You don’t have to be an athlete to balance motherhood, but it helps.

Mother and daughter acrobatics
The Handstand
© 2106 Margaret Sloan
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Strength, grace, beauty and an abiding love; that’s what I saw the first time I watched gymnast Gasya Akhmetova-Atherton and her daughter Kamali balance together in an Instagram video. Gasya, a former Cirque du Soleil performer, stands on her hands and raises her legs into a graceful arabesque above her head; little Kamali clings to her mother’s neck and points her toes in imitation of her mama.

I itched to paint a portrait of them.

But it wasn’t only the sheer amazement of Gasya’s Insta-videos that made me want to honor them in paint. Gasya is a tremendous athlete, doing things that seem nearly extra-human, but it was the joyful bond she shares with her daughter that I wanted to try to capture.

Toddler hugging mom
Mother and daughter acrobatics Detail of The Handstand © 2106 Margaret Sloan Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

As I watched this mother-daughter team, I thought of my own mother. Something about the line of Gasya’s legs and the steadiness of her balance brought to mind a fleeting image of being held when I was a child by my own mother.

My mom certainly wasn’t an athlete (although she did play tennis at the local park). But she was strong; she played and worked hard. She was reliable; we clung to her like little monkeys as she negotiated every day life. And she was loving; she dispensed hugs and kisses like they were daily vitamins.

I never had kids; I never got the chance. And so I am always amazed at the strength it takes for women to balance life with children. Moms teeter under the weight of their little ones, and they do their best to defy gravity and keep their kids (and themselves) from falling.

Yeah. Moms rock. Every day of the year.

The balancing act of job and art

Sketched while watching a BBC production of the Pickwick Papers
Sketched while watching a BBC production of the Pickwick Papers

Paul Foxton at Learning-to-see, the artist behind one of my favorite blogs, has just posted that he’s had to get a day job. He’s wondering how he’s going to have enough time to paint.
I’m something of an expert at this. For three years I’ve been managing a more than full-time job, plus learning to paint. It’s tough, and slow, and frustrating.  Although I truly like going to work most days (I’m lucky that I get to do creative stuff, and keep bees at my job),  I often daydream about  painting all day long.

But unless I suddenly win big at the lottery (hmm, I guess I should really buy a ticket one of these days) in order learn to to paint—or do any other kind of intense study and work, whether it’s writing, music, computer programming, boat building—I’ve had to make certain decisions, embrace certain strategies. Sorry if this list is a little preachy.

I drew this in the car. I do quick portrait gestures while I'm sitting at stoplights; great faces present themselves.
I drew this in the car. I do quick portrait gestures while I'm sitting at stoplights; great faces present themselves.

1. Realize that progress is going to be slow. If you have to work a day job to live, you just have to embrace that you’re going to move forward in small steps.

2. Keep your work close at hand. I keep a sketch pad available at all times-I draw everything, everyone, until family and friends tell me to stop. Thankfully, they’re pretty patient. I even draw in the car at stop lights. (But don’t draw in meetings at work. Bosses don’t like it.)

2. Be your own (strict) boss. I set a goal of dedicating 2o hours a week to painting, and I keep a time sheet. I list amount of time and project—and it doesn’t have to be directly handling paint. Research counts, blogging counts, sketching counts. But the time sheet keeps me honest. Keeps me from wasting time, and keeps me on a schedule. Because I can get seriously lost in “research,” and not leave enough time for painting.

3. Kill your T.V.
I still have one, but it won’t make the switch happily to digital because it’s too old.  Now I need to seriously disable the internet and YouTube. On the rare occasion I do watch a movie (mostly at home), I usually sketch the actors, the set design, costumes. (John Ford movies are great for learning landscape composition.)

4. Get some rest. I remind myself I’m human and need rest or all else goes to heck. During the crunch time at work, I have to lay off painting, or I’m no good for anything. During those weeks, I only work at painting 10 hours a week!

5. Be jealous of your time. What would I rather do—paint or dust the books on the bookshelf? No brainer, that. My grandmother would gasp at the amount of dust and clutter in my house.

6. Make hard choices. I’ve had to give up many of the extra-curricular activities I used to engage in. The hardest one, that’s hurt the most, has been not seeing my family as often as I’d like. My brother’s young ‘uns have grown up while I’ve been working so hard, and I’ve missed them tremendously (I’m actually not sure I should have made that sacrifice). The second hardest sacrifice has been cutting back on music, until I scarcely play anymore.

7. Accept that for most of us, anything you really want is going to be hard to achieve. Art is hard. An evening spent painting is not a way to relax; it’s work. It’s work that I have to do or face becoming twitchy, bitchy, and mighty unhappy.

Mr. Pickwick, a man who didn't have to work
Mr. Pickwick, a man who didn't have to work