Friday, January 23, 2009

Pregnancy and Painting

Patterns, 2009, Oil on Birch Panel, 20x24

So several folks asked me about the use of paintings supplies and materials during pregnancy. I wrote a rather lengthy post about my studio practices a few years ago and after rereading it I think it is still accurate. Since I didn't actually paint though while I was pregnant, I can't really offer much advice other than to say that one of the main reasons that I didn't paint during those times was because I was leery of the effects of using oils while pregnant. I had heard so much conflicting info on art supply safety, but in the end I just didn't want to risk it.

However, y'all got me started on the pregnancy thing so I will tell you what kind of art I did do while having babies.

When I became pregnant with my first little baby, I wasn't really doing any painting or drawing. I owned a small company called redesign (see picture of my product line here and had been making handmade clocks, picture frames, mirrors and boxes. I was taking them to trade shows in NYC and doing pretty well, selling them to small gift shops and catalog companies (Ballard Designs carried one of my mirrors once) but then we moved to Utah and poof! most of my business dried up. I was still filling an order or two when I got pregnant, but I let everything go after that. We were already raising our adopted son too, so I decided that I wanted to focus on being a parent. But because I was so incredibly tired, I mostly ended up watching the entire O.J. Simpson trial while growing that baby. My son might not realize it yet, but he learned everything about the trial of the century while in utero! He was conceived, born, and almost walking between the time of the murders and the acquittal.

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I was filled with unbelievable energy and that's when I really started to miss making art. I still didn't feel comfortable using oils, so I decided to focus on drawing. I went to a figure drawing class each week, where everyone watched me get bigger and bigger, until one week I brought the baby to class with me and she slept in a car seat next to me while I drew the figure. I haven't looked at those drawings in years, but at the time I felt like I was doing the best figurative works I had ever done. I mostly used charcoal or graphite woodless pencils, which are still my favorite thing to draw with. Also during this time, I taught myself how to knit and to sew and began making a quilt. Never did finish it, but I do still have a box of squares stored away. Someday.

I kept up with all this after my oldest daughter was born (still had awesome energy) and even decided to take a volunteer position at the local arts group where I organized the visual arts department, scheduled classes etc. And that is when I took a pastel workshop with artist Colleen Howe. I fell in LOVE with pastels! They were easy to pick up and put down, great for someone with three kids, including a toddler and a baby, I love the drawing aspect and the colors! Wow! That was how I began using saturated colors.

While I was pregnant with Ginger, my third baby, I still did the occasional pastel, but at that point our house was bursting and the only place I had to work was in a very small three season porch, right next to the cat litter. So mostly I just kept up with the knitting and sewing. Right after Ginger was born, we bought a larger house and I spent several months overseeing the remodel it needed. I fell in love with that whole process and learned more about plumbing, electric and how not to get ripped off by the sub-contractors than I ever thought I could learn. Once that project was finished and we moved into the house, I really felt like I would just die if I didn't get back to painting. I had my own studio (don't get me started on how big and beautiful that space was or I will cry) and was able to get a few hours here and there and for awhile a neighbor girl came in and played with the girls so I could paint. I was also doing some pastels during this time, but frankly once I picked up the oils again, I wasn't quite so interested in the pastels any longer. My boxes of pastels are still tucked away and someday I will pull them out again.

Anyway, I have often regretted taking so much time off from making art, but now I see how much those other activities really feed into my current work. So I just try to do what I can to be a good parent AND to make up for the years that I didn't paint. I am a firm believer in silver linings.


Shanster said...

"Anyway, I have often regretted taking so much time off from making art, but now I see how much those other activities really feed into my current work."

Yes! I agree a lot of our lives feed into what we are doing now or who we are at a particular moment in time. Nicely put and I'm glad you are so productive now!

Maryanne said...

As you say, being a mom is important, and overwhelming. It chinks away at artmaking and many other things in our lives.

We need to take care of what we breathe, in whatever shape our bodies are in (or if we are breathing for one or two).

When using oil paints, we need to look at the solvents we are using, there are some that are better (Gamsol, low voc) vs. worse (turpentine). We can do things, like ventilation, keep lids on our solvent jars, etc. Each medium has their own safety issues.

Princeton has a good overall site dealing with this:

Kim Morin Weineck said...

Tracy, Funny enough, when I first read your post about the figure painting class, I thought you were saying you delivered the baby in the car's seat. So silly.

You can tell I'm pregnant and thinking baby stuff.

Even while pregnant I've been creative. I use pastels (wearing a dust mask) and I use water-soluble oils. I've discussed this with my OB and with a Massachusetts office on toxicity. All gave me the thumbs up.

Thanks for the very thoughtful posting!

indiaartist said...

Just before I got pregnant my husband got me 40 tubes of winsor newton oil colors. Like you said there was a lot conflicting information. I decided not to take chances but felt sad every time I saw those tubes still in the box. I started painting after her first birthday. I think I have had a great quality time with her and can never be thankful enough.
Something that makes us complete also gives us strength and relfects in our work.

Casey Klahn said...

The counter pose of these two blouses is priceless. Same pattern-not the same pattern. very cool.

Love the woodless graphites and use them all of the time, too.

Richard Klekociuk said...

Having such a break can actually work in one's favour Tracy. It certainly has in your case. There is a vitality, a freshness and sincerety in your work that has been born(no pun intended) out of your "time-out" period.
It is now your time to paint and you are doing brilliant work that I thoroughly enjoy watching!
Being a mother and a wife are very important too. It's a matter of balance.

Josephine said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I know it is going to be tricky someday finding time for making art, and equally difficult finding energy I'm sure. It's great that being pregnant with your girls gave you more energy :)

Tracy said...

Hey Shanster, thanks. I can see it now but I can be dense and so it did take me a while!

Maryann, I wouldn't change deciding to be a full time mom to my babies for anything, and it all ended up fine, so no regrets anymore. hanks for the link, I will check it out.

Kim, Oops, guess I should have looked at that line a bit more closely! While I did have my babies at home, the car seat was NOT involved:)) Did I say congratulations on your new addition? I meant to.

Indiaartist, "Something that makes us complete also gives us strength and reflects in our work."

Perfectly said in on short sentence, whereas I went on and on to make the same point:)

Thanks Casey, wish I could take credit for the patterns but those two ladies and somebody snapping the pic put together that great combo!

Thanks Richard, one of the most important things I learned during my time out was how much I wanted to paint. I could have done other things when the kids all went to school, but I just kept thinking about painting. A good lesson.

Josephine, it's tough, but can be done. Definitely finding the energy is the hardest part. I did feel energized by my second two pregnancies but it might have been different if I had been trying to paint, rather than knit:) Anyway, after my youngest daughter was born she pretty much entirely used up all the energy I had stockpiled, it's been tough keeping up with her!

Pregnancy said...

During Pregnancy, according to my friends in order not to be bored you must have to think of an idea to make you busy and to avoid thinking things that you make paranoid.