Balancing Motherhood with a Creative Business by Aftyn Shah

 

I no longer believe in work-life balance. I think it’s a myth. And, like many other myths, I think it’s rooted in momentary half-truths, which of course leave out a lifetime’s worth of details. Frustrating, messy, and totally robust, if utterly mundane details. Instead, I’ve come to realize there will always be an ebb and flow of priorities. Sometimes the waves are gentle, and we’re able to ride them easily, and other times we’re tossed around until we might be pulled under. We’re up and down and here and there, and sometimes just holding on and praying for sanity.

Can you tell I’ve felt more like I’m in the rough waters lately?

Beyond the Instagram Squares

I find myself scrolling through Instagram and seeing idyllic photos of mothers contentedly creating while their little ones play at their feet or sleep wrapped to their chests. And then I find myself posting photos of adorable chubby hands “helping” me work in the studio or happily crawling around my table, like they fit in easily into my process.

And it’s such a farce.

Parenting is exhausting. It's joy-filled and beautiful, but bringing up tiny humans, helping them thrive and become good people, is a massive undertaking. It’s a full-time endeavor, 24-hours of every single day. Some moments, I feel like I’m the best mom in the world; others, I worry I’m completely failing these boys. Most days are somewhere in between that very broad spectrum, and I think that's normal for most parents.

Add in any kind of employment (whether you work in or out of the home) or a similarly demanding responsibility, and you’re going to inevitably face conflict. Struggle. Frustration. Disappointment. A lot of feelings.

Small Children Don't Make Great Helpers

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I started R+W as a sort of hobby, a mental stretch activity after a brain injury. I had my one son at home with me, back when we were in St. Louis, and he went to daycare for two or three full days each week. I had a wealth of time (approximately 30 hours to myself) to rest, go to my doctors’ appointments, do my cognitive therapies, focus on diet, hike, create, tidy the house, and fulfill the very few orders I had in the beginning. I had a rhythm and everything felt easy.

Fast forward to today. I have two boys now (SJ is four, Sam will be one at the end of June) and R+W has grown into a full-blown business. A small one (hi, it’s just me), but a business all the same. Unfortunately, while R+W has grown, my dedicated hours have disappeared. SJ goes to nursery school for part of the day, but I have Sam with me full-time, and he’s a handful.

Let’s just say, when you see his chubby little hands in photos, it’s obviously cute, but I’m not holding him in my lap because I love the stinker so much (I do). It’s because that twenty-pound tornado of a child believes it’s his purpose in life to attack everything by either beating it into the ground or chewing it to smithereens. His only goal at this point is to conquer through destruction, and that could be his brother’s Lego towers or the artwork I took hours to create.

Also, he might not walk, but he climbs. He scales the safety gate and laughs. This kid is like a mischievous little monkey.

So, here I am, like any small business owner, trying to get stuff done. We wear so many hats, am I right? Artist, webmaster, social media strategist, copywriter, photographer, bookkeeper and accountant, admin, packer/shipper, supply manager… But I’m also trying to keep this kid alive and from devastating our house. And, on the subject of our house, I’m also the one trying to keep it presentable to the point that we don’t hide behind our couch if the neighbors stop by.

(I want to note, before you make any assumptions, that my husband is amazing and supportive and a great father, but he works full-time himself and is also enrolled in graduate school right now. When he's home and we're all together, we try to emphasize family time.)

All of this to say that sometimes parenthood and running a business feel like two diametrically opposed objectives. If you feel this way, you’re not alone.

You. Are. Not. Alone.

Being a “mompreneur” has become a bit of a cliché these days, and there is this image of women who somehow manage to fit it all in and get it done while we carry our babes around in wraps or on our hips. Our houses are full of gorgeous houseplants we always remember to water, our windows let in beautiful natural light, and we cook amazing meals--all of this on top of creating nonstop!

This is not real life.

And no amount of chanting #HustleHarder or “You’ve got this, mama!” on social media is going to make it easier. If you take everyone at their word, we all seem to be doing so darn well, like it’s easy. But that almost does a disservice to the effort.

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It’s not easy.

