As a professional artist I really encountered a lot of frustrating days trying to juggle maintaining my artistic practice while raising children. Creating art was an activity distinctly separate from the demands of my family where there were never enough hours to dedicate to my creativity. I was trained to paint outdoors and while I loved to drive to locations to paint from nature, it was not aligned to the realities of the time I had available being a mom. I began to try and think differently about when and how I could paint every day. My kids are older now but I remember the flexibility it takes to maintain a daily practice with the unexpected demands of parenthood. Over the years I discovered that the key to creating every day was often thinking smaller and by finding ‘make it work’ strategies. One make it work strategy has been using the iPad.
First about the Thinking Smaller mindset.
When my kids were smaller, my good friend Mike, who managed an art store, and I had a conversation about how little “time” I thought I had. I realized that he too had small children and a full-time job. If I wanted to paint, I needed to think differently about the way in which I was working.
I had always painted outdoors, and the process involved driving to an inspired location with perfect weather and, in a perfect world, a perfect half day of uninterrupted time. Most parents of young children will laugh at the luxury of this “perfect” amount of time. So after the conversation with Mike I realized that I could paint after I’d gotten the kids to sleep. I would set up my easel in the kitchen and set up color “problems” to investigate. The paintings were small but fun. I’d open the fridge and paint whatever was at hand. Radishes on pink cloth. Green on green. Yellow on yellow. Tangerines on patterned napkins. It turned out that the perfect world of having an expansive amount of time to paint was as close as my kitchen and required adapting my mindset to smaller paintings requiring smaller amounts of time. I discovered beauty could be found in ordinary places and objects I’d previously overlooked.
When I stopped seeking the “perfect” conditions that separated me from my role raising my kids, I found that, for me, there was a beautifully imperfect yet expansive amount of time that allowed me to integrate my art and my home life. And using the iPad has only amplified that.
An example of this is this sketch of lemons on my kitchen counter (see below). I always feel that observing and studying the colors would be applicable to the fleeting colors of a sunrise.
Now about the iPad and how its helped me to ‘find time’ and take chances. I’ve been using the iPad as a supplement to my oil painting practice since 2010. I have tried all kinds of apps but I mostly use Procreate which is phenomenal. Currently I use an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil though I have used earlier versions with a regular stylus too. My confession is that once I realized how incredible it is as a portable studio I never lugged my easel to Europe again. Will it ever replace the thrill of painting outdoors with an easel? No, it won’t. Is it an incredible tool on days parsed up with obligations? Yes! I found that on busy days I could be drawing and observing and making color notes. I could tuck the iPad in my bag and resume work on a sketch while waiting for carpool, or appointments or sports matches to finish.
Here are five ways the iPad has helped my oil painting practice in ways that I didn’t expect.
1. Be more efficient with my time. Sometimes its possible to go round and round painting something without a clear idea of ‘why’. Slowing down to sketch out an idea on the iPad has helped me to get clearer about WHY a particular idea is resonating and to identify the emotion underneath. As an example, I was using the iPad to sketch out ideas for a solo show. I had taken a photo of my daughter in a field of lavender. The more I sketched it out the more I realized this was the perfect visual representation of saying goodbye to my daughter as she headed off to college. I titled it Last Summer because it had happened last summer but it was indeed the last summer of a particular chapter of our life. The next summer would be different and I would embrace that but this was a moment I wanted to remember. So sketching on the iPad has helped me to more clearly identify the things I want to express in paint when the hours open up and I have time to paint.
2. Create every day without excuse. The iPad is so portable and the color is so incredible it really is akin to having a full studio tucked in my bag. If I’m waiting at an appointment or have a day filled with activities I know I can pull out the iPad and work from one of the (gasp!) 11,000 photos I’ve taken on my phone. Everything is truly at my fingertips. Or I can paint a small moment from life on the iPad if I have ten minutes to a half hour.
3. Take Chances. I realized I could create digital collages of ideas for paintings. I could photograph pencil sketches and color them in and flesh them out. I really find using the iPad is a place to play with ideas without the necessity of cleaning up and wasting expensive materials. Its a fabulous way to explore ideas that would take days to accomplish in the studio.
4. ‘Fix’ problems in analogland. If I’m stuck on an oil painting I will often use the iPad as a tool to figure out a solution. I take a picture of the oil painting and then work on it digitally. What if I softened that edge? What if I subracted an element? Using the iPad can help me to simplify and clarify an oil painting.
5. Permission to grow creatively. I’ve discovered through painting on the iPad almost every day that by keeping a visual diary of sorts I can explore and take chances and by doing so, discover things I didn’t know about myself. The practice has been one of a giant permission slip. I’ve discovered that I love to make patterns. Its really easy to explore possibilities and colors. I’ve printed these out to make curtains and wallpaper in our house.
If Paintings Could Talk
New Book by Anne Ward
Lastly, working on the iPad led me to the unexpected place of creating a book of digital drawings and sketches. If you’d like to see more of my book, If Paintings Could Talk it is available on Amazon in digital or print form. As I’ve said, I happen to use the iPad but really this is about the commitment and benefits of maintaining a daily sketchbook practice. I hope this gives you some ideas for creating space in your busy schedule to stay creative. Its so important these days!