Back to Work with a Baby: Part 4 – Alone Time

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It has been quite a while since my last “Back to Work with a Baby” post. I suppose that’s what happens when you try to continue working from home – with a baby – and then try to add some extra blog posts on top of that. So now our little one is almost 7 months old and things are starting to normalize – at least until she’s mobile.

As I’ve mentioned previously, finding the time for both my husband and I to get our work done has been one of our biggest challenges. We’ve both had very busy first halves of 2015 and hopefully the rest of the year continues that way. But for me, that has meant a real lack of alone time to do anything other than client work or promotion. And when I do find myself with a bit of time, I can’t use that time very well when I’m home and the baby is home. Even if my husband is taking care of her for a few hours I find it difficult to let my mind ignore what they are doing and just have some fun with my sketchbook.

Yesterday I had the chance to get out of the house with just my sketchbook (and John Hendrix‘s Drawing is Magic). I took a long walk (despite the threat of 90 degree weather) to a coffee shop and just sat and sketched some people around me. And when they all got up and left, I played around with Drawing is Magic. It felt SO GOOD to be out by myself and to be doing whatever I wanted for a couple of hours. It would seem like I should have been able to do that before now, but between my work and my husband’s work, the free time I have had usually went to chores or simply lying on the sofa, exhausted.

Even though I was only gone for about two hours yesterday, I found it incredibly rejuvenating. It’s something so simple, but something that I think will help with my creative energy despite being so tired all the time. And again, it seems so obvious, but making my free time away from the apartment more of a priority will allow me to be happier in the face of a very stressful time in our lives.

Did I mention we’re moving to Providence? So there’s that as well.

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Back to Work with a Baby: Part 3

Editorial-Illustration-Home-Office-Ink-Blogging-Illustration-Kondrich

 

 

The topic for this installment of “Back to Work with a Baby” is Professionalism. That’s right, with a capital “P.”

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing some on-site whiteboard work for a local ad agency in the morning. It’s been great to be so busy and to have a chance to get out of the house. Of course, this has put added pressure on my husband who went a week and a half without a morning to himself.

While the timing actually worked out quite well for the on-site work, it was frustrating to feel like I had to limit the number of hours I was away. This was for a few different reasons. My husband teaches and has other work as well, so he needed to be gone most afternoons. Not only does that mean that he needs the car, but someone obviously needs to be home with the baby. Also, since I am breastfeeding I need to be home to feed the baby or at least take a break to pump (sorry if that’s TMI). Being gone all day without pumping is not an option.

(Realtime Rant: GARBAGE TRUCKS! Why do they always show up when the baby is napping? Oh, excuse me, it’s the recycling truck, which is even louder.)

I’ll give you an update on our child care situation in a bit, but first I want to talk about how difficult it can be to present yourself professionally when you need to schedule around the baby and the baby’s naps.

Phone calls present the biggest challenge. If I try to schedule them when the baby might be napping, it’s a total crap shoot. If she does happen to be napping that’s great, but if she wakes up mid-call and I’m here alone with her that’s a problem. The person on the other end of the line will very likely hear her crying as I go to pick her up and my attention is then divided. And if they need to reference an email or document, I’m away from my computer and/or standing and bouncing with a potentially hungry baby. Typically that’s the worst of it, but even if my husband is home to watch her while I’m on the phone, we have a small apartment. If the baby is fussy or crying, there’s really nowhere for me to go where she won’t be heard.

It’s a bit embarrassing when I’m speaking with a client or potential client and I have to apologize for the baby. Of course she is my ultimate priority right now, but I don’t want my clients to feel as though my attention is too divided to do their projects justice. The truth is that it’s not affecting the quality of the work that I am producing and they shouldn’t have to worry about it.

When it comes to scheduling, my main approach is to simply not mention why I may not be available at a particular time. Illustrators’ schedules vary so widely that we shouldn’t be expected to be available to start a project immediately and to work on nothing but that project until it’s done. I am a people-pleaser, though, and I often will try to give my clients that sort of attention and availability. But now, more than ever, I need to be firm about my schedule and there is no reason for them to know when I’m scheduling around another project and when I’m scheduling around the little one.

Fortunately, we have found a babysitter we like. She’s not always as available as we’d like during the day, but it’s certainly a start. It’s a bit strange to be home with the babysitter, but we’ve been having the kind of weather that has allowed her to take the baby out to the park for an hour or two while I’m home working. We found the babysitter through SitterCity. There are a few different online babysitting services and we’ve only tried this one and happened to hire the first babysitter we interviewed, so I can’t really provide much of a review. We are still looking for another sitter who might be available when our current sitter is not.

What’s wonderful is that our baby is now over 3 months old and is a constant source of joy and laughter. She smiles constantly, laughs if you tickle her just right, and wants to talk to you all day long. Her new interactivity means that getting work done when she’s awake is even harder, but it’s totally worth it.

Back to Work with a Baby: Part 2

Sketchbook-Sketching-Michelle-Kondrich

 

Many of you read my post a couple of weeks ago about getting back to work now that I have a baby. This is the second in what will be a series of posts on the topic.

Thankfully, some of the fear that I was experiencing a few weeks ago was pushed aside by new work coming in. I’ve received my first editorial assignments for the year and that gave me an easy way back into sketching without the pressure.

Actually, sketching for some of these jobs has lead to more sketching than I would normally have done. Working on some practice sketches for the final illustrations felt really, REALLY good. The fun and pure enjoyment of drawing is back and is stoking my creative fires. And now that we have a two-month old who is basically sleeping through the night most nights (until I post this, then she’ll probably quit!) I’m a lot more rested.

