creativity and parenting

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Ellen Luckett Baker is author of The Long Thread, where she writes about her adventures with sewing, crafting, and kids. Her book 1, 2, 3 Sew 1, 2, 3 Sew was recently published by Chronicle Books and her debut fabric collection, Quilt Blocks, is being produced by Moda and will be available by the end of this month. Ellen lives in Atlanta with her husband, two daughters, and a growing number of pets.

Thanks for having me on WhipUp! Today I’m going to talk a bit about my creative process and how it’s connected to my family life. I never considered myself to be a creative person until I had children. I don’t know if it was age, maturity or motherhood that allowed me to distance myself from my insecurity and open myself up to creativity. But I think it’s essential to have both the physical and mental space to create.

My fondest memories from childhood are those of making things. Some memories include creating melted crayon drawings on a hot plate, dipping candles with my mother, baking in my toy oven, drawing pictures of my favorite cartoon characters, and writing poetry. But as I reflect, I wonder where that creativity went. As I hit my early teen years, I let it go and I didn’t get it back for almost 20 years. Whether this came from pressure to fit in my environment, or from fear of failure, I don’t know.  Even as an Art History major in college, I was deathly afraid of my studio art classes. But now, as a parent of a wildly creative child who does not respond well in a traditional educational environment, I see the importance of nurturing and rewarding creativity. There’s a lot of evidence that our culture is suppressing creativity so I think now, more than ever, we need to understand the value of creativity for innovation and overall happiness.

Just before I had our first daughter, I completed a Master’s in Non-Profit Administration, hoping to continue a career in arts administration. But I knew that I wanted to stay home with my children when they were very young. It was this opportunity to be at home, made possible by my husband’s commitment to support our family, which allowed me to find my creative space, both physically and mentally.

Over these past nine years, I’ve learned to sew, made many craft projects, created a successful blog, written a sewing book and most recently, designed a fabric collection. Since I work from home, my creative and professional life is very much connected to family life. My sketchbooks are filled with my drawings as well as those of my children. The kids and I make crafty messes all over the house. There are often toys scattered about in my sewing room and the sound of computer games at my desk. And my dog is usually taking a nap at my feet and the cat is sleeping on whatever fabric I have just cut. So, while my working life is unconventional and chaotic, and completely overwhelming at times, it’s nice to be able to combine creativity with my family life. It is in the quiet bits here and there that I find moments of inspiration and clarity. Whether in carpool line, waiting during a piano lesson, or in bed at night, I always keep a sketchbook handy for ideas. Most every sewing pattern and fabric design I create has been rolling around in my mind for weeks or even years before it comes to fruition.

Though I was first inspired by reading blogs and seeing the creative works of others, I don’t spend as much time these days looking around. Growing up in Alabama, I developed a love of folk art with its handmade feel and warmth, but I also have a need for clean lines and symmetry. Some of my favorite textile artists are Sonia Delauney, Denyse Schmidt, the quilters of Gee’s Bend, and Vera Neumann.

I’m always inspired by my kids and their interesting ideas. So you might find a page like this in my sketch book where I am sketching out instructions for a pattern, followed by my daughter’s drawing of a doughnut quilt she wants me to make for her. Excellent idea!

And there’s this graffiti in front of my sewing machine. My seven-year-old, who has long known better, did this. But I wasn’t even mad because it seemed like such an expression of love; it makes me think of my kids every time I sit down to the machine. Family life is integral to my creativity, so although sometimes I feel frustrated that work interferes with my family life and vice versa, I don’t think I would trade working at home in my pajamas amidst the mess and chaos of family life.