How having kids saved my art career

Yes, you read that right. Having two attention-demanding, resource-sapping, energy-eroding, time-consuming, WONDERFUL little children actually saved my art career.

So how did this happen?

Well, before I had children I was enjoying life as a young woman, travelling around, working hard at a casino and making good money at the time and spending it all on entertaining myself and my husband and friends. I was also, incidentally, making VERY LITTLE ART! Why? Heck, I was having too much fun indulging myself.

After I had my first child I suddenly had a host of new considerations:

  • Money was suddenly scarcer than ever before.
  • I had to learn to manage my time.
  • I wanted my son to grow up to be proud of me.
  • I had to take care of my health and energy more than ever before.
  • I had to return to a “learning” mindset.
  • I was constantly reminded of my limits.
  • I was forced to do things I didn’t think I was capable of beforehand.
  • I had to become authoritative and at the same time, trustworthy.

Reading over this list, you may begin to see how parenting may have really had a hand in helping me develop as an artist. After all, before you develop as an anything (artists included) you must generally first develop as a person, and parenting is a very effective way to force that upon even the most stubborn of people (like me for example).

Now, let’s examine some of the points in this list a little more closely.

Money was suddenly scarcer than ever before.

This one’s a no-brainer. We all know that kids cost an inordinate amount of money. Even the most blissfully brand-oblivious, easily entertained child will one day go to the ER and cost you thousands of dollars, often through no fault of their own. It’s life. …but how on Earth can you hope to keep buying your art supplies with another human being or two (or six, I don’t judge) adding exponential food, health, clothing and shelter expenses to your budget?

You learn to pinch pennies, that’s how.

Suddenly, you’re eyeing that sturdy but ugly wooden frame in the flea market and realizing you can buy it for a buck, buy spraypaint, and have a sturdy frame that will go in any swank gallery. You learn to barter for supplies with other artists, or swap something for babysitting, or buy your clothes from nice consignment or charity places. You begin saving money with everything you do…survival depends on it! And suddenly, you have many more art supplies than you’ve ever had, because you’re not going down to that expensive chain store or one-size-fits-all printing place for all your needs, just like the casual shopper next to you. You’re starting to really think like a businessman in your field. Buy low…sell high!

I had to learn to manage my time.

You are busted if you can’t figure out how to do this with a host of kids running around your feet. Those are little thinking people who not only need your financial support, they need your attention. If you can’t figure out how to give them at least some of your time, you risk having unhappy kids and possibly disadvantaged teens and adults later. So isn’t that a huge setback to your art?

Well, in my case I’ll show you some examples. In 2007, before I’d had my first child, my artistic body of work consisted of a lot of indifferent school figure-drawing exercises, a hefty amount of fan-art about my favorite video game and anime characters, and something like FIVE serious recent pieces I could be proud of. I’d had one solo show (in school) and been in about a dozen group shows (in school). I was 26 and this was what I had.

Fast forward to me at 33. My C.V. almost entirely consists of work that occurred after I had either one or both of my sons. Between 2008 and 2010, I worked intensely on developing my style and working on my technique. The result? From 2011 to 2014 I did around 50 shows and I have another dozen or so lined up for now through Summer. All of these shows involved me making new work. This was only possible because my kids taught me to manage my time and prioritize.

I wanted my son to grow up to be proud of me.

Having a child not only forced me to at least try to become a role-model; I also experienced an unpleasant brush with my own mortality a time or two during each pregnancy. You have to sign forms that force you to decide what to do if they have to choose to save you or the baby, and in the case of my second son, I had some real trouble during my second pregnancy. It’s scary! But confronting your own mortality forces you to think: “What am I leaving behind me?” Well, my answer to that (besides my awesome kids) was: “I want to leave a huge, fantastic body of artwork behind me darn it!!”

This was also the realization that finally got me off the “Fan-Art Habit.” Now, I still enjoy making fan-art from time to time, and it’s fun to do little sketches for friends and fans on devinatART or tumblr or what have you. But fan-art, just like fanfiction, has the highly unfortunate tendency of becoming the only kind of art or fiction you produce. Generally fans of a series form a tight-knit community, friends and members frequently praise you and demand more art or fiction (or both!) …and before you know it, all you do is fan-art. Some people even make good money off of this, which I will not attempt to go into in this post…but ultimately, is any of this something you could proudly show your grandkids?

“Look little Billy, I consider this to be my best drawing of Rainbow Dash. It got 5000 pageviews!”

…well in my case, I wanted something “more” to show my kids.

I had to take care of my health and energy more than ever before.