You are not alone. I want you to know that, from me to you. So many of us are struggling behind the scenes of these little square pictures you see posted. That doesn't mean we're unhappy or can't recognize our luck in doing what we love. It just means so many of us are wishing for another five hours in the day (preferably when the babies are miraculously sleeping).

It Takes a Village

There might be that one in a million mother whose sweet children cooperate throughout her studio time and play nicely, but more likely there are temper tantrums about breakfast, shoe standoffs, and messes happening while she tries to eke out three minutes of work whenever possible. And, if those things aren’t there, I guarantee she either has a baby who sleeps beautifully and never fusses or she has help. A village. Either she pays for that village or she has wonderfully supportive family and friends who can help out.

Which brings me to one of the changes I’ve been hinting at for my family. At the end of May, we are welcoming a wonderful young woman into our home to help with our children. For the first time ever, I will have regular studio time, dedicated creative periods. I don’t think I can properly convey in words how excited how I am.

To be totally frank, I have felt like I’m drowning these past couple months. My orders are running up against my internal two-week deadline for shipment, I’m painfully behind on emails (sorry!), and I have been turning down opportunities I really want. On top of this, I feel like I’m not the mother or wife or friend or daughter that I want to be.

So, there it is. Life is not Instagram, which we all know, but sometimes need reminding. Sometimes we need help. I want to be very transparent as I make this change in my business, because when June comes and I'm able to focus more on R+W I don't want anyone to think I'm doing it alone.

Little & Wonderfully Wild Hands by Aftyn Shah

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Nature Prints with Little Wild Hands

My son has an artist's spirit. Most children do. They approach art with bold and barefaced joy, excited about color and shapes and the simple joy of creating. They don't think too much. They don't carry with them the baggage of preconceived notions from art classes, books, peers, society... They're wild and it's beautiful.

They also observe constantly. So, when I started using clippings from our garden to paint (or print) this past week, SJ was of course curious and wanted to try for himself. On his birthday (my big-hearted four-year-old!), I prepared the supplies and we collected the clippings together. Such an easy activity and the results are lovely.

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What You'll Need

Because I have a whole arsenal of artist-quality materials, I tend to use them for our crafts together and I'll list them below. That said, it's completely unnecessary, and I'll include a more cost-effective option, too. I included links to Amazon for convenience!

Paper

We used white cotton Stonehenge paper, which takes paint beautifully, but any kind of heavier paper like Canson Mixed Media or Canson Acrylic Paper would work. Of course, you could use whatever you have on hand, too! The heavier papers are just great because they are intended to take wet paint and don't warp.

Paint

I'm a huge fan of Golden Acrylics, especially their Heavy Body and Open lines. For this, I watered down some Heavy Body paints in a few colors (putting a dab of paint and slowly adding a little water to make an opaque puddle of rich color). For stronger color, add less water! Children's acrylic paints, like this acrylic paint set, tend to be very affordable and would work well, too.

Garden Clippings

These aren't available on Amazon! :) Head outside, and take along your wide-eyed curious kiddo(s) if available, and clip whatever looks like it might have an interesting shape or texture. We picked some leafy sprigs, a Forsythia branch, small bunches of flowers, and bits of evergreen. It's best to get a variety, so you can experiment. Some will turn out beautifully, some might not - and the least expected might surprise you!

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Time to create!

Printing with Garden Clippings

I prepared the paint in plastic takeaway lids, but any dish or tin you feel comfortable using will be fine. It's easier if the container is a bit larger to fit the clippings, but not necessary - as you can see from my pictures!

Lay the clipping on its side in the paint and press it down to make sure it's fully saturated. When you lift, give it a tap to remove some of the excess, and then lay it on the paper. Depending on the results you want, you might want to press down with your hand or a piece of wax paper to make full contact. Be sure to lift carefully to avoid too much smudging.

The real fun is experimenting! Try different layouts and colors. We used a different color for each of the different clippings, and SJ was very particular about not mixing on each page (who am I to argue with his artistic vision?), but the possibilities are endless.

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They lead with a new perspective...

They're just busy creating and exploring.

As we created, I loved having the opportunity to ask SJ what he was thinking and why he was making certain choices. He was so incredibly decisive! He was also very observant, talking about how the paper absorbed the watery paint ("it's drinking the paint in!") and how the different clippings created different shapes. 

