Who do I think I am?

February 12th, 2016

Meet the Author

Heather Kirtland
I am an artist with a BFA in fine art, a mother of two and a hairstylist. I have recently moved from Baltimore to a more rural area of Maryland. I like to work in many mediums, but focus on oil and encaustic. I show my work throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and have begun teaching workshops in encaustic. When I am not in the studio, behind the chair or wrangling little ones, I love to read, run and travel. I am a bit of a coffee and reality TV addict and a huge believer in girls' night.

Who do I think I am? | via the Rising Tide Society

by @heatherkirtland

I am writing a book.  That sentence alone took a lot of courage for me to write.  It requires me to be fearless in the face of that voice in my head.  The one that says, “Who do you think you are?”  When The Rising Tide Society mentioned “Fearlessness” as a topic, I knew I had to share my bold project for 2016.

You know when you have an idea, and it niggles around in your head and nudges you every once in a while?  Then your inner critic gets involved and tells you that you’re crazy and it’ll never work.   The idea doesn’t go away though, and then one day someone ask you what your dreams and goals are, and this particular person would be an awesome partner in this dream project.  At this point you feel like its a little shove from the Universe, and so then you speak your dream out loud.  Now it’s real, and for me that step took a bit of fearlessness.  I’m an artist, a mother, and a hairstylist, and now I want to write a book.  Why not?  I’m going to be fearless.

Who do I think I am? A mother artist. | via the Rising Tide Society

Art by Heather Kirtland; photo by Little Cuddle Bug Photography

When I first became a mother, it was overwhelming.  There were many amazing and wonderful things, but I had a tough-go.  I knew enough to reach out to other mothers and find some answers and support in the community.  I still couldn’t satisfy the creative part of me.  Where I fell short was in my identity crisis as an artist.  I was terrified that as a creative I had totally lost myself.  I didn’t have a big network of other creatives, and the ones I did weren’t parents.  Not one to wallow, I decided to search out other artists that may have some advice, so I Googled “Artist Mothers”.   What I got back was largely articles about famous male artists’ mothers.  As I continued to search, the women artists I found that were also mothers seemed to keep that life separate from their professional persona.  I felt totally isolated and found myself wondering if what I heard repeated at art school in the late 90’s was true:  “If you want to be a ‘real’ artist you can’t have kids”.  It devastated me to think that I had to give up one to be the other.  I searched hard for role models. 

After that rough first year I was surprised to discover that being a Mom taught me a lot of things that could apply in my quest to a return to my creative practice.   Although I would never be the same, if I were to remain an artist, I needed to act like one.  The creative practice is important; it feeds a vital part of us.  I reached out and asked for help, and I prioritized what was important to set an example as a parent. This connection to a creative life makes me a better mother.  When I nurture this part of myself, I bring more depth to all my relationships especially the one I have with my children.   Being an artist was turning out to be different than the image I had in my head, so I decided to create my own definition.

My biggest challenge was finding time to think.  A large part of my process is time to research, be inspired, and work things out.  As a mom, I feel like my mind is an ongoing pinball machine game, finding silence is difficult, and switching gears is even harder.

I asked for help so that I could set aside studio time, and scheduled it every week on the calendar.  I simplified household chores as much as I could.  (Does the laundry actually need to be put away, or can we just grab the clean clothes out of the basket?  What’s wrong with breakfast for dinner?)  I cut back on TV, and spent that time researching or sketching.  My favorite change, and keep in mind I am already a morning person, is that I get up at 5am and sit with my coffee and organize my thoughts.  This has helped me tremendously.  It gives me the opportunity to slow down and clear the clutter in my head.  I always have a sketchbook with me, so any idea or thought I have can be captured before it gets lost in the shuffle of the rest of the household delegations.  By creating this time in my week it allows me to be present when I am with my kids and focus on their needs.

Who do I think I am? A mother artist. | via the Rising Tide Society

Art by Heather Kirtland; photo by Little Cuddle Bug Photography

Sustaining a creative life while balancing a family has humbled me.  The lessons that being a mother have taught me are a great resource to my studio practice.  The ability to juggles many task simultaneously, flexibility, patience and taking myself less seriously are just a few.   My perception of perfection and definition of beauty have been altered.  I am more focused, more fearless and kinder to myself.  I have made the work I am most proud of since having my children

Through the amazing community of Instagram, I connected to other mother artists and began to realize that this is a common struggle for creatives.  I really felt called to foster this community.  I stumbled upon Marissa Huber’s site Carve Out Time For Art, where she has compiled interviews that answer some of the same questions I struggled with.  It opened my eyes to the need we have to find a road map and examples of how to make a life that fulfills us on all levels. 

I really hope that this book can be a resource, a support and an inspiration to other creative parents out there that are struggling.   Marissa and I want it to highlight some incredibly talented professionals that have found ways to make their passion a priority while rocking as parents as well.  I want to give other mothers trying to find time for their creative practice examples of how to navigate this new life. 

So, to that voice in my head that wants to know “Who do you think you are?”  I am a mother artist and I hope to give back to this awesome community by creating a place of support, validation to these concerns and perhaps some inspiration when someone needs it. 

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Love this! I totally resonate with you….the majority of my photography friends don’t have kids and my other friends outside the insdustry are stay at home moms. It’s so difficult to not feel alone in being a mom who is also a creative! Thank you for this post!

This is so great. I am a mom to an almost 4 month old little girl and a photographer. At times, I feel so alone thinking I am the only one with a baby. Thank you for NOT listening to the voice in your head. 🙂

As I was reading I kept saying to you, “I love you.” These words resonated 1000%. I did the same Google search with the same results very recently. I’m a mom of two with a BFA who spent the last 7 years teaching art. I’ve got huge nudges to create and to find a community of creative moms! I want those role models! I could go on and on, but I will simply end with THANK YOU! I am so happy to have found you through @carveouttimeforart

Heather… yep, I really enjoyed your post. You are a beautiful artist and wonderful Momma… rock on!

Cheers to you Heather for this worthwhile endeavor! Your well written, heartfelt statement rings so many bells in my memory. My kids are grown now, but there were years when I too struggled to find time to create; time to really get serious about it, more importantly, to take myself seriously as an artist. With raising four kids, maturing as a career art teacher, and nurturing art students (I am so proud to say I was your high school art teacher.), me time was limited. After finishing must-do home tasks after school, I retreated nightly to my basement studio cave. In that precious solitude I relished the freedom to explore, find direction, and build my art, all of which bolstered my mom/teacher/mentor facets. Looking back, now long retired from full-time teaching, I would not trade any of it. Currently, as painting workshop instructor and art instruction writer, I stand appreciatively on those invaluable decades of teaching (and parenting) experience. As always, my instruction informs my painting and visa versa. I am better at all I do because of all I’ve done.
To you young Mother Artists, let the voice in your head tell you “You know who you are. Get to it”. What are you waiting for? You won’t get any wasted time back.

Doing a clearinghouse on old email, ran into you due to MICA and MidTown Academy. Love who/what you are! Inspired ! Enjoyed reading your new book- it is a HIT! the hardest step has already been made. OH! i am not a mom but a grandfather retired from English to turn to Photography……