Creative Parents: how having a child changes your work
In the first of a new series exploring the unique experiences of parents working in the creative industry, Marina Willer, Brian Finke, Shawna X and more share their personal stories of how their children impacted their creative output.
Becoming a parent changes your entire life, whether you like it or not. From day one, you no longer stand at the epicentre of your own life; suddenly you’re a background character in the show starring your baby and, for the most part, that’s OK. But when your entire perspective is jolted, you can expect your creative work to follow suit.
These changes might come reluctantly and unexpectedly if you’ve spent your career so far carving a careful niche in a busy creative landscape, but the fact is you’re looking at the world from a new angle (and with a neurally remodelled brain, according to some studies) so it’s fair to assume the ideas you come up with, and the projects you’re drawn to, might differ from the pre-parenthood era. Your old lifestyle and routine is a distant memory too, with free time diminished and the idea of headspace almost laughable, not to mention being perpetually exhausted.
There are some positives coming up, promise... Most creative parents say that, once you acclimatise, parenthood makes you an adept plate-spinner and more efficient with time (because you have to be), and gives you laser-sharp focus (after a few coffees) and renewed appreciation for the small joys in life, helping you to find inspiration and motivation where you might never have found it before.
In the first article of a new series looking at the unique experiences of parents working in the creative industry, we look at how having kids changes your creative output. From influencing subject matter to involving kids in their process, and posing bigger questions around the purpose of creativity itself, an eclectic and formidable group of leading creatives share their deeply personal stories on the intersection of parenthood and creativity.
Brian Finke, photographer
“Such a big part of being a documentary photographer is being out in the world having experiences. Every part of the process is amazing: meeting incredible people, unique situations, learning, and having so much fun all along the way. To me, the most important thing you have with people is your experiences, and photography allows for a lot of really unique ones.
“When I became a dad, I couldn’t wait to show and share this life with my kids. The experience of photographing means so much to me, it’s something I cherish, and to now be able to share it with the people that mean the most to me, my boys Oli and Izi, it’s incredibly rewarding and really fun. Last year when The New York Times called and asked if I wanted to photograph the Fortnite World Cup, I just had to bring Oli and Izi with me to help out as my assistants. My boys are both online gamers, it’s how they interact with their friends after school (and Izi in particular is really good – not being a biased dad or anything… he has got skill).
“I’m personally really interested in the subject matter, not only because it’s something my sons love but also because all the traditional sports now have online versions that are exploding in popularity; it’s a new social shift of how people experience sports. Basically, both my sons are huge Fortnite fans, and they were beyond psyched to be going to the event, seeing their favourite gamers and, at the same time, helping me know who’s who in the gaming world. It was a whirlwind sold-out event at Arthur Ashe Stadium, with 19,000 fans and two million watching online, and my boys and I had the best access ever running around the stadium taking photos of everything. It’s a great life being a photographer and just got even better being able to have my boys rights there with me.”
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Brian Finke for The New York Times: Fortnite World Cup
Marina Willer, graphic designer and Pentagram partner
“To start with, surviving everyday life with twins felt like Apocalypse Now. I still ask myself how on earth does man- and womankind survive this on a daily basis. Once panic is over, mad house becomes the norm and it’s brilliant.
“My children and family are the biggest inspiration to me. We constantly make and build things together: cardboard monsters, doodles, prints, sketches, stuff. Children see every day with a fresh eye, as if anything is possible. In order to stop technology taking over, we had to all re-embrace the analogue world. Yes, we banned screens and that was the best decision we ever made. Their curiosity and imagination took over. We all started to read more, play music and make stuff by hand. And you fall in love with all those habits again. We are constantly blown away by what children can come up with. From making clothes out of recycled materials to composing songs and writing poetry.
“Children today know so much more about science and the world around us than we did. So you have to step up your own knowledge. Together we listen to podcasts all the time, it might be about black holes, the moon, AI, radioactivity, jazz, origami or Extinction Rebellion. I am so inspired in general by the younger generations, how they know we need to change the way we live on this planet and with each other, and that there is no other way.”