In the end, I think creating with children does two things, which might seem at odds with each other, but are actually complementary.

First, you stop thinking so much. You stop planning. You create by intuition. You just do it. 

Second, you actually think more. (Hey, I said they seem at odds!) But you think differently. You notice different things. You stop thinking about what you should be doing, because you're noticing and considering the finer, more interesting details. 

They lead you along with a new perspective. While we're often focused on getting something 'right," they're just busy creating and exploring.

Rise + Wander is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We also participate in Blick's affiliate program. This said, the following opinions are based solely on my experience and preferences, written with no regard to the affiliate programs.

Creating a Beginner's Printmaking Kit by Aftyn Shah

Are you interested in getting started with printmaking? Or maybe you have an artist in your life who is? The following is a collection of recommendations intended entirely for beginners! 

In the beginning, I think it's important to maximize experience while minimizing investment, so the goal here is to get you printing quickly and with an eye on being very wallet-friendly (particularly the first section). Once you've decided you enjoy it and want to continue, then spending a little more money to buy higher quality tools makes sense. If you're looking for those kinds of recommendations, I'll share that in another post or you can visit my Resources pages to get more information.

The Quick, Cheap, & Easy Start to Printmaking

The first and easiest option is to buy a ready-made kit and purchase a block (or a few).

 

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The Speedball Block Printing Starter Kit includes a handle with interchangeable gouges, black ink, a brayer, and a simple instruction booklet for just over $17. Add in the 5"x7" linoleum block, and you can get started at just around $21! You can buy blank cards to print on or a variety of papers, depending on your goals.

Easy, am I right?

À la Carte Option for a Starter Printing Kit

If you're interested in trying out different things and buying items separately to create your own kit, you have some options.

I would buy this set of two handles, but there is also a single handle available. When I first started, I used a Speedball cutter and found it a hassle to change out the gouges, so I bought a second handle. I had no idea this double set was available at the time! 

I tend to prefer black prints myself, and there's certainly black ink available by itself, but I also think it could be fun to have a variety, especially when getting started.

A 4" brayer is a great starting size, because it's small enough to work with small blocks and big enough to cover the larger ones without too much effort.

These three above all make great starter options: the tan linoleum, "pink stuff" rubber, and soft Moo Carve. You can find many other options from art specialty stores, like Blick, and each will have its own pros and cons. Battleship Grey Linoleum is likely the cheapest you'll find, but it also tends to be a little difficult for many beginners (especially kids), which is something to keep in mind.

Your paper choice really depends on what you want to do with your printmaking. You can, of course, just buy a pad of printmaking paper. But you can also experiment with a variety of different types of papers, playing with color and texture. Don't feel like you have to stick with JUST the paper labeled Printmaking! You can also buy blank cards and make stationery or rolls of kraft paper to make wrapping paper, among so many other options. printmaking really lends itself well to a variety of creations.

Packaging the Gift for Your Printmaker

Given the season, you might very well be buying this as a gift for your budding printmaker, so I want to include a note about presentation! Whether you chose to go simple or buy several items, you can always put it in a holiday box or bag and be done. That said, I think it can be a lot of fun to include a nice wooden box to keep art supplies. Many craft stores sell them, and you can either decorate it or leave it plain. You can arrange everything inside, maybe toss in something decorative or a card, and it really makes a great gift.

But another option that I think lends some fun is to repurpose an old wooden cigar box. While I've never smoked a single cigar myself, I absolutely adore the decorative touches on cigar boxes, and some are large enough to house the above supplies. You can ring your local tobacco shop and ask if they sell the discarded boxes. I bought a handful when I was living in DC, paying $1 or $2 for each.

Other Options

There are, of course, thousands of other options. Other brands, other types of tools, many different materials. I stuck with Speedball products because that's how I started out, and I think they make solid products, especially for someone who isn't sure they want to make a large financial investment. 

To be clear, this post is in NO way sponsored and all opinions are my own. I received nothing for free or a discount. I started printmaking by using Speedball products, so that's my natural recommendation. That said, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program through Amazon.com.