This is a pep talk to myself and others.
Being a professional artist can be lonely and discouraging even when you’re untethered in every sense of the word (think single, childless, healthy, and rich.) Finding the motivation and cultivating the inspiration to stay on a creative path every day of your life is a lot to ask of anybody.
Throw in a partner you’d like to hang out with, a household to run, bills to pay, pets to care for, and a couple of toddlers who need you 24/7 and don’t let you sleep, and art feels impossible more often than not! Here’s the thing: it feels impossible, but you do it anyway.
I understand that being a self-employed creative professional doesn’t really compare to most “normal” jobs. You get no benefits, no financial security, and no direction that doesn’t come from within yourself. You are fighting an uphill battle and dealing with inner demons on a daily basis that just wouldn’t be an issue with a 9-to-5. So yes, it’s harder.
But that doesn’t mean you can use having a family as an excuse anymore than anyone does. In fact, I’d argue that because you are up against more than other people, it’s even less acceptable to use that excuse. You simply don’t have the luxury. Agonizing over all the things you can’t do doesn’t make you any more able to do them. What CAN you do?
Autumnal Outlook, 2007, © Cedar Lee
There’s not much support or acknowledgment in our culture for stay-at-home parents, never mind that parenting, when done well, requires intelligence, dedication, specialized skills and physical endurance.
There’s very little support for self-employed people in general. You can be brave, creative, and enterprising, have an earnest heart and work yourself to the bone, but still in the end you sink or swim.
You have to be strong and capable to do either thing (staying home with your kids, or running your own business.) When you’re trying to do both at the same time (crrraaazy right?) you very often, possibly every day of your life, will feel unsupported, even IF you have a supportive spouse—and many don’t.
Choose to overcome that feeling of being unsupported as well as that feeling that everything is impossible. Simply shut those negative thoughts down—those thoughts do not serve you.
This doesn’t apply only to artists with small children. It applies to any artist who feels overwhelmed. You may be caring for elderly parents, you may be disabled, you may be poor, you may be grieving, you may be abused, you may have mental illness or chronic pain, you may be in school, you may have a day job you need but hate. Keep creating all the same.
Be positive. Take yourself seriously. Prioritize your work as much as you would if you knew you’d be paid for it. Set up a productive work zone. Arrange for childcare. Show up. DO the work. Creative work is hit or miss; I get this. Do it anyway. You are exhausted to the core. Do it anyway. You feel like you’re trapped and don’t have many options in life right now. Maybe you’re right. Practice gratitude for the options you do have. Take baby steps to meet small goals leading to bigger goals.
Eclipse, 2011, © Cedar Lee
Sometimes you try your best and still don’t meet any goals. Sometimes your 2-year-old paints up and down your entire hallway with stolen blue oil paint while you were changing your infant’s diaper. Lock the door next time.
Sometimes your mind is so frazzled that when you sit down intending to work, you realize you’ve got nothing in you and you slap the paint around and end up with something horrible and realize you might as well have just played Tetris instead. Then it’s time to make dinner. Oh well. Try again next time.
Sometimes you rush to paint as soon as the baby falls asleep, you get everything set up and just as you touch your brush to canvas for the first time in a week, the baby wakes up screaming because of teething pain. Sigh if you must, curse if you must, then go get the baby and try again later. Just keep trying.
Lotus Pond VI, 2011, © Cedar Lee
Is it all worth it in the end? I think so, at least enough of the time, or I wouldn’t be doing it. I get to look through pictures of the hundreds of paintings I’ve made and see my obvious artistic progress over the years. And I get to look through pictures of my sweet little kids being silly, and grin about how much fun my family is, and it’s only just begun.
Phire 12 months
Considering how hard I try to get artwork done, I actually get very little done. It’s so discouraging I honestly try not to think about that. But because I keep trying, I get way, WAY more done than others who don’t try. When people ask me how I do it, I don’t have any secret answer. I just keep trying, fail most of the time, and succeed enough to make people think there’s a secret.