Beth Allen on Art, Motherhood, & Community

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Arizona Artist Beth Allen, photo credit Angela Hardison.

Some of you have asked about how to connect with art communities.  This guest post is by Arizona artist Beth Allen, painter of stylized portraits, abstracts, cacti, flowers, and more.  We asked Beth to specifically write about ways she has connected with art communities for resources and moral support.  Here’s Beth:

Art and Motherhood

As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be an artist. I have always known that I wanted to be a mother as well. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do both. In fact, all through college I would picture myself setting up studio at home and painting away while my (future) children played contentedly with music playing in the background.

And then I became a real life mom and realized it wasn’t that simple. Ha! Some days it works, almost how I pictured it in my head those eighteen years ago. Most days are not like that at all: little people needing tending, bathing, to be fed, snuggled and shuttled around. Getting work done is always up to the mercy of the day. Some days I am not even able to take a shower, much less work on a painting. Some days I do find an hour here or there, but I’m so tired I decide to sleep instead. To stop painting was never an option. I just had to lower my expectations and tell myself there’s a time and season for all things.

bethallen4Now I don’t ever expect to paint–I just feel lucky when I get to do so. If I really do have a deadline or feel too far behind, I have someone watch my children for an afternoon so I can get caught up. When it is nice outside, I shoo everyone outdoors to ride bikes and play while I watch and paint. At least one child usually comes and joins me in painting, which I love.

Children are inherently creative, so having an art studio and working from home totally works some days. It really works when my mom comes over to help. I guess for me it has been all about not being too hard on myself if things don’t get done right away, and to always take advantage of those moments when the kids are content or do want to paint with me.

On the days that just are not conducive to creating with my children (they are extra energetic, or antsy, or need to get out of the house) I have learned sometimes it is better to just let it go and try to sneak in some painting another time.

For a long time, I had my studio set up in the dining room. It was convenient as far as being able to work inside while the kids were playing or napping, but not being able to keep all of my oil paints and solvents out all the time was a time waster for me. My older kids knew to stay out of them, but my baby would go right for the veridian green at every opportunity. (FYI, lavender essential oils take oil paint right off, not that I suggest letting your baby spread it all over himself by any means).

So I decided to move outside. We have a small storage room attached to the garage that we cleaned out and turned into a studio. My dad installed a little ac unit so I wouldn’t die of heat stroke out there during the brutal summer months. At first it was perfect–it was so nice to be able to leave my stuff out mid-project and shut the door. I quickly ran out of space and all of my paintings and supplies started to bleed out into the garage, especially when I started doing some larger pieces. It was nice in the winter, but Arizona is not exactly painter friendly for a good five months out of the year. So I do what I can, paint in the early mornings or less hellish evenings, move some things inside temporarily, and dream of cooler temps and air conditioned studios.

Finding Art Community

Since I graduated from ASU with my BFA in Painting, I have been working on building my skill and widening my portfolio. For a while it was a slow process. I knew it was what I wanted to do, but I also had a bunch of young kids. I figured once they were older I would really get to work and put myself out there. And to be honest, the idea of sharing my artwork with those who may not like it was really scary for me and kept me from showing others my work for a long time.

Then I got a little push that I felt forced me to put my art out in the world. Using Instagram, I started an art account (@bethannallen) and with the help of my husband created a website for selling my art. I got advice and support from my family and close friends. I studied a lot of other artists who had achieved success using social media and did a lot of trial and error. I reached out to artists and business friends who I admired for advice and maybe even promotion in exchange for a custom piece of artwork. I took every opportunity, even if it wasn’t exactly my niche, just to gain opportunities and experience. I am glad I did this because it was actually the most helpful thing in allowing me to find my niche.

I attended every social media event that I could, meeting and making connections with everyone I could, (this was wwaayy outside my introvert comfort zone.) It is pretty easy to find other creatives with all the resources on the internet. I find Instagram most helpful bethallen1but Facebook always has artist groups and meet-ups as well! I found an amazing creative community that I had no idea existed all in my own neighborhood in downtown Mesa, as well as one in downtown Phoenix that was just as welcoming and supportive. I slowly but surely was getting my art out there while meeting really amazing people and learning the whole time. I attended Altitude Summit in Salt Lake CIty and met with other small business owners and creatives, taking notes at classes about business and networking, trying to learn from other people’s (especially other mothers’ like me) experiences.

All during this process I was going through an extremely painful and difficult time after the death of my brother from a drug and alcohol overdose. I felt like I needed to have an experience to help me not only heal, but to help me make sense as much as possible of life and death and God. That is when I really began to gravitate towards other LDS artists that I felt had a way of expressing their faith through art that I really connected with. I started following them on Instagram and pouring over their websites and artwork. Three of these artists were Brian Kershisnik, J. Kirk Richards, and Rose Datoc Dall. They really inspired me and I wanted to connect with them and other LDS artists, I just didn’t really know how.

Then one day I noticed a post on Kirk’s instagram that I couldn’t get out of my mind. It was an invitation to artists to attend an art workshop in Massachusetts. It made no sense for me to go. We were super tight on money. It was all the way across the country for heaven’s sake, and my husband was in the middle of starting up his own bakery.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I decided I could at least email and ask for information. I did, and got a reply from Julia Blake (now another of my favorite people and artists) with all the information, and it was something that I could do. I was so excited, from then on everything fell into place, and I was able to take a trip to Boston, meet some of my favorite artists, and feel really positive and good about continuing to share my art.

Sometimes it is so hard for me to not get in the trap of thinking that my art isn’t good enough or that I won’t ever be a “real” artist. I promise though that ignoring those thoughts or at least pushing them to the side if possible while continuing to create is the best way to get through them. With every painting (even the horrible ones) I feel like I get closer to who I want to be as an artist and more confident in my craft. It doesn’t have to happen in a perfectly organized and predictable way, either. If I stuck with that idea I would never get anything done.

Probably one of my favorite things about being a working artist stay-at-home mom is that I have noticed that my children notice. They are learning that work is good and important and hard things can be done. I love seeing them come up with their own little creative “businesses” and recognizing things that their dad and I have done in ours. Including them in the process has been one of the best experiences our family has had. So carry on, friends! You can do this.

-Beth Allen

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