an Edinburgh-based digital collager with a masters degree in human geography. I like thinking about things (stuff, belongings, objects), walking (aimlessly, purposefully, tours, alone, together), and finding lost coins.

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