Several months ago, I was struck by a painting series inspired by motherhood that a friend was sharing on Instagram. Scrolling through my feed, I began to notice just how much creativity was motivated by mothering. It reminded me of my own mother, who I watched paint scarves as a child, and who I have watched blossom into a master of macrame in recent years. Upon speaking with several creative moms whom I admire (including my own!), it was plain to see that making tiny humans inspires making other beautiful things. There is a certain feeling of capability and possibility that comes with being a mama. We are parents, employees, friends, storytellers, chefs, human tissues, sleepless champions, creators, and we are driven to be better versions of ourselves for the sake of our brood. Excerpts from my conversations with these women, including my own mother, are below. Allow me to introduce you to: Noralba Gomez, jackie of all trades, mother of four, grandmother of five; Jennifer Caviola, artist, mother of one; Krista Scenna, co-founder of Groundfloor Gallery, mother one (soon to be two!); Nicki Sebastian, photographer and creator of Motherhood Portraits, mother of two; and Manjari Sharma, photographer, mother of two.
How did becoming a mother affect your creativity?
Noralba Gomez: Creativity lives within you, but when you become a parent it resurfaces with an unsuspected force. In my case, when I became a mother, I wanted to be the best and give my all to this little person who depended on me. Music, shapes, and colors were my main ways of communication with my children and later on, with my grandchildren, aside from verbal communication. Arts and crafts time has been the tool I’ve used to open the door to creativity, reinforce self-esteem and facilitate talks about challenging issues such as body changes and sex.
Jennifer Caviola: I discovered that I could not make one single piece of art while pregnant because all of my creative energies were focused on making that baby, and there wasn’t anything left to make my paintings. Once my body was done making my baby, I was able to paint again. This leads me to believe that the energy I need to fulfill my desire to create ANYTHING (a baby or a painting) comes from the same singular source, and if this is true then this could open up a lot of creative possibilities for me moving forward.
Krista Scenna: It added a strong sense of discipline! I still generate and probe a variety of ideas but am definitely more conscious about how much time I need to devote to each and which ones are worthwhile. Time alone - which I feel a lot of us creatives need on a regular basis - is also harder to come by, so when I do have a quiet moment to myself, I prioritize the most important projects and use at least part of that time to brainstorm, let my mind wander and jot down ideas, keywords, or lists. Writing still helps me process and feels even more essential as I continue to balance my first baby - art! - with my new baby (actually a 2-and-a-half year old).
Nicki Sebastian: I've always considered myself a creative, but before becoming a mother I was able to make things at my leisure, stay up well into the wee hours if inspiration struck, and use a variety of mediums (oil paints, ink and nib, etc.) that just aren't as feasible with little ones running around. I sure do miss the days of creating whenever I felt compelled to, but motherhood has taught me how to channel that energy on the spot and utilize pockets of free time more efficiently. I still want to get back into painting and calligraphy some day, but for now I just feel incredibly grateful that I have a job that lets me produce art during naptime, and between school pick-ups and drop-offs.
Manjari Sharma: It took it up a few notches. As cheesy as that may sound to someone, it was a very connected time for me. I felt gracious yet powerful, challenged yet creative. For me it was that constant recognition of a life growing inside me, a second beating heart and a growing consciousness within. I’m not saying there weren’t exhausting days but because I knew I would be out for the count soon, I seemed more motivated to move the needle on executing my ideas and this made for a highly productive pregnancy.
How does creativity affect the way you parent?
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Noralba Gomez: When you become a parent, you have to be very creative not only in the kitchen by hiding vegetables in the meatballs, but also by becoming a storyteller. My brain was constantly stimulated by my children’s curiosity and my desire to be the best I could be. Now, with my grandchildren, the story repeats itself - I’m constantly thinking of ways to stimulate both their brains and mine with arts and crafts. Lately, I have been doing macrame, to create pieces for them, so when I’m not longer here, I will still be present through my creations.
Jennifer Caviola: At 39 years old I’m finally starting the arduous task of untangling the knot I’ve made out of two things: making art and making an art career. This has proved difficult for me! I loved every second I spent earning my two fine art degrees, but I don’t love the fact that the skill I possess cannot make enough money to pay off the student loans those degrees accumulated. I am still sorting out the value of creative endeavors both spiritually and monetarily, because I really need them to be separate if I’m going to continue making paintings. If I’m honest, I’m at the point where when people ask me when I’ll start teaching my daughter to paint I promptly say never! She will be a scientist not an artist!