Or in other words, “I had to learn to take care of myself.” Before I had kids, I sucked down sodapop all day everyday in wild abandon. I ignored vegetables. I slept a couple of hours, then went to work (or returned to smashing porings in my video game du jour). I got drunk more frequently.

Was it fun? Sure!! But it made me into a tired, pudgy thirty-year-old who had to figure out how in heck to sleep enough and eat the kind of foods that made me want to do anything at all past lying on the couch and waiting for death. I needed energy to change and teach and feed those kids! Well, I forced myself to develop better habits and aside from having two happier, more-loved kids and a husband with a renewed twinkle in his eye, it also resulted in HEAPS OF FINISHED ART. For once!!

I had to return to a “learning” mindset.

Since I had to go back to being more interested in math, science, history, politics and the world around me in order to help my sons gain an understanding of these things, I was much better prepared when I had to learn how to set up a comic book in Amazon…or learn how to use SAI and MangaStudio, or learn how to frame my work.

When I was younger, I was cocky. I sometimes reached a “cap” where I lost patience with learning new things for a project, and I assumed that if I had to learn “that much new stuff” to reach my goal, the goal was absurd! Now I realize that the old saw “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” is absolutely true. If a project or dream requires me to learn new skills, it’s not the project’s fault. It’s time for me to step up…and once I do, I’ll be infinitely more desirable and valuable to clients. How can I lose?

I was constantly reminded of my limits.

This may seem like an odd principle to follow after my above affirmation that it’s great to learn new skills for a project. However, learning my limits as a mom taught me to delegate and allow myself time to recover from big challenges. If you need to learn a new skill, you need time to learn that new skill and you need to be patient with yourself as you try and fail. If you recognize this, you’ll be a lot more realistic in projecting the amount of time for your next project.

I was forced to do things I didn’t think I was capable of beforehand.

After you’ve taken care of a newborn, or survived the nightmarish process of potty-training or enrolling your child in school for the first time, you will feel like YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. Obviously we all have limits, but they’re apparently a lot farther out than we thought they were! Often we fail to try a thing simply because we are convinced beforehand, without researching it or trying it out, that we can’t do it. With kids, you don’t always get the option of being afraid to do something…you have to do it anyway because if you don’t, no one will.

Art is the same way. If you don’t grow your art career and constantly strive to appear out in the world and sell and develop your work, no one else will either.

I had to become authoritative and at the same time, trustworthy.

Welcome to parenthood…and freelancing!! Suddenly, you have to be an “authority.” With your kids, this is because you are an adult with more life experience than them. With clients, this is because you are the artist and they are not. Sometimes your client is an artist themselves, but they chose you to do the job. Then you still have to be an authority on how much you’re willing to do, for what compensation, in what timeframe.

In all cases as a freelancer, you have to be confident and professional.

A lot of artists do NOT start out as confident people, and their work can suffer for it. They can end up not demanding enough compensation and become disillusioned or forced to give up on art altogether when it fails to pay adequately. Alternately, they can be repeatedly bulldozed by clients with unsuitable ideas until they find they have created a body of work that looks nothing like who they really are, and may even violate their own moral considerations.

Neither of these scenarios makes for a happy artist or your best work, and worse yet if you become known for a certain type of work, that is what other clients will hire you for regardless if it is actually what you want to do. How is the client to know you don’t actually want to spend your life painting exactly like Norman Rockwell or making sparkly GIFs of teddybears and poodles if that’s all they ever see in your portfolio? (I personally like teddybears, but you get the idea.)

Bottom line, you have to be an authority on yourself and what you do, and you have to be professional enough that your client will trust you to help them make the very best decision for the project. Same with galleries, publications and so on…you need to know and project exactly what you can do, while being trustworthy enough that they have no problem allying your art to their livelihood by featuring it in their place of business.

Are any of you Artist-Parents? Did the kids help or hurt your personal journey?

For me, the kids literally saved my art life from ending and becoming a life spent in personal indulgences and occasional hobbyist art, art that I would not even own the copyright to if I chose to do mainly fan material. Others with different styles of working might have a much different story to tell than mine, so I’d love to hear your experiences in the Comments. All in all though, I hope this post may encourage some people who believe children must automatically mean the death of all other dreams.

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2 thoughts on “How having kids saved my art career

  1. Great article, I work from home juggling my time between working and looking after kids the youngest is 1 can be difficult I am just lucky my wife works full time and any money make is a bonus.

    1. Thanks! I’m in the same situation, it definitely wouldn’t be possible for me to do this right now without the love and support of my spouse. Luckily, I got the opportunity to focus on the kids at home, but as a consequence now I’m able to grow my art career.

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