Anna with her daughter and a portrait of her daughter. Image courtesy of Anna Rose Bain
Anna Rose Bain is a fine art painter and commissioned portrait artist known for her award-winning paintings of women and children. Her work is in numerous private and public collections around the world.
Anna studied fine art at Hillsdale College and now resides in Arvada, Colorado with her husband Steve and their two children.
Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet dozens of women artists (and a few men, too!) whose stories are similar to mine: each of us has been called to be an artist. Without it, we’d be lost. But, we are also devoted parents or caregivers.
I’m a full-time artist. But, I'm also a wife and a mom of two young children, ages six and two. At a women’s conference last weekend, I was expressing my feelings of exhaustion to another woman and she said, “You know … you can love from a deficit.”
I tilted my head and said, “Say that again?
“You can love from a deficit.”
She went on to explain that we are merely the conduits through which love flows. The source is from outside of us, a wellspring of abundant life, love, and creativity. We have to believe in that greater power in order to step into our own.
So ... just how do we do that?
Chances are, you’ve already been drawing from your wellspring of power for longer than you realize.
Both art and caregiving demand long hours, patience, determination, resilience, and passion. And, they are both acts of love. Creating anything is an act of love, and because love is the strongest thing in our universe, it is truly possible to be a caregiver and an artist.
Is it easy? Of course not! But nothing great ever happens without effort.
Where does the day go?
Ok. Big-picture-rose-colored-glasses-ideals aside, if you’re anything like me, you start the day feeling fresh and optimistic. You are kind and cordial to your family, and you have a long checklist of things to accomplish.
But gradually it gets harder to hang on to. By noon you’ve realized you spent the entire morning breaking up fights or cleaning up the footprints that repeatedly get tracked in because the toddler has figured out how to open the patio door anytime he wants. Lunchtime is a zoo and you thank your lucky stars that you bought the rug that magically hides all the ketchup stains.
By mid-afternoon, when the kids are napping or quietly reading, you would normally sneak in some studio time, but you opt for a nap instead. By the end of the day, it’s all you can do not to yell at everyone (including the dog) while reaching for a glass of wine and making the kids go to bed early. And then you're left you’re wondering where the day went!
We need to guard our best hours and use them wisely.
I recently started thinking about some practical ways to optimize my “work” time—meaning, time spent at the easel (the work that requires the most focus and mental energy). With this, I concluded that the best hours of the day for me were between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. That’s it. It might be different for you. One of my artist friends gets her best work done late at night!
Anna painting with her son. Image courtesy of Anna Rose Bain
Make space for productivity and parenthood.
Some days, I call “parenting days.” These are days when I resign myself to not doing my art, but I resolve instead to really spend quality time with my kids, as well as accomplish any home or domestic projects I’ve been wanting to get done (cleaning, organizing clothes the kids have outgrown, etc).
Don't be afraid to cut back.
When I had my first child, I was still taking on occasional commission work and creating new paintings for my local gallery. But, I cut way back on all of my other outside commitments so that the only things I had left to focus on were my family and my art. I realize when I look back that this was a wise decision because it helped me zero in on what mattered—and to excel in these areas.
The worst mistake you can make as a caregiver or an artist is to stretch yourself too thin. When this happens, you quickly become stressed and resentful, and the quality of your work suffers across the board.
Bottom line: art and caregiving require balance.
Balance is about getting rid of the unnecessary and fiercely holding on to what’s important.
I have not figured all this out. There is something new to learn every day. But I can tell you a few things I have learned or am continuing to learn, about finding balance in parenting and painting.
- Attend first to your soul : I’ve tried “toughing it out,” and believe me, this never bodes well. It usually ends in some kind of breakdown. Maintain your spiritual and mental health so that you can withstand the pressures of art and care-giving.
- Take care of your health: I am an avid Crossfitter. I do this to be strong for my family. But mostly I do it so that I can have the energy and strength to keep up with the craziness of life. It’s important to find something that you can do just for YOU, outside of family and career.
Anna with her son. Image courtesy of Anna Rose Bain
- When you feel frustrated, change what you’re doing. In art, that could mean switching media or subject matter, or putting down the brush and picking up an art book instead. During my pregnancies, I had very little motivation or energy to paint, so I did a lot more writing instead. This mental downtime was also a great time to work on the business side of my art, such as documenting paintings, sales, and collector profiles on Artwork Archive.
- Be okay with accepting and asking for help. Seek out a therapist or counselor if necessary. During the past few years, in addition to receiving some excellent counsel about art and life from trusted friends, I have also listened to dozens of audiobooks. Half of them were art books (biographies, marketing advice, philosophy), and the other half were “self-help.” I wanted to keep thinking about art and growing as a painter, but I also wanted to rid my soul of the personal chaos I was always experiencing as I dealt with so many major life changes.
Show yourself grace. As artists, we are constantly bombarded with the message that if we’re not productive at all times, or doing something to promote our business—like sending out email campaigns, posting on social media, teaching or volunteering, entering shows, etc.—then we are not going to be successful artists. You know what? Success is relative. And if you have somehow managed to check everything off your list, but are burnt out and miserable, then I wouldn’t consider that success. Give yourself a break once in a while, and you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll become!
At the end of the day
Remember that the ones who need us, whose lives we are shaping, are what matter more than anything else.
This will often mean putting down the brush when tiny hands are shoving a book into your lap. Yes, read that book. She's little today, and a grown-up tomorrow.