Welcome to Week 51 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.
"Rumor has it, I had an early knack for home improvement projects: I was caught cutting flowers out of draperies at my grandma's apartment, painting her balcony with fruit punch and drawing on her wallpaper."
Yevgenia Watts is an accomplished watercolorist whose work is featured in galleries around the world. She chooses to work in watercolor because she likes the way it behaves like a living thing: it floats, it blooms, it has a mind of its own, and she says it constantly surprises her. In addition to her own painting, Yevgenia teaches classes in watercolor techniques both in person and online.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Yevgenia – can you please describe your family?
Myself (34), my husband Terry (33), our son Elijah (6), and daughters Katia (3) and Ella (2).
What is your business?
I make art and I sell it. This includes original paintings, prints, licensed products, custom work, and teaching.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
Reading gorgeously illustrated books and making stuff.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Absolutely! Rumor has it, I had an early knack for home improvement projects: I was caught cutting flowers out of draperies at my grandma's apartment, painting her balcony with fruit punch and drawing on her wallpaper.
I learned knitting, sewing and embroidery from mom and grandma and made my own stuffed toys, doll clothes, and later on, clothes for myself. I loved making cardboard models of rooms and furniture, and populating them with clay people.
And of course, I've always loved drawing and painting.
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?
It was definitely something that grew on me. As long as I remember correctly, I vowed not to get married or have children. I knew I wanted to have a satisfying creative career and did not want to take care of people. Having both didn't seem to happen in real life. Up until the day I got married, this was my sentiment. Things changed dramatically since then!
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?
I'd say I AM in my early years of motherhood. And, while it often feels like I am putting my creative work aside, the truth is, I am very productive.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
I began showing and selling my art when I was pregnant with my first child, so, in a sense, my son and my business were born at the same time. It was the opposite of putting creative work on hold. I started blogging and opened an Etsy shop when Elijah was three months old, brought him to my first outdoor art fair when he was 10 months. It helped that I did not return to work and had time to develop an art business.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
I've always liked art but I also grew up with the idea that being an artist was not a viable career option. I chose the next best thing, architecture. In the aftermath of 2008 recession, it didn’t work out very well anyway, and I had the perfect opportunity to return to my first love, art, when I decided to stay home with the baby in 2009. My husband was a huge help in nudging me to focus on my art as a viable business.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
It’s a daily struggle. I have a strong drive to hole up in a studio and paint, and I crave alone time constantly. But I also became a loving mom who wants the best for her children. So, I compromise. Sometimes, it means letting the dishes pile up while I get ready for a show; other times, it means letting an email go unanswered while I play chess with my son or cuddle with my daughters.
I had six years to figure out this balancing act and I still don’t feel like I've got it. It changes constantly, too. I used to become very frustrated with the demands of motherhood when I was absorbed in creative work. I hated being yanked out of my “zone” and having to drop everything to go attend to someone else’s needs. At some point, however, I realized I had to make either my family or my work a priority. Stereotype or not, this had to happen for me to find peace with myself. And, as I searched my heart, I decided that ultimately, I rank my family above my art. It was a major shift to understand that about myself, and given all the stories about women, family, and career I grew up with, it was very difficult. But it felt right.
It doesn’t mean that I became a self-sacrificial saint mother. It helped me see my kids not as a nuisance and interruption from my “real life” but as the most important part of my life.
I don’t do multitasking very well, so I tend to separate the time I spend with my children with time I spend with my art. Right now, for example, the hour and a half when my 3- and 2-year-olds are napping, is my sacred work-on-my-business time. This allows me to get some work done but also to be fully present when the little ones wake up.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
Since our last move, I don’t have a studio. It is now split between the garage, the living room, and the dining room. So I have to set up and break down every time I paint (otherwise my very creative daughters will be tempted to mess with my stuff). My medium (watercolor) is already kid-friendly, so I don’t need to worry about fumes, stains, hot surfaces and whatnot.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
Because I am short on space and time, I tend to work small. I like to think that I’m getting a lot of practice for the fabulous large pieces I will create when all of my kids are in school.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
I sometimes wonder whether I would ever start my art business if I didn't have children. Although very demanding, being a stay at home mom initially allowed me the flexibility to explore life as an artist and experiment with my business.
After I had kids #2 and #3, the time I can dedicate to my business shrunk significantly and it forced me to become very deliberate in how I use that time. Unfortunately, this often means that I prioritize art-making time over business-running time.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children? Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I can't really objectively compare my kids with others but I think they make art (and crafty things) more often and with fewer restrictions, as a result of watching me and receiving encouragement and support from me.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I hope it encourages them to pursue whatever dreams they have for themselves. For my daughters especially, I hope it will show them that having a family and self-fulfillment are not mutually exclusive.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
- Adjust your expectations. I still occasionally get frustrated when I count on an hour of uninterrupted creating time and it doesn't happen. So, don't set yourself up with unrealistic expectations. If 5 minutes at a time is all you can get, get it!
- Have a schedule. Kids respond well to having a structure to their day. And you will, too. Right now, for example, we have nap time for Katia (3.5) and Ella (2), around 12-2 pm. This gives me a block of time to work (or take a nap, whichever seems more pressing at the time :)
- Learn to say 'No' to some things. No, you don't have to be the PTA president, remodel your bedroom and make art for a show all at the same time. Pick what is most important to you, based on your values and goals, and go for it.
- Adjust your process. This may be working smaller, switching to a more kid-friendly medium, and moving your art headquarters to the kitchen island. Some stolen creating time in your living room is better than no creating time in your studio.
- Make art with (or alongside) your kids. This one looks better 'on paper' than in real life, but I hear it is an option. Unless I'm just sketching, I need to be in a state of mind that is completely different from 'OMG, is she about to fall out of the chair?' and 'Oh no, too much mess!' So, it works better with older kids who may possibly allow you to dip your toes in your 'zone.
- Do the sketchbook. That sketching I mentioned above, it can be a mom-saver. Just do it.
- Go hang out with other artists once in a while. Attend a meetup, go draw a nude or paint some plein air. You don't even have to talk. Just being in company of other creative souls will recharge your batteries. And get you out of the house!
- Take the kid(s) with you. Yes you can!
- Hire a babysitter, if you can, or get another family member to watch the little ones while you work. This, of course, really depends on your situation, but is so worth it!
- Stop comparing yourself to others. This is really the same as my first point. Do what is right for you at this point in your life and hang in there!
Thank you so much, Yevgenia, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Yevgenia in the following places: