Thursday, May 19, 2016

Painting Parent - Blair Updike

How many children do you have? What are their ages?

I have two girls, ages 4 and 6.

How did your artistic career begin?

Although I’ve painted on an off since I was about 17, I’d say that the career/professional part only started 2 years ago. I hadn’t painted much for about a 10 year period because I worked, and then I had children. When my youngest was about 2 I decided to paint her. I enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d enroll in a portrait drawing class at the local college so that I would have some dedicated art time on a weekly basis. I started watching David Leffel videos and attended The Art of the Portrait Conference that spring and it just exploded out from there.

Alla prima sketch I did of a friend's newborn.
 Suzy painted him also.
What is your Parenting/work/art situation?

I have the girls with me full time because we homeschool. This is advantageous in terms of the big schedule because we can come and go as we please, so it accommodates my erratic travel schedule, but it’s also difficult in terms of the small schedule because there are really no extended breaks in my day. We school at the studio every day, so I am in my space, but there’s no chance that they’re going to leave me alone for any extended amount of time so that I could focus enough to paint.   

When do you make time to do your art and do you have a regular art routine?

I may prep or do quick fixes on paintings during the day, but I get most of my painting done at night. I drink tea or coffee before dinner, so I’m committed because I won’t be able to sleep after that, and then go paint after the kids are in bed. I like to start paintings on Sunday afternoons and then work a couple of nights during the week. I try and make a goal of getting home before the sprinklers come on at night, but I only make it about 10% of the time, so then I have to dart through the freezing sprinklers in the dark in order to get into my home. Last thing you want to do after a hard night’s painting.

Do your children get involved with your art?

I use my kids as models a lot. I’m more comfortable practicing techniques or new ideas on my own kids than on a commissioned portrait. I look forward to the days when they can act as studio assistants and wash brushes for me.

Do they inspire aspects of your art?

They inspired me to start painting again, but beyond that they reawakened my awe for the world as well as strengthening my empathy. I think studying your own child with such love eventually turns you into a better observer of people in general, so you catch the nuances of their character more vividly and can hopefully bring that across in paint.

How has having children changed your artwork?

I’ve gone sappy. I absolutely love to paint children in their element when they’re climbing, or splashing, or when they’re completely enthralled by something as simple as a bucket of sand. I’m not naturally someone who is drawn to either children or motherhood, but I’ve really developed a joy for seeing them in their element and trying to capture those sweet, free moments in paint.

How does making time for artwork influence other household tasks?

My house is constantly in a state of flux (but that’s partly because it only takes my kids like 30 minutes to destroy 2 rooms). I often have to choose between painting and a home cooked meal and painting usually wins. Fortunately, I have a husband who considers my painting very important, so he’s amazingly tolerant and accommodating.

Have different ages of your children been more difficult to make time for artwork and in which ways?

It’s only getting easier as the kids get less demanding. My girls are already pretty self-sufficient and good at occupying themselves, but I look forward to the days when they’ll be able to sit and read for a couple of hours while I paint.

Suzy's first oil painting from when she was 5.
I had a still life set up and she painted at the same time.
How do you encourage your children to be artistic?

I don’t believe in training small children or giving them much direction when it comes to art. I haven’t really encouraged them beyond making materials available. We keep pencils, pens, crayons, paints (all washable) where they can get them whenever they want. We had to make a change over to bound sketch books because my floor was constantly littered with the reams of paper that they’d run through daily. They both draw for at least an hour every day with no encouragement from me.

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

I love the idea that we’re going to be like the Wyeth’s or something, but I don’t feel any pressure.

Have you seen your children take inspiration from your artwork?

My oldest sometimes paints the same life models or still life set ups that I use, but generally they’re on their own paths.

Suzy with her painting of the baby.
In what ways does being an artist make being a parent harder or easier?

I think it makes parenting easier because we always have so many interesting ideas floating about. We meet people, go to historical reenactments, visit landscapes that I probably wouldn’t have touched had I been in some other profession. Because I frequently have historical or cultural subjects in my paintings there are so many other disciplines involved that my children have the opportunity to learn as they come along with me, whether we’re talking academic disciplines, or things or a more material nature like sewing costumes, or making props.

Do you think being a parent affects the way you are perceived as an artist?

Laura's drawings. Age 4.
People tell me all the time that they don’t understand how I make time to do it, so obviously there is a perception that mothers have no time for anything else. Hopefully my life as an artist helps people change the way they perceive parenting. Having interests of your own is part setting an example to your children, so parents need to find that time to invest in their own development.

Are there any other things about Balancing Painting and Parenting that you would like to share?

Everyone’s going to jump on me for this, but I have to stick up for the dads who paint. I hear a lot of women saying “I had to put my family first and spend all my time taking care of children, so I couldn’t paint until that was done, it’s so much easier being a man.” I think about what it must be like having painting as the primary source of income with which to support a family, and that does not sound easier at all. It sounds horribly stressful. I also think about the men I know who work normal jobs and then come home and try to find time to squeeze in for painting after family time. It’s not easier being a father who paints. It’s just different.  
Because we homeschool, and I can just haul them wherever I go. I have a lot of freedom to attend events around the country. This was from a plein air competition in Marble Falls Texas. I was awarded 1st place and the girls got to enjoy the bluebonnets and adventure around Texas.

A recent plein air study I did of the moon rise
while the girls played on the lakeshore

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