This week we’re featuring Anthea Ben-Naim, a painter and mother living in Sydney, Australia. She is enamored with the natural world, quiet beauty found in domestic settings, & home… (& the fabric of what the term home means.) In the middle of week seven working from home with both children, her description of attempting to quietly carve out painting time during her child’s nap really spoke to me. Also, she refers to her daughter as a possum, and that’s just cute. Enjoy!
What is your creative practice like?
I am a painter in the traditional sense of the word. I adore a blank canvas and a brush in hand. My work is quite literal (non-abstract). Despite having done this many years now, I still feel I’m at the beginning of the learning process and have so much “work” to do!
I’m a stay at home mother to two children under 7, so I don’t get very much time to paint but I dream/read/worship the delicious moments I do.
What are important motherhood contexts people should know about you?
I have an almost 7-year-old girl and almost 2-year-old boy. They are my full-time unpaid work and adoration.
How has the practice of your creative life changed since motherhood? What were your routines like before and after?
I started out my career as a graphic designer/illustrator &publisher. Pre-children I created a little magazine called Spoonful: A Happiness Companion, which was filled with reflective ways to feel inwardly content and creative.
After the birth of my daughter came great focus and a deep hunger to paint whenever I could. This has only deepened since the birth of my son a couple of years ago.
Prior to children, I worked freelance from home. Time and freedom were endless and my husband worked long hours, so I’d often be alone well into the evening. If I was working on something in the afternoon and felt the urge to continue working, I just did. Days had some structure. I tended to squander time (in retrospect) and dilly-dally and email in the morning and then get to work in the afternoon and evening.
Once my first possum Amelie was born I fell in love with painting solely. We had moved to the States for my husband’s work, so it was quite a challenging solitary time. During her 2-hour naps (at around age one), I could exercise and then sit and draw and paint until she woke up. I was doing more pockets of painting with her awake prior to Mylo being born. He is a short napper (why?!), so the first year any free time was spent exhausted and reading about painting or watching painting shows to look forward to a time I could paint again. Now that he’s almost two, he naps about an hour. It’s a very short time for me to work and I’m desperate for it some days. I have a little corner of space in his room where I have my painting materials (I’ve tried all over the house but this pocket is where I feel creatively most happy), so when Mylo falls asleep I have to try to be very quiet while I work. It’s challenging, but also meditative somehow. I enjoy the quiet.
I don’t have particular rituals other than (perhaps not for the better) that I often snack on something. It’s a time for intellectual, creative, and physical indulgence, so I always look forward to it. I’m actually most happy alone, so being a mother I always look forward to nap and work time.
What has been most challenging about sustaining a creative life in motherhood?
I have never been more motivated and longed more for quiet time to work. I feel guilty ‘stealing away’ to paint whenever I can, but at the same time I start to feel so miserable when I don’t get some time to work. It feeds my spirit, my mind, and my sense of purpose each day to know I’m working on something.
So, yes, the lack of time and particularly quiet solo time. I wish I worked well with others around, but my best mode of practice is solo, which is in opposition of family in some ways. It took many years to allow myself the privilege of creating art for art’s sake and I feel now I don’t want to waste a minute of creation time.
Prior to Covid, my wonderful mom would look after Mylo all Thursday morning prior to nap. That was a very productive and lovely work space. I’m very thankful for my daughter in these times since she will happily draw and listen to her own podcast during nap (if she’s home, as she has been in Covid days).
What’s been the best surprise about having a creative life in motherhood?
The drive!!!!! And the focus and the ability to sustain the drive and focus on a project despite having to wait sometimes days or weeks to return to it—for half an hour, only to have to wait till the next pocket of time…Prior to having children, I definitely lacked the motivation and discipline I now have. I appreciate my creative time sooo much more.
What are the particular issues that come up as an artist in your field with children?
Inability (or at least more challenged ability) to attend art events and take part in the local art scene/community. I don’t have the connections to the art world I’d like, but as I only started this career path after having children and have moved countries a few times, I have not been lucky enough thus far to build the community I’d like.
What’s been the your most important practice for having a creative life as a mother?
Getting outside. Seeing nature in all its insane beauty. Looking, but really looking at the tiniest profound beauties around us every day.
Who are other artist mothers in your field that inspire you? Artworks that inspire you as a creative mother?
My dear friend and confidant Chantelle Grady is an amazing stylist and photographer. We live in different cities but share the daily grind. Car routine for art: I love the podcasts Artist Mother, I Like Your Work, and The Jealous Curator. Also, I am obsessed with watching portrait artist of the year which inspired me to try portraiture, which had always intimidated me and still does a little!
Learn more about Anthea and support her work (I’ve got my eye on the lovely Pink House print!) at the following places: