Artist + Pattern Designer
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Carving Out Time for Art with Heather Kirtland

I love Heather Kirtland's interview this week because it's so candid and honest. It's so good to hear out loud that women are allowed to want time to themselves, even though we may feel that it's selfish. Heather has so much wisdom and insight, and I feel like I know her already thanks to this interview and the magic of email. One day soon we will talk on the phone, Heather, and we are going to collaborate on reaching our big dreams. (Wink, wink, Universe)

Heather-Kirtland-COTFATell us about yourself. How old are your children? Where can we find you?

I am a painter. I primarily work in oils and encaustics, but recently spurred by time constraints I’ve begun to work in watercolors and acrylics too. I have my BFA in fine art from The Maryland Institute College of Art and have always been in love with creating. I would say that art is my profession even though I have always held a job outside of my studio practice.  There have certainly been periods in my life when it’s played a smaller role, but it’s always been there.

I am the mother of a daughter that is 4 ½ and a son that is 2. I feel like I am just coming out of the fog that is the early years of parenting.

How has your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having children?

In so many ways, that I didn’t even recognize at first. I was terrified after having my daughter that I wouldn’t create again. I had a rough start to finding my way as a new mom. I think because I was an artist there was a level of selfishness and desire for alone time that I wasn’t even aware of until it disappeared. I think there is this new phrase “psychic time” that explains it. I was so in love with my new baby that I just thought maybe for me, I can only focus on her right now. I actually Googled “mother artists” to see if I could find any insight or solutions, but all I got back were articles about famous male artists’ moms. About the time my daughter was a year old, I came back to myself and decided I was the only thing standing in my way. I could ask for help. Once I made that conscious decision, the floodgates opened and I looked at creating in a new way. I am much better at time management and being kind to myself now. I have gained such confidence in my work, and I have no doubt that navigating motherhood gave me that.

Since my studio is not at our home, I keep a set of acrylics and watercolors in my home office. I’ve really been enjoying working with the new mediums, and I can come and go as I please. (Keeping them out of the reach of my very curious 2 year old? That I haven’t mastered.)

Is it easy or difficult for you to find/make time to create? Did you have to give anything up? Do you have advice on what works for you?

I gave up housework, and on occasion there are sandwiches or scrambled eggs for dinner. In a nutshell; not putting too much pressure on myself.

I watch very little TV, and that was typically my decompression time. There is still “Scandal” though; I’m not ready to give that up!

I now have to schedule studio time, it is written in the Google calendar. I am so very fortunate to have my Mom and my Aunt, as well as my Mother-in-law, and they keep the kiddos happy on the days I am in the studio.

I am not the most organized person, but I’ve figured out that the more chores I deal with immediately around the house, like putting laundry away out of the dryer (most days), or picking up as I go, then I can focus on my creative side without the clutter, literally. (There is also a fair balance of coffee and wine.)

How does being an artist make you a better mother to your children? What do you hope they take away from seeing you as an artist doing something that fulfills you? 

I'm going to steal someone else's words here.  This past week in the studio I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast “Magic Lessons”. She mentioned the analogy of being on a plane and hitting turbulence. You look to the stewardess to see her reaction to get an idea of whether it's serious. As a mom I need to be fulfilled and happy so that I can maintain my sanity and the rest of the ship (or plane) can sail a little smoother. I’ve found that we set the tone for the household.

I hope my kids take away the importance of being creative in life. It can be a good soother and fulfills a need I think we all have to participate in life from a different angle. I also want them to know that they can do something they love and find a way to make it happen. I feel like an artistic practice teaches a type of ingenuity and problem solving that can serve them well. I also hope that the way I see things is advantageous to them, how I point out color or something that in nature is simply beautiful. It is a way to find joy all the time.

Heather Kirtland and kids

Where do you paint or create? What are your favorite things about your workspace and what would you improve? Do you ever create art with your kids?

Where do I create? Ha! I have a totally glamorous studio space…a garage….at my Moms. (Did I mention I was 40??)

There is a tool table, lawn mowers and the usual garage inhabitants. I work right in the middle of it all.

I didn't want not having a space to hinder me. (When I was single it was the other half of my bedroom). It can be hot, bitter cold and, a bit crowded. The perks of my current situation are when the temperature is right and the door is open it can be lovely. While I work my Mother watches my kids. The kids can come and go - which can go either way. I still get to eat lunch with them and receive painting advice from my daughter. She is all about the pink, and is such the art critic.

I do sometimes hesitate when applying to gallery shows. Eeek! What if they want to do a studio visit? But lately through other creative mamas I've been able to borrow space. I do hope to have the studio of my dreams someday and I’m working towards it.

I love to create with my kids. My daughter and I paint together when my son naps. We also spend a lot of time coloring. I tend to stay even after she's done. My son is just starting to get involved. I love how they just go for it. I look forward to having a small area for them to create inside my studio when I have a better space.

Painting with watercolor

Heather Painting with her Son

Do you have any tips to streamline / delegate / outsource household and childcare activities so that you can focus more time on your art? Has your lifestyle changed in any major ways?

Like I mentioned before, I am extremely lucky to have extended family, all retired and so graciously giving of their time in support of us. Not only do they spend time having fun with the kids they also help with some household chores too. I often wondered if I could pair down our "stuff" if it would make the daily ins and outs easier.

If I could outsource anything it would be meal planning/grocery shopping/cooking. When I'm in the thick of it I tend to go simple and easy, scrambled eggs or sandwiches for dinner.

The biggest lifestyle change unfortunately is fitness. I'm a runner and used to do triathlons. It's a part of my life I miss, but a huge time commitment. Currently I am trying to fit in a little healthy “me” time. But it's usually the first thing to go. I’m sure that isn't a good thing.

Do you have any big goals or dreams for your art that you’d like to share? What would be your dream project?

Wow. Yes! So many. The biggest goal at the moment is to be able to build a studio on our property. I've dreamed about every detail. I am hoping through sales of my work over the next year I can make it happen. I'm thinking of doing a painting challenge specific to raising money for this. I think it would be awesome to then throw a big open studio party to thank everyone that contributed by purchasing work. 

I would love for my work to reach a larger audience and I certainly hope to continue to show in galleries, but the magic of reaching the globe online is amazing to me. I have so many talented Instagram friends from all corners. The opportunity to add to our family income through my art is important to me as well.

Then, I'm almost afraid to write this but I would love to put a book together about artist moms. I would like the book to show how ingenuitive we are and how that is evident in our unique workspaces. I would love it to include interviews and be a resource to new mom artists out there.  Hmmm Marissa? Perhaps a collaboration?!

 P.S. I totally caught up on Scandal while I scheduled this post this past weekend. At 8am on Sunday. How fitting and how times have changed!