With the influx of new work has come a different baby-related issue that we hadn’t expected to deal with so soon and that is the division of labor. I don’t mean the division of labor around the house, though that’s an issue that I think every couple with a new baby has to work through. I mean the division of time spent with the baby and time spent on our own work since we both work from home most of the time.

Our little one is now spending a lot more time awake and alert, which is great for getting lots of smiles, new sounds and crazy faces, but makes it much more challenging to get work done. Those awake times often require a lot of holding, and, of course, we want to be engaged with her as much as we can.

Working towards non-traditional and creative careers means that paying for daycare or a nanny is financially beyond our reach. We have friends and family that can help out here and there, but we will need to sort out some sort of long-term plan. Sometimes we put her in our baby carrier so she will nap or hang out while leaving our hands free, but it’s still limiting. Her naps are really our saving grace, but they are not at all predictable yet in terms of how long she will sleep. We do our best to take shifts, but at a certain point she’s hungry and I am the only source of food (fitting in time to pump so that my husband can feed her is another issue entirely).

I guess what I’m saying now is that we simply don’t have a plan that’s working yet. I wanted to share this despite not having any real advice to give on the matter. Our solution for right now is my mother coming to stay with us for a few days–maybe she can offer a bit of wisdom on the subject.

Something that adds to the complexity of child care in our situation is flexibility. I have not started looking into daycare or anything yet, so I don’t know how flexible they are with our schedule. Could we take her three days one week and half a day the next? In a perfect world we would have access to a nanny or babysitter (or service that provides them) and we could call a few days in advance to get someone for the time we need.

So that’s where we are for the time being. We are looking into all of our options and will hopefully have something sorted out in the coming weeks.

We’re going to have to get good at interviewing babysitters.

 

Back to Work with a Baby: Part 1

Michelle-Kondrich-Illustration-Freelance-Motherhood

 

I have been working as an illustrator for about five years now. When I started, I knew I planned to have a child at some point. It seemed far enough in the future that it wasn’t on my mind at all when it came to my business. For years, I worked on improving my concepts, my techniques and my business acumen, and, every year, I was becoming more successful and hitting many of the goals I set for myself.

Early in 2014 my husband and I decided that we were ready to have a child, and in March we discovered that I was pregnant. Naturally, we were so excited and also a little scared that it was actually going to happen. Throughout my pregnancy I knew that getting back to work after giving birth was going to be a big challenge. I had no idea what to expect out of having a newborn at home or how soon I could expect to get back to work.

And now, seven weeks after giving birth to a beautiful, perfect baby girl, it’s time for me to get back to work. I had been taking on projects here and there, but for the most part I had a nice little break from thinking and worrying about my work and my business.

I’ll be honest, I’ve felt a lot of fear and a little bit of dread in getting back to work. And, despite spending a good deal of time on the internet researching the subject of freelancing with children, I didn’t find much that specifically addressed getting back to work after having a baby.

I am by no means an expert on this subject (this is my first child), but I’ve decided to share my experiences with you and anyone who might benefit. I am not aiming to provide universal advice. I just want to provide a record of my personal experience and maybe that will help someone else in a similar situation.

I know already that it’s not going to be easy. I haven’t drawn much at all besides client-directed work since she was born. Honestly, I do think I needed a bit of a break from it though. And nothing will force you to take a break like a newborn. I spend most of my days now nursing, changing diapers and doing my share of work around the house (don’t worry, my husband does his share of baby work too!). And the sleep deprivation has not only left me with little physical energy, but also with a brain that tends to get foggy.

Mailers went out in mid-December, so I’m hoping an influx of client work will help ease me back into regular work. In the meantime, I have a few things I’m going to try.

For starters, start writing.

As a Christmas gift, I received Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes From An Accidental Professor, and I intend to follow some of her advice and exercises. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time, and she’s always been an advocate for writing/journaling. It’s more of an unconventional approach to writing, but I do think that starting some sort of journal-sketchbook hybrid would be a good start. I also read about the concept of a Surprise Journal as a way to be more present and observant in your day-to-day life and I want to incorporate that into my writing.

Lose the judgement.

Putting a stop to the constant judgement of my work, sketches included, is an issue I’ve been working on all my life. I don’t anticipate being able to let it go entirely, but I need to take active steps to make this happen. I’m not sure what those steps are just yet but with my time severely limited I can’t waste it staring at a blank piece of paper and thinking, “what should I draw?”

And judging myself for spending too much time with the baby and not enough time drawing needs to stop. I will never regret spending too much time with my baby.

Continue to learn new skills.

This applies directly to my illustration as well as to skills outside of that. There’s no stopping the digital train and I don’t want to be left behind. So animation is something I’d really love to learn and begin to incorporate into my work in 2015.

Outside of the artwork, I am also learning to play the banjo. I haven’t touched it since the baby arrived, but I’m ready to get back to that, too. Learning a completely new skill like an instrument or a language is good for the brain in every way, and it’s important to me that my daughter grow up with parents who are forever learning new things. And how cool would it be if I had a 7 year old who played the banjo?

Crafting in general is starting to appeal to me more. I think that can’t be helped when you go into Fancy Tiger Crafts here in Denver. The array of interesting and unique fabrics makes me want to learn all of the skills! I took a sewing class and made stockings for our first Christmas as a little family. So maybe more sewing and sewing classes in my future.

 

So, that’s where I’m at now. I plan to blog on this subject a few times a month. If it seems that people are really interested in the subject, maybe I’ll pull advice from other illustrators who’ve been through this or even have a guest blog or two.

What would you like to know about this experience? Any aspects you would like me to focus on?

Thanks for reading this far; I know it was a particularly wordy post.

And Happy New Year from me and my little Sproutz.