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Ask the Art Professor: How Do You Balance a Full-Time Job, Kids and Your Own Art?

10/02/2013 05:39 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

"I work full-time as a designer and part-time on my own artistic endeavors. My husband and I are both passionate about art. We want to have kids, but I am afraid that doing so will take away time from my own artistic endeavors. How do you balance a full-time job, kids and your own art?"

Since I've had children, I see my life as divided up into two periods: "before kids," and, "after kids."

"Before kids," I was in my early 20s and struggling with the transition from school into the "real world." I had trouble motivating myself. Finding time for art on top of a full-time job felt nearly impossible. I never seemed to have what I needed: I didn't have a studio space, art supplies were costly, etc. Coming right out of college, I was initially shocked at how difficult it was to sustain an independent studio practice on top of a full-time job.

Then, after I finally attained some level of balance and resolve to all those issues, I became pregnant. The transition began even before my first child arrived. Concerned over the potential hazard of chemicals and fumes, I was forced to drop oil painting and printmaking altogether.

For the first six months after my baby was born, I was such an emotional and physical disaster that I literally couldn't do anything but eat, sleep, watch television and take care of my baby. I didn't make any art for almost an entire year. I could barely think straight. At the time, I was terrified that I would never make art again.

Eventually, I did get myself back on track in very slow, incremental steps. Two years passed before I was able to assume my "normal" rate of productivity.

Successfully balancing a full-time job, kids and your art is all about various forms of sacrifice. This balance is a work in progress that I still constantly troubleshoot and experiment with. I allocate my time and concentration so that each pursuit essentially takes turns being compromised. There are the practical challenges, and then there are the mental challenges. Each are tough to deal with for different reasons.

Logistically speaking, time management is the most difficult practical issue. I spend my days hunting for small pockets of free time to work on my art. To make time and mental space for my artistic pursuits, I do things that I would have previously considered unthinkable. It means waking up at 4 a.m. to squeeze in two hours of work before the rest of my family wakes up, or dragging myself to the studio at night after a long day at work. It means writing those artist grant applications at home during the day, while my kids laugh hysterically over the balloons they're playing with.

Time alone to work has become the most precious thing in the entire world to me. When the babysitter arrives, I have only a two-hour window, so I tell myself, "You have absolutely no choice but to make things happen with your work." Now, each time I'm in the studio, it feels like an emergency situation where every minute matters. I used to start each studio session by sitting at my computer, checking email, doing some research for my work and eventually I would let myself wander over to working on the actual artwork itself. My current routine? Dump my bag on my desk, grab my box of tools and immediately dig right in, no matter how uninspired I'm feeling. On those early mornings, I splash cold water on my face, I suck it up and get to work. I do whatever it takes.

The mental juggling is the other half of the battle, and in many ways the most difficult of all. I have to be able to mentally switch gears at a moment's notice, changing my role from mother, to teacher, to artist multiple times as I go through my day. I find that my mind is always in more than one place, making it hard to stay in the present when I need to. I can never quite get it right either. If I'm with my kids, I'm thinking about my artwork and vice versa. It's a constant state of distraction that I've had to learn to live with.

Everything changes when you have kids, sometimes in the most unexpected, wonderful ways. I especially see changes in my creative process. After leaving oil painting and printmaking behind, I discovered a new passion for drawing and have never looked back. I've become noticeably more efficient and direct as a result in both my thinking and the physical making of art. I don't fuss or meander the way I used to. I've disciplined myself to distill my artistic intentions, addressing only what's most critical. I get right to the point -- anything else is a waste of my time.

Another surprise is my new role as a writer since I've had kids. Initially, I was looking for something that was intellectually stimulating and related to my art, which I could work on at home while watching the kids. I never thought about myself as a writer until I started blogging and eventually wrote a book. What started as a way to simply fend off boredom while I was at home has turned into a thrilling, new profession for me.

Being a parent is the world's most intense roller coaster ride, hurtling you into the great unknown every minute. Combine that with the trials of being an artist, and you feel like the most dramatic forces in the universe are slamming you all at once.

I do believe that you can have it all: family, friends, job, art, etc. You just can't have it all at once. Figure out what is most important at the moment and keep the rest on the back burner. Expect your priorities to be continually shifting all the time.