An Interview With Francine Hsu Davis

Sitting down now after a long day, baby finally asleep in her basket, kids finally asleep not in their own beds I am pleased to  have the opportunity once again to share with you an insight into the processes and experiences of inspiring women practicing their art whilst raising their children. Today In this Artist Meets Mother interview painter Francine Hsu Davis talks about art, mum guilt and how she keeps all of her plates spinning.

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Tell me a bit about your art. What inspires you to paint?

I primarily paint urban landscapes and memories of places using oil (and occasionally mixed media with oil).  Growing up in NYC has definitely had a huge impact on my work, but more recently, I have been inspired by living abroad in Asia where I explored/learned about where my family came from.  I have always felt a bit of a split as many Asian Americans do when they have immigrant parents but grow up in a different culture.  So I paint moments that I do not want to forget as a way of cataloguing the cultures I straddle.  Mostly, I am drawn to urban environments for their color, texture, and energy.

Can you share anything of your journey as a mother with us? How many children do you have?

I have two feisty daughters who have learned that to get through art openings and studio openings, they should find the snack table first.  I worked as an architect for over a decade and when the kids were young, I barely saw them.  I remember "pumping and dumping" at the airport on a work trip and just feeling like this is all wrong.  They were in daycare most of the day and my mother would pick them up and feed them dinner.  Then one day, tired of the rat race, I decided we needed a big change.  We sold everything and moved to Taipei so that I could spend full time with the kids.  Missing them daily was the spark needed to rethink my career (that and the desire to paint, of course). 

Do you feel that motherhood has changed your experience as an artist?

Absolutely.  For the longest time, I did not want to identify myself as a mother/artist or a female artist.  I just wanted to be an "Artist".  I realize now that it is impossible to separate that part of me.  It effects my efficiency, my organization, my creativity, my drive, etc.  Most importantly, I think it has brought me courage.  Courage to carve my own path so my kids know they can do it too and courage to paint like no ones looking.  The artist life can be lonely, but we can also care too much about what people think of our work.  It could be a combination of getting older and being a mother that I realize not seeing the finish line is ok.  You don't just stop being a mother one day and I don't plan on stopping being an artist either.  My roles as both will change as my kids go through different developmental stages.

Tell me a bit about your process. Do you involve your children in your art at all or is your time spent creating time for yourself?

I used to draw people on the subway during my daily commute.  While living abroad, I went out almost daily to sketch urban scenes.  I use those experiences of drawing from life as well as reference photos to create new oil paintings.  For my large "Memories" series, I completed last year, I made collages first and then created paintings based on those collages.  My kids are involved in almost all the aspects of my art life except when I am putting paint on canvas (although in a crunch, they have a painting station in my studio).  They are there with me to install shows, attend art openings, package and mail paintings.  They also see me work on my website or do marketing work in between homework sessions and helping them with piano.

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Describe to us your work space. Where do you create?

I moved to the Bay Area of California to a small apartment and tried to paint in it for the first week (I unpacked boxes very efficiently).  I quickly found that I could no longer put work away when it came to family time and by the second week had found a great studio 10 minutes away by car.  I first rented a storage space that had been cleaned up for me.  A year later, someone within the same art space needed a studio mate, so I now share a much larger space with a sign painter.  There is a ton of light, super tall ceilings, but I am almost always freezing in there.  No space is perfect, but this one has been the perfect fit for the time being.

What positives do you feel being a mother brings to your artistic practice?

Being a mother means bringing your super powers to an artistic practice.  I mean, really, if you can keep a newborn alive, survive toddlerhood, and be the only one in the entire family not to get the flu, then being an artist should be a vacation right?  Not really, but I definitely think there a ton of positives that being a mother can bring to any career.  When you are the CEO, CFO, COO and Chief of everything else of a household, you tend to be able to handle multiple spinning plates in the air.  I hung a show recently and the owner commented how professionally and timely it was completed and my response was, I don't have any other choice, I have to go pick up my kids so I had to plan ahead, know where everything was going and just do it.  On the flip side, being a mother has also taught me that you can plan as much as you want, but no one really has to stick with it.  Tell a baby, they were supposed to nap an hour ago and see if she cares.  Being an artist (much like a mother), often means just rolling with it.

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What challenges does it bring?

As a mother of younger kids, I definitely do not have the luxury of time.  As much as I would love to stand around and chat with my studio mates, there's always a sense of urgency, that I need to use my time efficiently.  While I love to be efficient in other aspects of my life, it is not so great for art if it is a constant pressure buzzing in my head.  I have all kinds of alarms set on my phone because one of my biggest worries is that I will be in such a flow state painting that I will forget to pick up my kids.  Then there's mom guilt.  Everyone's life looks different, but for myself, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure my kids have healthy homemade meals so I prep Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, Afterschool Snack, and dinner 5 days a week at minimum.  I've tried to lighten up a bit on this one.  There's guilt when I'm away from the studio and there's guilt when I'm away from the kids.  It's just something that I think I have to work on my own mindset.

Being both a mother and an artist can be a difficult balance. How do you try and manage this?

Being a mother, a wife, and a difficult and then to toss in artist to the mix, it can just seem crazy some days.  Balance exists in a different form for me that changes daily, weekly, constantly.  I try to keep most of the rest of my life organized so that I can make a mess and be free in the studio.  Helping everyone understand that mom doesn't need to and can't always do everything for you is a good start.  Now that the kids are a little older, I've also been much better about sharing drawing materials and tools.  Even though they've always had their own kid sets, they are always curious about the types of pens, pencils, brushes, paint, that I use.  I'll let them share the tools that I keep at home (watercolor palettes, pencils, brush markers, gel pens, etc.)

Self care is important as a mother. Do you feel that allowing yourself the time to create then goes on to benefit your parenting in any way?

I can get super grumpy if I don't get studio time in.  I try to keep "office hours" so Monday- Friday, for the most part, which are my days to create while the kids are at school.  I have learned in recent months though that prolonged intense time of making can really put a stress on your body and patience level.  I've started to limit my office hours a little to allow myself time out of the studio to just do cartwheels on the grass with the kids and go to the gym.  Seeing art is also a kind of self care to me, so I try to decide which ones to do on my own and which ones would be enjoyable for the kids as well.  I hope one day they will thank me for all the museums and galleries I drag them to.

Where can we see more of your artwork?

You can see more of my artwork on my website: and Instagram: @francinehd

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For more art by inspiring mother artists follow our Instagram feed @ArtistMeetsMother or scroll through the Artist Meets Mother category here on my blog.

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