Successfully managing a creative practice whilst mothering can be an exhausting balancing act. Do you ever wonder what the average day looks like for other mother artists? Artist Meets Mother’s “A Day in the Life of” project aims to show you how they do it.
Today we are looking into the daily life of abstract painter and sculptur Lael Burns.
I am an artist and mother of 3 children, 6, 3, and 1 yrs old. I make work that is mostly an expression of my life with God and as a mother. We homeschool year round so I am with all my children 24/7 which makes for a week of deliberate planning to maintain a productive studio practice. This is a general picture of what a normal day with no big errands or anything too eventful going on. .
My day ideally starts out early before everyone gets up so I can get some alone time in prayer, then get a shower in. My older children are usually up by 7:15am milling around (sort of) quietly with my husband while we let the baby sleep in a bit longer.
The first chunk of the day is a balance of baby care, eating, household chores, and homeschooling the big kids. We also use the morning to run errands, have play dates, or go to special classes. The baby still takes a short nap in the morning too which provides some extra one on one school time with my oldest if we are doing school at home.
This is lunch, story time, then play for the kids while I finish up some housework. With 3 young children this part of the day is just really non stop busy with various things that come up with kids.
2:00pm - 4:00pm:
Nap/quiet time. My baby will usually sleep for 2 hours so I can have some time to “myself” while my older children do various quiet activities. I like to dedicate the first chunk of this time reading my Bible, which is essential for my personal and artistic growth. I do have some studio time during the second half of this time, but it’s not without interruptions so anything too messy or involved will have to wait until later. Also I work a lot with materials that are too tempting for small children not to get carried with - glitter, rhinestones, jewels, pom poms, etc., so unless I want a huge mess, it’s best to wait until curious hands are elsewhere. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and think about my work and come up with a game plan for later in the evening when the kids are in bed. If I have any computer work to do for my art practice, editing images, interviews, social media posting, etc., I can do that during this time as well. I just use this time for whatever needs to be done really, including planning for homeschool or finishing up laundry. It’s not the same every day and adjusts to the needs of that day. I have to keep my expectations low as far as productivity goes at this point in the day because the last thing I want is to get frustrated with my children and for them to feel like they are in the way of my art making. I want to enjoy my time with them and be as present as possible. They are still so little and won’t always need me so much! This is all a very delicate balance!
The older kids work through a late afternoon burst of energy in the back yard after being quiet for 2 hours while I do more housework and get dinner ready. The baby enjoys some toys on the floor or in his high chair while I cook. My husband usually comes home from work around this time as well and we have dinner and spend some family time together.
This is a combination of bath time and bedtime routines for the kids. I work hard during the day to get the housework done so my evening is as free as possible. The baby is asleep by 7:30/8:00 and my husband spends time with the bigger kids watching some shows, reading, and getting them to sleep. I often slip off into my studio during this time and get to work. It’s important that I already know what I am going to do because I don’t have a lot of time to sit and think at this point. I usually work for about 1-2 hours a night, 3-4 days a week. Sometimes I stay up later, but I try to avoid this as I have to get up early and I’m no good without sleep. Also, my physical studio space has migrated to various places in our house over the years to accommodate our growing family. Currently it occupies half of my bedroom, so it doesn’t really bless my husband to have me up all night working across the room while he is trying to sleep. Usually he joins me in the studio after the kids are in bed and we talk while I work or I stop working at this point. Although he doesn’t make art currently, he’s also an artist so his feedback is really helpful! So at a certain point, I just have to accept what I got done as enough and go to bed and remember that tomorrow is a new day!
When I am not working towards a specific deadline, I work this schedule 3-4 days a week and get in about 6-8 hours in the studio if I include the time I sneak in during nap time. It’s surprising how much you can get done if you just plug away at it consistently little by little. If I do have a big deadline to meet, I will temporarily work 6 nights a week and for 2-3 hours a night if possible plus anything I can get done during the daytime, although I have to admit that I find myself avoiding huge commitments right now because this isn’t feasible for me to maintain for too long of a stretch currently. And that is ok. I can’t compare myself to other artists and how much they are doing. We all have to find our own way with balancing motherhood and art making. For me, when it starts to feel like too much of a “job” I have to scale back. I quit my career teaching art when I started having kids so that I could focus on them as my career. It is true that my studio practice has changed drastically prior to having children. I don’t get long uninterrupted stretches of time alone, but I’ve learned to embrace it.
I’ve had to adapt to mostly choppy interrupted work patterns. Right now I’m mostly working small so I can finish things to show and work through some experimentation more quickly. I tend to work in series or groups and assembly line style to make things more efficient. I work this way so I can have all the materials out I need at once and stay in a similar frame of mind for that work session. Like if I’m making sculptures, they all get a layer of glitter at the same time, or if I’m spray painting something, I’m looking around for everything I can find that needs spray painting. This works quite well with the beautiful interruptions of life with small children. I really enjoy the parallel of growing a body of work, growing children, and growing spiritually. It’s this beautiful, messy, and fleeting conversation that I seek to capture with my work right now.