Motherhood In Residency

One of the more welcome changes of parenthood has been the realization that, to foster creativity in my own daughter, I must live a more creative life myself. What better motivator to get off the coach and start creating than a tiny tot, tugging at your hem, asking if you can spare a few moments for imaginative play? In a sense, it’s as if we parents get to experience childhood all over again – but this time, sporting weighted shoes of responsibility and sometimes anxiety and always what’s-for-dinners. Still, my favorite example of a mother living, quite literally, a life filled with creativity is a Pittsburgh named Lenka Clayton. (You’re not going to believe this one.)

A full-time artist and new mother, Lenka was discouraged by the portrait painted of modern mothers, attempting to finish work “despite” their children, rather than utilizing the benefits of parenthood to inspire their work. As a result, she founded Artist Residency in Motherhood (funded by The Pittsburgh Foundation), stating this: For the 227 days of the residency the fragmented mental focus, exhaustion, nap-length studio time and countless distractions of parenthood as well as the absurd poetry of time spent with a young child will become the artist’s working materials and situation, rather than obstacles to be escaped from.

Amen. Parenthood is a hard season of life for sure, but it’s also rewarding and imaginative and humor-filled, like all good things. Lenka’s project is living proof that mothers and creative sparks can very much live as one, and even better, can often be directly inspired by the children themselves.

Lenka takes her residency seriously, printing business cards for herself and her [then] 1-year-old son, Otto. She shares inspiring snippets of her days in her studio diary and updates her portfolio with the projects she’s created during her residency (a few favorites: Dangerous Items Made Safer, ‘What Do We Do All Day’?, The Idea Archive and Things Found In Babies Mouths). The result? A visual anthology of those early, harried days of motherhood – a beautiful image that creativity is alive and well when we seek it with intention.

Lenka shares a live stream of their day for one hour each Tuesday (if you’re local, you can visit!) – the good, the bad and the real – and perhaps what I love most about Lenka’s project is how her son Otto has responded. In a particular diary entry, Lenka notes a tower he built from a spare piece of packaging: “I was at once amazed and envious of his creative certainty,” Lenka writes. “Of the instant following through of an instinct to change something, with no expectation afterwards of that change. Have idea. Make it. Walk off. Beautiful.”

It’s a lovely reminder that, yes, we’re teaching our kids more than we realize. And sometimes (often?), they’re returning the favor.

Image Credits: Lenka Clayton

p.s. Perhaps a Photographer Residency in Parenthood is in store for these talents?

  • I love this so, so much. I know so many women who feel disconnected from creating when motherhood arrives, especially in the early stages. Lack of sleep, time, or coherent thought processes can certainly take its toll.
    Currently I find myself seeking more ways to blend creating into daily living, rather than try to segregate the two. My dream is for Three By Sea to eventually reflect the creativity, amusement, and inspiration of daily life around this joint where I hang out with my posse of loved ones and find/share easy ways for others to incorporate creating into their days, or even just make mini bites of creative snacking throughout the day.

  • This is wonderful!
    You know I think my problem is more that with motherhood i get tons of ideas but just no time to get started… this is very frustrating as well… my head might explode if it stays like that :)

  • Really inspiring for women! I love the diary and the business cards… That’s a great job.

  • Brilliant! You find the coolest stuff/people/ideas out there Erin. Makes me stop laughing at some of the creative ideas that have popped into my head recently while trying to raise baby.

    • Ha – isn’t that the best? I love how artists’ creativity can validate our own hair-brained ideas. :)

  • oh, this is so wonderful and much-needed right now. the inspiration is always in the life you are leading, not in the life you think you should be leading. i love it!

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