Makers to Know: Carve Out Time for Art with Marissa Huber & Heather Kirtland

Marissa & Heather have created something that art world desperately needs: a place for moms to connect, and share how they manage to balance art and motherhood. Carve Out Time for Art (COTFA) isn't exclusive to parents, it could be for anyone who is working a day job, or full time students - anyone who makes the effort to carve out a few minutes a day for creativity. COTFA deserves more attention than I could ever give it, and I'm so excited to have these two women on the blog today. 

Marissa Huber in her element

Marissa Huber in her element

BB: For those of us who are meeting you two for the first time, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started in painting?

MH: I’ve been creative and have painted throughout my whole life. I never thought I excelled at one thing so I didn’t think I was an artist. Years later, older and less self-conscious, I realized everyone has fear and self-doubt, and I should probably get over myself if I ever wanted accomplish anything creatively. Against what most people would think, having my son in 2013 was the best thing that could happen for me artistically. Having a child put me into survival mode, especially since I worked outside of the home full time. I had to eliminate excess and streamline my life just to function at first (it got easier by the way). When I scrutinized my life, I realized how much I needed art– not for fun, but to feel whole, fulfilled and happy. That realization put art to the top of my priorities in terms of free-time, and I realized I must be an artist if it was that important. I also became more selfish with my precious art time and now use it to paint whatever I want, not what people ask me to paint. It is empowering.

HK: I grew up in a creative family, although neither of my parents were artists in the truest definition, they were both very hands on. They were always building, fixing, crafting etc. So I was encouraged from a young age to be creative.  I attended The Maryland Institute College of Art and a majored in painting.  Most of my undergraduate work was figurative oil paintings.  My work started to change after studying abroad in Italy.  I began to create more abstract compositions.  For the most part I have been painting ever since.  There have been times in my life when it’s taken a back seat, but not for long.  

Heather Kirtland, glowing with joy holding one of her paintings.

Heather Kirtland, glowing with joy holding one of her paintings.

BB: How did the two of you meet, and when did you decide that you should write this book and start Carve Out Time for Art?

MH: I met Heather where I meet everyone…Instagram! At the time, I was looking for more artist moms to interview. As I did with most artists, I scrolled down to see if she had kids, saw she did, and immediately reached out. When I read her interview, I stopped in my tracks when I read “I’d love to write a book on this topic of art and motherhood, maybe a collaboration Marissa?!” I had never told anyone, but in January 2015, I wrote down that I knew I was going to write a book for artist mothers one day. I just didn’t know how that would unfold. I believe that when you put yourself (and ideas) out there, that things start happening. Especially if you’re ready. I’m so glad Heather took this chance, because our book and our community are stronger because of this partnership. At the beginning of this process, it felt like a crazy idea yet we both believed in it so much. I didn’t even tell my family yet. But we are both so passionate about empowering other women, and we felt this was bigger than the both of us. It’s a calling. Also, it’s more crazy that more books are not already written on this topic. There are thousands of books on making art and crafts with your kids, but a mother wanting encouragement to work on her own creative dreams? You’ll have to search a lot harder.

HK: Funny story…. Someone I followed on Instagram did an interview with Marissa for Carve out Time for Art, and I was over the moon with excitement.  “Yes! I thought THIS is what I have been waiting for!!”  So I commented about my struggles and experience, and Marissa invited me to be interviewed.  When I was working on the responses I lit up.  I had been wanting to articulate this for so long, and as I got more experience as a mother I wanted to go back in time and tell myself “this is possible." Her final question was about goals or projects that I wanted to do.  It was the first time I ever typed the words for this dream I had to write a book.  A book that was a resource to mother artists. The book I wished was there when I was new at it.  Marissa had already been doing these amazing interviews, so I thought maybe she’d like to collaborate.  So I took a deep breath and typed it out.  That lead to a few emails and then a phone conversation.   Once we talked on the phone, we knew we’d be a good fit. We felt like we had the same vision and man it’s less scary when someone else is doing it with you.  I’m so happy to be working with Marissa.

Heather's kids getting in on the painting fun.

Heather's kids getting in on the painting fun.

BB: What has been the biggest challenge that you've faced during this project, and how have you worked to overcome that?

