Welcome to Week 50 of Motherhood by Design – the series where mothers who also run creative businesses share their inspirations and their experiences juggling the demands of raising children while growing a creative career.
"You have a limited amount of work time in the day so you need to make every minute count—triage becomes essential to figuring out what are the most important things that need to be done, what’s the most efficient way you can do them, what can be delegated, and what should you maybe just be saying no to?"
Bridget Watson Payne is an art book editor at Chronicle Books in San Francisco (undoubtedly you've seen the books - they're the ones with the adorable logo of a sweet little pair of spectacles). She's responsible for editing those gorgeous and fun books you want to fill your arms with in a bookstore! In addition to her work in publishing, Bridget is the mother of one child and also maintains an eclectic personal blog filled with inspiration from writing and poetry, fashion, the visual arts and more.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Bridget – can you please describe your family?
My husband Bill, my five-year-old daughter Mabel, and me.
What is your business?
I’m the Senior Editor of art books at independent publisher Chronicle Books.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I loved to draw, make and build things, play make-believe games with friends, and read.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
I did a TON of drawing and quite a bit of collage as a kid, and I’d sometimes build elaborate constructions out of paper and cardboard and household items. I learned to sew as a child and learned to knit in junior high, but neither one ever really sparked passion for me.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a mother? Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
I honestly can’t remember giving it a lot of thought. Not that I thought I wouldn’t be a mom, if anything I probably assumed I would be—but I didn’t often imagine what that would be like. I didn’t picture my future children or do a lot of mothering of dolls or stuffed toys or anything like that the way some of my friends did.
In your early years of motherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the latter, when did you pick it back up?
My daughter’s five now and only in the past year or so have I really started to be able to make time for my own personal creative pursuits (writing, drawing, and painting) again—and that is very exciting! Of course because my career is also in a creative field, I’ve been working creatively almost the whole time, job-wise.
Did you start working in your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
Before. I’ve worked on art books at Chronicle for over a decade now, so Mabel arrived more or less in the middle of my creative career (so far).
What prompted you to work in your field? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
As a child I always said I would be an artist when I grew up. But I got into publishing because I love books. So my job as an art book editor really marries my two great creative loves: art and books. I’m pretty lucky.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
I am very serious about keeping clear boundaries—I think that’s key to good work/life balance. I don’t stay late at work because I need to get home to the kiddo, and I don’t work on the weekends or check work email when I’m at home. But that means that when I am at work I need to be all-in. I work really hard for an eight-and-half to nine-hour day, usually without taking much of a lunch break, so that when I’m in the office I’m getting as much done as possible. And then when I’m not in the office I can be focused on my family, my life, and my own personal creative pursuits.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I’ve discussed this quite a bit with a colleague of mine who is also a mom—we talk about how it forces you to seriously prioritize. You have a limited amount of work time in the day so you need to make every minute count—triage becomes essential to figuring out what are the most important things that need to be done, what’s the most efficient way you can do them, what can be delegated, and what should you maybe just be saying no to?
Do you find that motherhood affect your creative products in any way?
I think motherhood has made me more empathetic and socially conscious. I want to help create the world I’d like my daughter to be able to inhabit when she grows up. And I think those kinds of beliefs and trains of thought definitely bleed over into your work. Sometimes in big ways like the projects you take on, and other times in small ways like how you engage with the people you work with. Am I also sometimes extra tired and cranky because of being a parent? Yep, that too. But I hope the good outweighs the bad.
What is the biggest impact that your child has had on your business?
Having a kid forces you to examine your priorities—what are you spending your time on, what do you want to be spending your time on? I think I have much less tolerance for time-wasting than I once did. But, maybe ironically, I’ve also become a much greater believer in coffee dates and walking meetings and conversations and time to play—as opposed to just head-down busy-work—because, although it can certainly be relaxing, that more free-form stuff is not actually time-wasting. Just the opposite in fact—it’s what can lead to inspiration and great ideas—and that’s for sure worth prioritizing.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your child? Is there something you hope your child learns from you by having a creative business?
She seems to think it’s pretty cool that I make books. In the bookstore or library she’ll look for books with the little Chronicle eyeglasses logo on the spines and point them out to me. I’m also in the midst of writing two books right now—which is an incredibly exciting development for me on a personal/creative level!—and she’s started to get really excited about it too, which is just so awesome. She hangs out with her grandpa on Sunday afternoons and I go to the café to write, and when I get home she wants to ask me all about it, how much progress I made, how soon I’ll be done with the first one so I can start the second one (even a five-year-old suspects that writing two books at once is kind of a nutso thing to do!). She’s totally keeping me on task at this point! (For those keeping score—I’m nearly done with my draft of the first one, which is about art and happiness, and am about to really dive in on the second one, which is about the joys of being a grownup).
Is there something you hope your child learns from you by having a creative business?
I have a very strong hope that seeing me engaged in creative work I find personally satisfying (both career-wise and in terms of personal projects) will have a positive effect on my daughter. That it will help lead her to deeply believe that she can pursue whatever career path excites her, that she’s entitled to work that’s fulfilling, that prioritizing her passions and interests is legit—regardless of whether for her personally that ends up meaning creative work or something else.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Sadly we live in a culture that, in spite of many advances, still unthinkingly assigns a lot of very traditional roles—for instance the vast majority of childcare—to women. I think the more that can be done to truly level the playing field between mothers and fathers at home, the closer we’ll be to all feeling less overwhelmed (I highly recommend Bridget Shulte’s book Overwhelmed for much more on this fascinating and important topic). And there’s also that question of prioritization again—we all make time to feed ourselves, we all make time to get our kids Halloween costumes, we can all make time (even if it’s only a teeny tiny bit of time at first) to be creative—we just have to get really serious about prioritizing it.
Thank you so much, Bridget, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Bridget in the following places: