An artist’s creative practice shares time and energy with family, financial, and other necessities of life. In our conversations with working artists, we’ve asked: How do you balance the unconventional challenges of an artist’s work with other aspects of your life?
Huckleberry Delsignore, crochet artist
My daughters are ages 3, 5 and 7. Balancing life as a single mother is complicated but they are proud of what I do and love playing with (my) masks. I make art to preserve my sanity. I must be actively engaged in a creative project or I feel myself wilt. Fortunately, my work is easily transportable, so I am often crocheting at the park while they play. I also stay up very late and get a lot done while they are sleeping.
Joan Leegant, writer
The crazy late night hours are an inconvenient aspect of my writing life that I’ve more or less learned to live with. Sure, every now and then I tell myself that now, this time, I’ll write during the day, but invariably the experiment falls apart after a few days or a week when everything I attempt comes out wooden, and I’m pulling teeth and grumbling at everyone in my path. So then I’m back to keeping hours that make it hard to do a “regular” life and require all kinds of compromises. There are times, for instance, when I don’t go out with people in the evening because it takes too many hours afterward to unwind and get down to work. There are other times when I don’t write at all, weeks or months, because I’m teaching and need to have a more normal sleeping schedule, or I can’t throw myself into the teaching and the writing at the same time. There are still other times when I’ve chosen not to write because there are other opportunities I don’t want to ignore… What has helped me with this question of balance – or, more accurately, perhaps, the lack of balance – is to try to fully embrace whatever it is that is keeping me from the writing, including things I didn’t choose, things that are difficult or painful but are simply part of the messy business of life.
Holly Lynton, photographer
My family is hugely important when it comes to my creative work. My husband is extremely supportive of what I do, and has also been a model in many photographs… Both of my children can articulate clearly what it is that I do. Involving them in my art is a sign of respect, and they understand the ups and downs of it, as they see it firsthand… I also want to teach them what it means to have ambitions, creative desires, and a goal to pursue, and how one goes about pursuing one’s goals. I believe this is important behavior to model directly, so the more they are involved the more they see how that all works.
Sharon Howell, poet
I have a husband – who is an artist – and two children under 10, so my life has some significant delightful chaos in it. One thing we’ve been doing as a family over the past couple of years has been helpful, if difficult: my husband and kids have been spending about half the year in the rainforest of Costa Rica, living on a farm and riding horses to a little bilingual school. I miss them terribly, but the unaccustomed solitude here in Cambridge has allowed me the mental space to write in a way otherwise impossible. I also get to visit them and hike through the mountainous jungle looking out to the Pacific Ocean, where giant blue morpho butterflies float by and you see toucans and monkeys regularly. This provides a healthy contrast to winter in Massachusetts.
Allan Reeder, writer
I’d say it’s more juggling than balancing. Getting to my desk at five in the morning or even earlier used to be the solution, until my son decided that he, too, liked the early morning (a writer-in-training?). So now I write during whatever moments I can. It’s continually surprising – and reassuring – what can happen, what can fall out of the imagination and into words, if I just sit down to let it happen. But I know that when only twenty minutes of writing produces a promising new turn in a scene, it wasn’t just those twenty minutes that did it – there were hours of previous writing in the mind that contributed. And reading.
Further research: Somerville artist Tim Devin surveyed artists to find out how they managed their time, in terms of hours and routines. You can read what he found out by visiting his web site and downloading the “Creative people and time management” PDF.
Image: a crochet mask by Huckleberry Delsignore, photo by Jay Elling.