MH:  Nobody will be surprised to hear it’s time. But we both knew that when we committed to this project. In fact, we knew it would take away the most from our art time but it’s worth it. This is where being crazy and naïve to writing a book helps us! We don’t know any better. We hijack time where we can. I commute about 12 hours per week. That’s a lot of time that I can dictate to my phone and turn that into an email later, chat on the phone, or mull things over in my head for later. Being moms make us more flexible, focused, realistic, and decisive. We don’t worry about perfection, we just get the work done the best we can and fine tune things later.

HK: Carving out time, ironically.  Somehow we make it work with texts, emails, and phone calls during our commutes. I think it helps that we haven’t put too much stress on ourselves.  We know that it’s hard enough without beating ourselves up.  So although we are working hard, we aren’t pressuring ourselves with hard deadlines.  It’s a passion and a joy to work on this project and to be a part of such an awesome community of artists.  Whether they are stay-at-home mothers, hold a full time job other than their art, or just come by to find inspiration. 

Some of the conversations that happen on the COTFA instagram page. 

Some of the conversations that happen on the COTFA instagram page. 

BB: What does the process of writing a book look like? Has their been any part of the process that has surprised you? 

MH: My process is to google a lot, try not to overthink things, stay focused, and keep consistent with our overall vision. It’s hard to not want to cover everything, but that’s not what makes a good book. You need to keep it quite specific in order to truly explore at topic. Again, it’s prioritizing like with the free time. If we tried to cover everything, we’d only scratch the surface on a bunch of ideas. We’re going in with an excavator. I was surprised that it’s so hard to find books on artists who are mothers. There are books that touch on parts of what we are doing, and we’re hoping to bridge some of these bigger ideas.

HK:  Since Marissa and I haven’t met IRL yet, we brainstorm, and then Marissa is great at putting that into coherent content.  We write and send google documents back and forth.  The biggest things that have surprised me are how when we talk, so many more ideas and concepts are born out of a conversation.  The process is similar to creating visual art in that way.  For instance, the artist takeovers and new ideas for the blog and collaborations have come from book conversations.  We are so blown away by the community, and get daily inspiration from everyone involved.  We’ve got some cool things coming up!  I also consider the fact that we are making something happen that neither of us had even said out loud a year ago,  seems totally magical to me.  

BB: My favorite thing about Carve Out Time for Art is the great conversations that happen between artists. What have you learned from this growing community of creatives?

MH: We love these conversations! It happened so organically and I look forward to it each week. Seeing the passionate responses, vulnerability, honesty, and encouragement makes it clear that we have a special community. I see us as one branch of a larger interwoven community that inspires me daily and makes our efforts completely worth it. I’ve also learned that this group is a lot of fun and I want to visit everyone’s studios and paint with them one day.

HK: Oh my gosh!  Me too! I have been so inspired by this community.  I am humbled by their honesty and talent.  I am so grateful for their support and the advice that they share.  Marissa and I say we get “ALL CAPS” excited by things.  The followers and commenters truly make me ALL CAPS excited when I am scrolling through.  It is also inspiring to know that these smart, talented artist see the need for this book and are so supportive.

BB:  There is this long-standing belief in the art world that women have to choose between having a successful career as an artist and having children. Tracey Emin most recently stirred up the conversation by confidently stating, "There are good artists that have children. They are called men." How would you respond to this statement, and how do you find the balance between art & family life? 

MH: Oh, Tracey. My blood boiled at first when I read this statement, and then I read the specific article to understand it more before answering. I’ll go with Amy Poehler’s phrase of, “Good for her, not for me.” Here’s what I think. Tracey Emin grew up in the 60's which was entirely different than my experience. She stated that if she were to have been a mother, she is the type of person that would have had to be 100% mother or 100% artist. I respect her choice of pursuing what was most important to her. I think her comments and perspective are shaped from a specific era, art scene, and ideas of what it means to be an artist. When I view her comments, I see them through the lens of someone fighting their own battles of gender issues in art. A generation later, perhaps our battles and struggles are similar yet  different. I find it the most sad and feel sorry that she felt she had such a limited choice or thought that she did based on what she had seen of artist mothers. I’m sure many other female artists felt the same. Look at how artist women married to artist men were asked about “living in the shadows of greatness” such as Lee Krasner or Elaine de Kooning. Let’s be gracious and cut Tracey some slack, and hope that this comment is not the only one females hear when they’re wondering if they can still create art and raise a family.

