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

Facemasks as inspiration: 3 ways

We’re all suddenly seeing a lot more facemasks in daily life than we’ve been used to. Before, on my walks I might expect to see laughing gas canisters, crisp packets and take-away boxes rumbling along the sidewalk gutters. Today, a new character joins the cast of castaways: the facemask, often disposable and light blue, but not always.

I’ve used the facemask as a project prompt, to see how this new character can inspire my art and thinking. Here are the results…

Hang in there (Digital collage)

Where facemasks are still uncomfortable and unfamiliar, could it be that one day we become so used to them that they’ll become a marker of comfort and ease?

Made with a print by James Tissot, 1880, from the Rijksmuseum

Got the blues? (Digital collage)

Blue plastic gloves and blue paper masks are a modern-day suit of armour maybe?

Made with a photograph by Anonymous, 1850-1900, from the Rijksmuseum

Surfacing (GIF)

Using the facemask as canvas makes the object, which can be seen to cover or hide expression, suddenly take on the opposite function, as something which communicates and is a vehicle for expression.

Recycling one artwork into different media

Using a collage as a starting point, and reconjuring the image as a drawing, painting and sculpture.

I found myself in the middle of an analogue collage revival – suddenly inspired by the piles of old magazines I had lying around I was creating lots of new collages. But traditional collage has its limitations. Once it’s stuck down the images become immovable and your work is done.

But instead of these collages being the final product, I wanted to use them as a springboard developing my artistic practice. What happens when you use a collage as the starting point, and remix it in different materials?

The starting point

A quick sketch

Acrylic paints

Clay

The results

Using a collage as a starting point for exploring new materials is a great idea. I especially enjoy taking the 2D image composite from magazine cuttings and shaping it into a 3D clay figurine.

Collage is great because it lets you create something new, often something you never could have imagined without being inspired by the source material. By reframing collage as the start of a new project, rather than the goal of the project itself, I found great inspiration to try new materials and develop the vision created at the start.

Where to find Creative Commons images for collaging

My favourite websites to get pictures for making digital collages

If you’re looking to make digital collages, the first thing you need is pictures to work with. Luckily, there are more and more organisations making beautiful pictures available to the public domain.

Here are a some of my favourite websites to use when I make digital collages. You can also see an example of the work I’ve made with their help.

Rijksstudio

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rijksstudio from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is my most valued resource. It has completely transformed by artistic practice.

www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio

Its collection is extensive and very beautiful and easy to use. You can always find what you’re looking for, and it’s great for when you don’t know what you’re looking for as well. Before you get started, check out my collections. Maybe they’ll inspire you to start your own.

Made with Rijksstudio


Unsplash

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Unsplash is great for when you need a more ‘modern’ subject – for example you won’t find the hamburger you’re looking for in the Rijksmuseum’s collection!

unsplash.com

Made with Unsplash and Rijksstudio


Europeana

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Europeana is the destination for you if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Their collection spans European museums, galleries, libraries and archives, and includes images, sounds and videos.

https://www.europeana.eu/en

It’s a huge collection, and I often find searching it difficult. So if you don’t know where to start, take a look at their collections, or read the blog series, which will introduce you to all sorts of wondrous stories and images.

Made with Europeana and Rijksstudio

Flickr: The Commons

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You can find a lot of interesting photos on Flickr: The Commons. The only downside is that the resolution can be quite poor, but you can take that as a challenge to work in miniature.

Flickr: The Commons

Made with Flickr: The Commons

Photogrammar

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Photogrammar holds a collection of photographs taken for the US government between 1935 and 1945.

photogrammar.yale.edu

I find the website a bit harder to use than others, but you’ll always find a wealth of diverse subjects you would never think of to search for yourself.

Made with Photogrammar and Rijksstudio

Let me know which sites you use to find digital images for collages!