Thursday, January 1, 2015

Painting Parent - Ann Moeller Steverson

How many children do you have? What are their ages?
2 children, ages 3 and 6

How did your artistic career begin?
Ironically, I really feel like my artistic career began with the birth of my first child. In many ways it was a desperate escape/ outlet from being a full time mom. I also credit my husband.  I was a public school art teacher for 5 years and left when my first daughter was born. She instantly became my whole world and I lost myself in being a mom. I worked up to keeping a perfectly clean house, made a Pinterest enviable 1st birthday party complete with fondant tiered cake and even organized the sock drawer as a cry for help. 
By the end of year one, I was ready to go back to work teaching (really REALLY ready). My husband was very reluctant to see me go. He remembered the long hours that I had put into teaching and thought our daughter still needed me. As a compromise, he encouraged me to paint and sell my work. He knew I loved painting and had even sold a few pieces since college. I also think he envisioned it as a very much part time pursuit. I thought it sounded like a good deal.

I should point out here that though it sounds like a just picked up painting one day as a stay at home mom, it wasn’t that big of a leap. I studied art in college and had taken lots of studio classes, but I majored in graphic design. I worked at an ad agency for a year and decided it wasn’t for me. I went back to school to get my masters in art education.  I first really got the oil painting bug during that process. My painting teacher at the time even suggested that I could have a career as a painter, but probably not while teaching public school full time.

During mommy year #2 I painted some at home, and while it went pretty well, I found I really needed some out of the house time with adult people to talk to. I took the paintings I had made and went to a local critique night (gulp) at an artist coop called the Huntsville Art League. They were nice and I started to make some artist friends. Huntsville Art League then opened up some studio spaces, and I rented one. I let my daughter spend some time in mother’s morning out (a part time childcare program). I went there to paint away from the dishes and laundry, and I had a reason to put on pants. It was awesome.  

When my second daughter was born, I knew I still was the same person and could keep pursuing the same goals. At six weeks old for her first journey out into the world, she went with me to an oil painting workshop with Pamela Clarkson. She nursed, and napped, and was passed around to fellow art friends, and I managed to listen and paint some. When I was at home with her I painted, read, and napped. The sock drawer stayed out of order. I had let my studio space at the Art League go while I was on “maternity leave,” and when my application was accepted for a studio space at Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment (which I deem the real happiest place on earth), I jumped on it. It has become my heaven/ haven, and it’s all been expanding from there. 

What is your Parenting/work/art situation?

It is continually evolving and I am constantly seeking balance. I love to work and could easily work all the time since I have such interesting things to do. My kids are pretty much in school/preschool full time at this point. I am an adjunct professor for 3 classes this fall (to help make ends meet for my family) and I teach art lessons (to help make ends meet for my art supply habit and studio rent). About a quarter of my teaching time is in the evening, with my husband at home with the kids. The way my schedule is laid out, it should leave between 15 to 20 hours a week of solid painting time in the studio. I am usually the one to take kids to the doctor or dentist etc. Somehow with two kids, that seems to happen at least once a month) and other kid/ life interruptions happen, but I try to be flexible. Occasionally a whole week might pass without me working on one of my personal paintings, and then I start to feel very off balance.  Teaching is a natural part of who I am, but I’m trying to keep my focus on being an artist who teaches, not vice versa.

When do you make time to do your art and do you have a regular art routine?
Lowe Mill has public hours from 12-6pm Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and Friday 12-8pm. We are required to keep 12 public hours per week (“don’t throw me in that briar patch”). I try to be there during those hours as much as possible. I sneak in some mornings when it’s quiet too if I’m not teaching. Saturdays are hit and miss due to family things. I work out ideas and research on the computer during the evenings at home.
Do your children get involved with your art?
I have a very strict do not touch Mommy’s paint stuff rule. However I frequently request family critiques of my work. My daughters often offer their suggestions and advice and are never without an opinion. 

Do they inspire aspects of your art?
Absolutely. My favorite portrait is of my eldest daughter. Since people are my favorite subject, I feel lucky that I will have them as model references and plan to paint them often for the rest of my life.

How has having children changed your artwork?
As mentioned before they were the catalyst of it all. I have continually grown as an artist since they entered my life. They are also great motivation to continue to strive to reach new levels to be able to help provide for them while doing something I’m passionate about.

How does making time for artwork influence other household tasks?
Back when we first decided that I should pursue painting seriously, I decided I could have a clean house or paint. I chose and continue to choose to paint (it lasts longer). Nothing could have prepared me for the increase in dishes, laundry and cleaning adding kids to a household causes. I feel like I work hard at it, but really just enough for us to survive. My kids have good food to eat, clean plates to eat off of, and clean clothes to wear (even if they often come out of a laundry basket). That’s about as far as it goes.
How do you encourage your children to be artistic?

I give them free and constant access to art supplies and pretty much no direction at this point. Anything they do is fabulous. If they ask me how to do something I do my best to show them.

Do you feel extra pressure as an artist to raise your children to be artistic?

Ha ha. No. I feel guilty like I’m leading them into temptation. They both already say they want to be artists when they grow up.

In what ways does being an artist make being a parent harder or easier?

I think being a parent is hard regardless of your profession. The flexible hours seem to help though.

Do you think being a parent affects the way you are perceived as an artist?
I have no idea. I hope not at all.

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