Her comments go back to what the conversation always goes back to. What is art? What makes art good? What makes someone an artist? We’ll be having these conversations forever. There’s too much to write!

Me personally – I don’t have aspirations to be a famous artist or be featured in the MoMA. I don’t know if my work will ever be great, nor does it matter. We don’t all have to be the best, we just have to grow to the best of our abilities. To me, what matters is that I take the time to put my work into the world. I’m sharing my work with people I care about. I’m connecting with like-minded individuals who appreciate what I appreciate. Would I still be doing this if nobody were there to double tap on an IG photo or comment? Yes, I would. It makes me feel fulfilled to create and not just consume. It’s not for glory. It’s for the feeling I get when I am painting and time slips away. It’s for the feeling of peace and accomplishment that makes me feel fulfilled and a better version of myself.

In terms of balance? It’s a see-saw, not a balance as I’ve heard stated (I think by Joy Cho of Oh Joy). I can’t have it all. But I already have so much. I have a healthy family, I get to create, and I have a job that pays the bills. I’m very aware of struggles of people all over the world, and know how fortunate I am. The fact that my biggest struggle is having time to create is hard sometimes and I get cranky, but it’s in perspective. I do the best I can, cut myself slack, am kind to myself, and try to banish mom guilt and encourage others to also. That’s my balance!

HK: As far as the Tracey Emin statement, every time I read that article I have to talk myself down.  It hits a hot point with me, probably because this theory was an undercurrent during my college years.  It was a very male dominated painting department and this concept just seemed to be a given.  I didn’t see it affecting me, mostly because I wasn’t even thinking about children at that time in my life.  My head was down and I was painting.
 

What I think bothers me the most is that this is a successful woman artist who has the platform to be heard and she uses it to further this misconception.  She speaks to the discrepancy in the art world based on gender and then goes right into supporting the biggest reason it’s there.  Perhaps it is a true statement for her, if she left it at that I’d support her opinion.  For me, I feel that the experience of motherhood has pushed me to make better work.  

I feel like “balance” is a mythical concept that was made up to give us something else to attain.  In truth, there are moments of balance but they don’t last long.  I am truly learning as I go.  I find that I try to be fully devoted to the task at hand.  I schedule studio time, and even more importantly time to sketch, think and have mental space.  This allows me to focus on my family when I am with them.  Now it certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule.  There are times in my day that are pretty chaotic and I have to address the business side of my work immediately and that looks like me scrambling to type something one handed while my two-year-old uses crayon on my office desk, and my five-year-old is asking me a million questions.  I try to involve them in creating side by side with me (Great for the 5 year old, unintended collaborations happen with my two-year-old – not the good kind).  I also am constantly writing down ideas and sketches as they come to me, most inconveniently that usually happens the most while driving. Which leads to some pretty humorous talk-to-text notes.  I also have post it note ideas everywhere, as if I am some sort of mad inventor. Some days go better than others. 

questions to the community on COTFA's instagram page 

questions to the community on COTFA's instagram page 

BB:  Aside from painting and writing, are there any fun side projects that you’re working on? 

MH: Those are my fun projects, which makes me smile. Yes, I have always wanted to be fluent in Spanish. Living in South Florida again and working in Miami means I have so many opportunities to practice. I love the Spanish language and it’s so much fun to learn more. I’m also looking to do fun collaborations this year with creative friends. But I’m letting those happen slowly and organically so I don’t spread myself too thin. I’m crazy, but realistic!

HK: Our house is an on-going project and I would love to finish painting the molding and a few rooms in our house.  Oh wait, you said fun.  I am in the idea stages of curating an art show that brings some unique artist together.  I am also dreaming about collaborating with other creatives, possibly outside the art world on some ideas too. I am trying to stay open for whatever comes my way.

Thanks for reading! Keep up with Marissa & Heather and be sure to check out Carve Out Time for Art at the links below!

Marissa Huber: 

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Heather Kirtland

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Carve Out Time for Art

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