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.

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Journal 2/4/2010

Journal 2/4/2010

Last week I had some fun with my new Tachikawa School-G Nib fountain pen.  It’s a nice compromise between dip pens and fountain pens.  I’m still getting used to it and often forget that it’s fountain pen ink and needs to dry before I wipe my hand across the page!

The first drawing was totally random and straight from the pen. The elephant drawing was a little more planned out.  I really like the expression on his face and may develop his character further into something specifically for children.

Journal 1-28-2010

Journal 1/28/2008

So, I just rounded off a series of very busy and exhausting weeks!  Aside from my day job and my personal life I’ve been hard at work on a couple of client projects as well as my digital painting class.  Yesterday I finished off the client projects so now I can concentrate on my class and on creating more personal work.  The freedom feels great for now!  I’m also gearing up for a larger project I can’t talk about, but I can say that it is a fantastic opportunity and I want to make sure my plate is cleared so I can really focus on it.

You can read my ramblings above and see that I’m doing a bit of experimenting with markers and Posca paint markers.  As I’ve said before, I’m working on developing a style that will be directed towards the children’s market because I think that is where I would ultimately like to end up.

IF: Clumsy & Journal 1-27-2010

Journal 1/27/2010

I loved the Illustration Friday topic this week: Clumsy. It sounded like so much fun!  Unfortunately I didn’t have the time I would have liked to devote to this topic.  I did, however, find the time to do this little sketch.  I took a page out of Pascal Campion’s book and tried to add some anticipation.

This was a case of a  bad choice of materials.  I used a Faber-Castell brush pen, which just isn’t the best pen for me.  I also used it on a previous Illustration Friday piece.  Every time I’ve used the brush pen, I’m just not happy with it.  I need something with a finer line and a little more control.  I’ve ordered a Tachikawa pen that I’m very excited to try out.  I love using dip pens, but they can be a bit inconvenient for sketching and they aren’t very portable.  Hopefully this pen will give me the line quality I want with the portability and ease of a regular felt tip pen.

ANGRY CARROTS!

Journal 1-20-10

This is a carrot.  A very angry carrot.  I’m not totally sure where he came from, but here he is.  I thought of this at work when someone used the phrase “the carrot pant” (I have no idea what they mean by that) and then he appeared in my Moleskine.  The color was done with some Tombow art markers, but they don’t work that well on Moleskine paper.  Even though the color came out a little weird, I still like the drawing.  I’m also starting to loosen up with my sketchbook stuff and just let strange ideas flow.  I need to experiment more when I get new art materials in order to find what works best for me, so this is only the beginning of weird, strangely colored drawings!

Journal 1-19-10 and IF: Wilderness

Journal 1-19-10

This drawing is really just the seed of an idea for this week’s Illustration Friday.  I had imagined a kid sneaking through the dark wilderness of a messy bedroom.  I drew this very quickly and I may do a finished version of this some time in the future.  I may also do some experimenting with the color and shading digitally which is why I didn’t do the cross-hatching that I would normally do.  I’m envisioning the entire room being very dark except for a sliver of light coming in from the bedroom door (notice the faint pencil marks).

Happy New Year!

It’s December 31st already and I’m not entirely sure how that happened.  It’s been a busy year for me and I’m looking forward to an even crazier year in 2010.  Some highlights from my year:

  • Getting engaged and moving in with my fiance!
  • Moving again thanks to crazy upstairs neighbors and finding a new, amazing place.
  • Making the decision to kick-start an illustration career and getting a few real jobs.
  • My Christmas miracle: Somehow getting bumped above the 23 people on the last standby flight to Omaha on Christmas Eve, that flight actually taking off despite snow in Minneapolis and freezing fog in Omaha, and getting to my brother’s house safely.

All in all it was a great year.  I have a lot to look forward to next year including my wedding (and honeymoon, of course!) and the possibility of moving to another state.  I have also set a couple of goals for myself like finishing my portfolio and having my work appear in a publication.

What goals have you set for yourself in 2010?

Below are a few sketches I did in my Moleskine over the holiday.  I received a set of Posca Uni-Paint markers that I’ve started playing with. I love the way they look and they are so easy to use. Unfortunately, they do bleed through Moleskine pages a bit … The baby chicken in army gear was a detailed study for a larger piece I’m doing based on the Illustration Friday topic “Hatch” from about 2 weeks ago.

12/24/2009

Journal 12/12/09

12/12/2009

Have you ever noticed that the more you draw, the more you want to draw?  That has been my experience over the last couple of weeks.  I’ve been working on a few things for clients and when I was ready to stop for the evening, I wasn’t ready to stop drawing.  It was a very productive weekend.  This drawing that just sort of happened without a lot of thought behind it.  The fact that our apartment was frigid and ‘March of the Penguins’ was on may have had something to do with it!

Winter really snuck up on me this year.  It may have something to do with the fact that this summer in New York was rainy and really not summer at all and Fall was very short-lived.  The only solace is that it is the holiday season and I’m looking forward to traveling home next week  to Nebraska to spend time with my family.

Journal 12/3

12/3/2009

It seems that I haven’t been in the mood to do much writing lately.  This was a drawing inspired by how I was feeling at work this week.  Just trudging through.  Since then I’ve managed to snag a genuine illustration gig (or two)!  I don’t feel like my portfolio is ready to be promoted to art directors yet, but I do feel like I’m ready for a few tiny little jobs to get my feet wet.  Now I have to quickly learn as much as I can about the business of illustration so that I don’t get taken advantage of.

Journal 11-21

11/21/2009

 

A couple of weeks ago there were no trains running in my neighborhood so the MTA was running a shuttle bus to replace the trains.  Needless to say it made running my errands in the city much more time consuming.  At least I had some time to do this little drawing.  I didn’t write anything at the time and after the fact I decided that it would be nice to let the drawing have a little breathing room.