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Amy Bennett, artist
“When my first child was born, I was taken aback by how quickly he developed. Sometimes he would wake up from a nap looking more mature. It filled me with the same bittersweet wonder we experience with time-lapse photography. It shifted my perception of time. Meanwhile, I was also feeling quite vulnerable and instinctively made paintings that were literally more distanced, while I processed my new experience and lifestyle. Instead of working at a scale where figures are about an inch tall, I zoomed out to a drone kind of view, to that point just before you can detect people when you’re descending in an airplane.
“I made a series of paintings exploring the development of a fake landscape as it evolved into a town. It wasn’t until I had settled into my new life in the suburbs and was pregnant with my second child five years later that I felt ready to make work about parenthood. I had this long list of images I needed to make, which resulted in my Nuclear Family series.”
“Creation itself has become harder… but [having kids] also opens up your world”Andi Gáldi Vinkó
Andi Gáldi Vinkó, photographer
“My work, just as my whole life, has changed a lot since becoming a mother. I am still the same person, and I still think that having your own dreams, purpose and goals in life are just as important as being a good parent, but what I was not prepared for at all was that creation itself has become harder, maybe less meaningful. We hear a lot from artists who decided not to have children because their work would suffer and why they made this choice, and how much harder it would be if they had to share their love or attention, and it is true. Especially for women and especially at the beginning of a child’s first few years. But it also opens up your world. I have started looking at my surroundings with a different perspective. I have been awake or asleep at hours I would have never been otherwise. My Google searches changed entirely. I have met people I would have never met in my art-fashion world.
“It is hard to sit down and concentrate, and it was really hard for me to believe in the importance of creation again. Why would the world need another series, or another piece of work? Creating and raising a child for me was like working on a masterpiece. But then, as my child grows and starts becoming an independent human being, I realise once again that I can’t live without creating and sharing yet another work hoping the world will need it.”
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Andi Gáldi Vinkó
Adrian Caddy, founder of Greenspace
“I’d say becoming a parent affected my creative work unexpectedly and profoundly.
“At Greenspace, we think about the long-term and making work of lasting value. The Guinness Storehouse brand experience, the corporate identity for Zaha Hadid Architects, and the upcoming luxury destination brand, The OWO, are diverse examples of our work in creating legacy.
“In 2013, my then two-year-old daughter became gravely ill very suddenly. Once the doctors told us we could take her home, my wife and I felt able to breathe again, to start thinking about the next day, even the next week. The experience brought into sharp focus the thin veil of luck and health separating us from thoughts we have stuck in the ‘now’, versus hopes we harbour for possible futures.
“No one wants to be paralysed by circumstances beyond our control. Yet, if we’re fortunate to have good health on our side, why do we so often limit ourselves to thinking that reaches all too briefly in front of us? Being a parent reinforced my commitment to helping others create their own legacies.”
Laxmi Hussain, artist
“Although I have drawn all my life, I wasn’t actively drawing when I had my first. When he was about two, I picked up my pens again and began to really pursue being an artist. I was pregnant with my second at the time and received my first commission; it was sitting on a drawing board in the living room half-finished, I went to bed feeling satisfied with its progress. I awoke the next morning and could see Zain’s legs swinging at my desk as I approached the living room. Dread instantly kicked in, but instead I found him working on his own drawing; mine was completely untouched.
“From then on I knew we’d draw together, always. Later my daughter joined us and now they very much inform my work. We unwind together by testing my new materials before I go on to use them for my pieces, they teach me how to use them without hesitation, and I hope to teach them they can always use art to express whatever they want. It’s meant my work has grown more freely, to become less restricted, less fussy. Kids unleash their own when they draw, they aren’t worried by scale or perfection, they just express. It’s become a daily activity in our household, at least one of us is usually drawing something, and it’s when we’re most free. I hope we never lose that.”
Mijae Kim, art director at Artment.dep
“Frankly speaking, pregnancy was not a planned event for me. My son felt like an unexpected gift. I was anxious about becoming a mother because life of as an art director is fast-paced and quite intense at times. And I was truly grateful for my parents’ support for my new adventure of motherhood.
“Motherhood is not as glamorous as life as an art director. Cleaning up a disastrously messy room filled with toys becomes a more important task than creating beautiful things with my hands. Being sleep-deprived and having no physical and mental energy to take care of myself often pushed me over the edge in my relationships with my son, with work and even with myself. And this still happens at times. But I am also growing and learning, just like my son, about how to work and rest at my own rhythm.
