Back to Work with a Baby: Part 1

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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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Happy Holidays from Branston Pickle

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Happy holidays!

Here is a little illustration I created for Branston Pickle’s Facebook page.

Sorry the blog has been a little quiet recently. You may or may not know that I had a little girl back in mid-November and, naturally, she’s been taking up the majority of my time. I’m still working when I can and even managed to make some homemade stockings for our new little family.

I did another illustration for Branston’s page prior to our new addition. This one was in more of a “Where’s Waldo” style.

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Normally about now I’d be thinking about my goals for next year, but things have been a touch chaotic around here! After Christmas, I will have more time to contemplate things. I will say that 2014 was a very good year and I have high hopes for 2015. Mailers went out shortly before Christmas, and I am ready to jump right back into work.

Have a wonderful holiday!

 

Taylor Hall for Hastings College

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I had the distinct pleasure of being asked to create an image for my alma mater’s Christmas card from the President this year. Hastings College has been doing a lot of renovations around the campus, including the interior of the Taylor Hall dormitory. They were looking for a festive, wintry scene featuring the front steps of the building. This is the dorm that I lived in for two years and it’s where I met my best friends, so it certainly has a special place in my heart. I haven’t seen mock-ups for the actual card yet, but I will share it when I receive it. Thanks to Camille for working with me on this!

For my fellow HC alums, or for those that simply like the painting, it is available as a print here.

“Self-Portrait with Armchair” for AIGA’s Chaircuterie

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On November 13th, AIGA Colorado and Design Council of Denver Art Museum are holding a collaborative event they are calling Chaircuterie. I am one of 25 artists that were chosen to create a 2-dimensional piece of artwork featuring a chair or chairs in some way. Here’s a bit more about the event:

Chaircuterie is brought to you by two of Colorado’s leading creative organizations.

AIGA 100 years of DesignHere’s the backstory: AIGA turns 100 this year. With a nod to the founders who provided their own chairs for the inaugural meeting, we’re marking this milestone in Colorado with an original selection of chair designs. One hundred stellar creatives are being asked to craft 25 full-size chairs, 50 miniature chairs and 25 two-dimensional chair representations.

This event supports AIGA Colorado mentorship programming and the Denver Art Museum’s Department of Architecture, Design and Graphics, steward of the AIGA Design Archives. This program is supported by Denver Arts & Venues Cultural Partner Program and the McNichols Civic Center Building.

My painting will be available for sale the night of the event and it is also available as a print here. The painting is an imagined self-portrait of myself at eight months pregnant, napping in an armchair. I say “imagined” because I didn’t pose for it directly, but I am indeed very pregnant at the moment. It is acrylic paint on watercolor paper and the size of the full artwork is 18″ x 24″. If you’re in town, come to the event! I’ll be there mingling as much as possible – while trying not to go into labor.

Urban Fantasy

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For your viewing pleasure today, I am posting my latest editorial illustration. I’m really excited about this piece for a few reasons. I’m quite pleased at how it turned out and I also feel that it marks a discovery for me as far as what works best for my work and concepts. That discovery is thanks to some fellow illustrators over at The Mighty Pencil (if you’re not familiar with this illustration collective, I suggest you check us out).

The piece was created for an article about a woman who leaves the city for a much more affordable small town. It all looked great on paper, but when it came to actually living in a small town where she had no real roots the town just didn’t cut it. After an isolating winter, she made the decision to move back to a large city.

The painting is available as a print here and I have also made cards (and other products) available here – seems like the perfect holiday/winter greeting, yes?

Filling An Empty Nest with Animals

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Some of you may have seen me tweeting last week about starting a painting over again and this is it. The illustration is about a woman who fills her empty nest with animals. She then realizes that she has spent her life filling voids with various pets. You can buy a print of this piece here.

I know I’ve talked about this here before, but I really do feel that starting something over is sometimes the best thing you can do. It’s always frustrating and there’s always a small part of me that wants to find a way around the inevitable. The truth is that even if the piece doesn’t come out ten times better because of it (though it likely will) you will learn something about what you did the first time and how you might approach things differently in the future.

Raising an Introvert

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More new work today. This is a piece about an extroverted mother and her attempts to draw her introverted, adult son into conversations of more than just a few words. In this story, she uses her broken dishwasher as an excuse to get her son, who is living with her, to help her wash dishes … and to talk.

After working with mostly digital paint on the last few pieces, or a combination of digital and traditional, I’ve gone back to paints on this one. I’ve been working in watercolor a lot but I’ve decided to give acrylics a try. What I love about them is that I can water them down and get them to behave much like watercolor when I want them to, but then I can easily add layers as earlier ones dry without the risk of pulling up the paint I had already laid down.

Never stop learning, right?

The Psychology of Speeding

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Another new illustration this week, this time for an article about the psychology of speeding and what cities like New York can do to help slow people down and prevent speed-related deaths. The last illustration I posted was painted completely with digital brushes but for this piece I wanted to do a combination. There’s a certain roughness that you get with scanning real paint marks that I have trouble achieving digitally. The all-digital stuff I do tends to come out a bit soft, in my opinion.

I love working with scientific subject matter. It really gives my brain a good workout in the concept department because so many of the topics are abstract to begin with and there can often be a lot of obvious solutions that you have to think past to get to something more original.

Go Ahead, Spice Up Your Investments

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This new illustration is for an article about how investors can spice up otherwise boring investments. I’m in constant experimentation mode and for this piece I decided to try an all-digital approach. I painted the lines traditionally (with ink and brush) but the rest is all digital paint and texture. I’ve been playing around with various digital brushes, particularly Kyle T. Webster’s brushes, and this was painted almost entirely with his new gouache set. I’m still working out the best way to combine traditional and digital methods and Kyle’s brushes are certainly a big step in that direction.

Why Teenagers Act So Crazy

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New piece for an article about teen anxiety and brain development. Turns out that while the part of their brains that causes them to take so many risks is developing quickly, the part that would all them to properly deal with anxiety and trauma is underdeveloped, often leading to a lifetime of anxiety.