Katherine Russell: Creating as an artist and mother

Katherine Russell: Creating as an artist and mother

This post was created in partnership with the #5WomenArtists initiative taking place internationally throughout the month of March.

K RussellPursuing a career in the arts, while having young children is – I regret to say – exactly as hard as everyone thinks it is. I fought the notion for a long time, “no no, nothing will change” I told the galleries when asked if there would be an interruption in-stock availability. And that part was true… there was no interruption, but OH was it hard.

I have three young boys aged six, four and under one year. An extremely supportive husband who does an awful lot around the house. We live in a very small town in the Rocky Mountains where almost everything we need is very near, including all the recreation we could dream of.

We chose for my husband to take parental leave after the birth of all three of our children. If you have this opportunity… take it! Put the mortgage payments on hold – whatever it takes – the rewards are infinite. The empathy gained… immeasurable, I tell you.

Those leaves resulted in intense periods of making artwork – I had solo exhibitions months after all 3 of my children’s births. It is perhaps what I am most proud of, that there are no gaps in my CV through my childbearing years.

But no doubt it has brought on a lot of stress to our household, and there are feelings of selfishness for sure. Things take me twice as long as they should because I am sleep deprived.

Being a mum is to be creating All. The. Time. Creating life, creating special moments. That constant giving can leave little energy left to create artwork as well. It has taken away my own play time. I so rarely let myself take the time to dabble in another medium, or really experiment in glass without knowing where it will lead.

My whole life I’ve been a journal writer, you could say obsessively. But my very last entry? During labour with my first child. I’ve never had so much to say as after becoming a mother, but so little time to say it. In the same way that I cannot make time for getting my stories and ideas down on paper, there is a similar pull away from creating art. There are so many dozens of things that are more urgent, more important, more pressing.

Working with glass shards, chemicals and silica dust is obviously not conducive to having kids playing nearby. So I embraced childcare long ago – albeit in out of the box ways – hiring homeschooled teenagers, reciprocating childcare with other mums. Work time is work time, and mum time is mum time, that separation has made both be higher quality time.

I blow glass out of town, and need to go for 3 days at a time. In addition to everything I need to do to have productive sessions in the hot shop (sort my orders, colour, equipment, tools, assistant), I need to line up childcare, meals, washing the diapers, sports practices, wrapping birthday gifts with one hand, expressing milk with the other as I’m leaving the house. I’m constantly asking myself “is this madness worth it?”

Russell, Katherine_Pouch Bowls
Pouch bowls, Katherine Russell.

And the work is often intangible. Every few months I might spend 25 hours on an application – a project grant or a public art submission. That application costs several hundred dollars to write, and may result in nothing, but may, just may, result in an amazing opportunity, which is why it’s so crucial to do.

Yet I stubbornly make art. I need to and I’m a better person and a better mum, than I would be if I didn’t have this balance of focused making time and home life.

Don’t put your career on hold to have kids. I’ve talked to too many women who take a break to have kids and for whatever reason, never get back into it. Find a way to keep going. Sneak in work during nap times, swap care with other mums, do whatever it takes. Make, make, make. It may or may not be your best work, but it is keeping the momentum, your skills and your profile going.

Retain your identity, your training, your passions.

Ask other mums about their lives outside of raising children. This is an opportunity to be a role model for your kids – and they need to know life isn’t all about them. That’s something I’ve instilled in my kids really early: sometimes (okay, most of the time) it’s about you, but sometimes it’s about me, we all have needs and they are all important. So, persevere!

Katherine’s exhibit, Memories are Malleable, will be on view at the CCBC Shop & Gallery March 21 – May 2, 2019. For more information, please visit Eventbrite