“I am an art director, so my job makes me consider the visuals of everything. Yet ever since I became a mother eight years ago, I looked to add a ‘health’ component to my projects. I want health and wellbeing to be a part of any beauty that I create, whether that be ingredients for a newly developed cafe menu, architectural components, or even in business contracts with partners – I put intentional effort into creating something healthier for mother nature and the environment for kids. (Seriously, I didn’t care about anything but visual aesthetics before!)
“As my value and priorities changed, building Tea Collective (a Seoul-based tea brand) was a natural discourse for me. Tea Collective initially started as a simple design project but soon expanded into a bigger business. In fact, my projects began to reflect my daily life in more granular details; the places I go to eat and drink with my son became reference points for my projects. Now, I find more value in creating visuals encompassing healthy beauty for everyone, not just for the highly fashionable few.
“Whether you have a child or not, being an art director permeates your life. I stand for my work, just as my life stands for my brands.
“Meanwhile my son has grown to become a sensible, fashionable and introspective boy. He always asks what I think about objects, places and foods that we share together. He prefers dolls and toys with natural and comfortable colours (except for Lego!) and loves drinking organic tea! As a single mom, I understand that I exert an un-shared influence on my son. I only hope he also finds what he is genuinely passionate about, enjoys the glee of observing and learning something new, and shares that joy with people around him – just as I’ve done in my life.”
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Mijae Kim: Tea Collective
Rosie Foster, photographer
“I began my parenting life as a single one, which set the stage for my future. I got pregnant in London while I was working as a freelance assistant and trying to make my own photography career. Everything stopped and I moved back to Cornwall, sold all my cameras and put that dream well and truly to bed. I was on my own with a baby and went back to college, then to university where I got a degree in criminology (I am now a specialised victim support worker). Now, creativity is tightly slotted in between mine and my partners’ jobs, school runs and the one day a week where both of us are not working. I often have my toddler with me on shoots.
“I have definitely shifted from focusing on fashion to looking at people as individuals and their story. Motherhood and my work life have guided me towards strong images of independent women. The most challenging part of it all for me is learning to be patient, to realise that the people I started this journey with are eight years ahead of me, and to know that my time is coming. Networking in person is near impossible, so that, again, delays the process but it’s OK, I’ll spend this time refining my work and being the best I can be. My free time is precious, so I only really shoot things I really want to and feel passionate and invested in.”
“We need to hone intuition, all of us, and trust it.”Shawna X
Shawna X, illustrator
“Being a mom has brought a renewed sense of awareness to the surface of everything I do. Due to my limited energy and time, which is much more precious than before when it felt boundless, I am able to remove my ego from many of my engagements. If projects do not work out, I don’t take it to heart; I am able to see it for what it is, whether it’s miscommunication or just a bad match.
“I think, before, so much anxiety came from not understanding the situation fully, and taking everything to heart or ego. It’s so important to make work and collaborate for the relationship, not the project, the money, the title; the relationship will trump all of these things. I’m also creating work that speaks from a deeper, more personal space, without necessarily striving just to have a voice. If I don’t feel like creating, then I simply don’t. We need to hone intuition, all of us, and trust it.”
Tom Finn, co-founder of Regular Practice
“It’s quite hard to quantify how becoming a parent has changed my creative work, also because it’s all still relatively new (my daughter Billy is only nine months old now). I haven’t actively thought that as a studio we should no longer be working on X or be doing more of Y, although I definitely negotiate harder, invoice earlier, sleep less, and worry more. I also want to travel less and be home on time, which is difficult as a young-ish studio, but Kristoffer (the other 50 per cent of Regular Practice) is one of Billy’s godparents, so he has to be supportive now by default…
“The person in all this who I think has been most affected is my partner Amanda. She’s also a creative, and has put her own career in animation on ice to look after our child, and to allow me to continue running Regular Practice. Being a freelancer is hard enough when you’ve spent years building a career, so to stop and start again is a terrifying prospect. Shout out to her and all parents who put what they love on hold for the arrival of another.”