Krista Scenna: Since I so appreciate and utilize creativity on a daily basis, I feel obligated to share its expression with my son as much as possible: music and art classes, drawing at home, playing music and encouraging him to dance or sing along. These are more than just engaging activities to pass the time with an energetic toddler. Infusing creativity into his daily life will, hopefully, allow him to appreciate its value as much I do.
Creativity is also a powerful resource when managing the rapid fire developmental evolution of a toddler! Although I'm an avid and diligent planner, I've been forced to think on my feet and respond spontaneously to address a mini-crisis, change of mood, demanding squeals or other dramatic moments that arise unexpectedly and sabotage whatever "plan" or agenda I had anticipated. On these outwardly messy occasions, I remind myself to live in the moment and embrace the momentary chaos or, alternatively, the slower, observant pace of a little person who's curious about the world and finds joy and delight in everyday scenes and objects we normally overlook in hurriedly trying to get from point A to point B.
Nicki Sebastian: Making art with my own children has long been a dream of mine, and I find myself teaching my girls through my own lens of the world (both figuratively and literally). I buy disposable cameras in bulk and the girls love taking them wherever we go, whether it's on a vacation or just doing mundane errands—putting a point-and-shoot in their hands has really helped them frame the world around them and find pride in their own ability to create imagery. And the developing process has taught all of us patience—there's nothing like waiting to pick up prints as opposed to the immediate gratification of the iPhone or even my digital cameras.
Manjari Sharma: As someone who honors creative thought I am very aware of the many utterly creative moments that are spurred on by my children. Whether it’s actions or words or drawings or simple poetry or a perspective or way of looking at smiley faces made with bananas and string cheese... I appreciate how children are emotionally motivated to express and therefore I enjoy encouraging it. As a parent It makes me less uptight about them exploring textures or making a mess and also If I see them push their envelope I make sure I recognize and applaud that effort.
What is your favorite work of art that demonstrates motherhood?
Noralba Gomez: "Moses", by Frida Kahlo.To me it represents motherhood in religion, mythology, nature, and the universe.
Jennifer Caviola: Edvard Munch’s painting “The Sick Child” comes to mind as a piece about Motherhood that I really connect to. It’s really about Munch’s sister dying of tuberculosis but to me, as a recovering alcoholic and addict, this painting perfectly illustrates the damaging effects an addicted mother can have on her child’s ability to thrive. Addiction disrupts a mother’s ability to attach to their child and that attachment is what makes a child feel safe and loved and full of life. This painting is a poignant reminder to me of what I’m giving my child as a sober woman and what could happen to her if I gave up my sobriety.
Krista Scenna: The Brooklyn-based artist, Evan Venegas, created his "Day Maps" painting series in response to the birth of his daughter and the inherent challenge of balancing his roles as graphic designer, artist, husband, brother and, ultimately, father. He envisions each "Day Map" as a visual to-do list with overlapping and intermingling pastel circles that represent these roles and his ongoing effort to find balance amongst these relationships and his daily obligations. The sentiment, concept and rigor of the work has always resonated with me but even more so once I became a mom and endeavored to achieve that fragile sense of balance Evan achieves in these paintings.
Nicki Sebastian: Alice Neel is my favorite painter, and her family portraits capture motherhood in a very honest light—they're intimate, yet the expressions of the mothers portrayed in her works are often somber. I'd like to think that she's showing the duality of this role as Mama: it has taught me the greatest joy I've ever known, but also has shown me some of the most intense pain and emotional hardship I've ever experienced. Alice has a way of showing all of this in her art, and she was so far ahead of her time by expressing such a transparent perspective.
Manjari Sharma: I have this particular image of my mother and my daughter playing together and I feel there is so much generational history wrapped up into it. In that particular image I feel I’m not only looking on to my mother parenting her granddaughter but it is also a reflection of how she might have been with me when I was a baby, and of course how she’s taught me subliminally to parent my own daughter. After becoming a parent my relationship with my parents has become so much more layered. In that picture, I see more than one motherhood and the beautiful unison of all those layers. That’s why it’s important to me.