Carving Out Time for Art with Sonia Brittain

I started noticing Sonia Brittain’s gouache paintings on Instagram when I was trying to do a daily painting project last Fall. I was amazed that she found time each day to paint, especially when I learned she has 3 sons. I look forward to seeing what she paints each day, as well as living vicariously through her family’s adventures in their new home in Switzerland. Sonia was the first artist I asked to participate in this series, as I think she captures the spirit of this idea for me. All around the world, there are busy people who still find time to paint a little here and there, whether they are jumping into a daily project, forging a new path, or have been doing it for years. Thank you for sharing with us today, Sonia, and for making me smile daily when I see your paintings.


Sonia Brittain ArtistTell us a little about yourself, how old your children are, and where we can find you.

My name is Sonia, I am a full time mother of three boys. Last year we moved from London to Basel, Switzerland. I am currently in the midst of a drawing a day project for a year.

My eldest son is 6 and a half years old, the middle one is 5 years old, and my youngest is 15 months old. At the moment I am home with my youngest all day, the older two are now at school. My husband does have to travel abroad for work fairly regularly, so being left alone with three young boys in a new country, away from friends and family has been quite challenging!

Sonia Brittain Art LavenderHas your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having children? 

I think having children has definitely made me more inspired! Since being at home with the children I have painted and drawn more than I ever did when working full time in my previous career (I was a psychiatrist). I also feel I’m much more open to new ideas, and able to appreciate the small things, as drawing makes me look more closely at the world around me.Sonia Brittain Art SwitzerlandI have learnt to adapt my approach and process to being at home with young children. I will often think about subjects and themes while I’m cooking or doing chores and I do try to jot ideas down in my journal for future use. This means once I do get some free time, (i.e when my toddler naps or all the children are asleep) I can pretty much get on with drawing and painting straight away, and I don’t procrastinate about what to draw. Having children has made me more organised and flexible, as obviously how much time is available for me to make art is variable, and is affected by how long the youngest naps for, school holidays, if one of them is sick, or if relatives come and stay.

Since moving to Switzerland, and with my drawing a day project, I have sketched using a variety of art materials. I use pencils, pens, inks, neocolor crayons and felt tips as well as painting in my sketchbooks with watercolour and gouache. The biggest discovery for me is my love of gouache. I really like the opaque and vivid colours you can achieve, and that it is a lot more forgiving than watercolour. I do try and come up with a theme for the week’s drawings, I find this helpful in planning a series of sketches, and it makes it more fun. I definitely find setting myself some limitations helps actually to make me more creative.Sonia Brittain Art ShoesIs it easy or difficult for you to find/make time to create? Did you have to give anything up? Do you have advice on what works for you?

It can be hard to make time to create. When I was a full time mum to two toddlers under 3 years old and in a smaller place back in London, I definitely struggled. The most art I achieved then was quick pen sketches of the boys napping, but that’s OK with me as I was new to motherhood, and that’s what I felt able to do back then. Then, when the boys were older, and started sleeping through, I would set up on the dining room table and paint for a couple of hours in the evenings.

Sonia Brittain Art ChairThe last year and a half there have been some big life events that have resulted in my desire to make more time for art. I had my third son early after experiencing acute pre-eclampsia, resulting in a week in hospital afterwards, and then again had to return to hospital for a few days with him after he had an episode where he stopped breathing briefly.  They were pretty scary times, and I had quite a bit of time in hospital with just my baby to think about what ifs, and to be thankful for family and friends. Around the same time we found out that my husband had got a new job in Basel, Switzerland! I think these events have made me determined to be more open to new experiences (i.e living abroad for the first time), and wanting to start pursuing my interests more seriously, I guess I get the whole ‘living without regrets’ sentiment now. Once we were settled I decided to commit to a drawing a day project for a year to help get me into the habit of daily sketching or painting. I had seen online lots of other fabulous artists and illustrators carrying out really inspiring daily art projects and thought why not have a go too?

In terms of have I had to give anything up to make time for art, yes, yes, yes ! In London I was way more socially active and there was always a toddler group or rhyme time to go to! I now read far less, and I also don’t spend as much time trying out new recipes and baking (maybe not so bad for the waistline!). I probably also watch a lot less rubbish TV. It is definitely a much quieter, outdoorsy lifestyle here and that suits us well at the moment. Luckily Basel also has some great museums and art galleries, which has also made the move from London a little easier to bear.

Thus, what works for me is trying to have a fairly regular routine, planning what to sketch before I sit down to start, and just trying to keep it fun. My main focus at the moment is looking after my young family and trying to make sure they feel more settled, as moving country has been a big transition for them, but I’m starting to dedicate more time taking a long term hobby more seriously.Sonia Brittain Art Painting with ChildrenHow does being an artist make you a better mother to your children? What do you hope they take away from seeing you as an artist doing something that fulfills you?

Personally, I think being an artist as well as a mother has helped me deal with demands of having a young family, and the fact that I need to let the older boys separate and become more independent. I know I am a lot happier for making the time to pursue something I love, and it stops me worrying too much about the children and their issues, and things I can’t control. I also hope that their seeing me make time for something I love will inspire them to make time for the things they really want to do in life.

Where do you paint or create? What are your favorite things about your workspace and what would you improve? Do you ever create art with your kids?

I love my current workspace, basically, because in London I didn’t have one. It is fantastic to be able to have all my supplies out, and leave things ready for when I next get to do some art. I am also very lucky as the house we are renting has a large master bedroom with two parts, so setting up my desk next to the french windows works well, and the light during the day is great (plus my toddler happily naps on the bed). The house is pretty old and has a lovely atmosphere, so it has not been hard to make my workspace a place I love to spend time at. In terms of improving it, I would like a cork board above it, so I can pin stuff up, and I also want to find a bookcase for all the art books and paper pads that are stacked messily under the desk.

I do try and create art with my kids, with the older ones it tends to be in the holidays on the kitchen table while the youngest naps. They enjoy short periods of art activities, but in the main they are pretty boisterous and spirited, so they mostly like to be outdoors hitting or kicking balls, and looking for wildlife.Sonia Brittain Art Studio SpaceDo you have any tips to streamline/delegate/outsource household and childcare activities so that you can focus more time on your art? Has your lifestyle changed in any major ways?

Oh dear, I’m not sure I have any great tips for streamlining household chores. Like you Marissa, I’m on a mission to organise and declutter (in fact sometimes getting rid of, or giving away redundant/unnecessary items is a good source of quick subjects to sketch, plus you have a fun record of your belongings). However, with 2 young boys I’m constantly inundated with recycled craft objects from school, drawings, and ‘precious’  bits and bobs they’ve  found (we have a number of ‘dinosaur teeth ‘ pebbles ) so it is an ongoing project. I try to keep on top of daily chores, and I also do as many tasks as I can with toddler J, so that when he naps I can use that time to do art.

We do have a cleaner to come once a week, and my husband would agree I have always had a pretty high tolerance for mess, so you can tell immediately ours is a family home. I try and remind myself that the children will eventually grow tidier (?) and try not to over nag the boys regarding their ability to make a mess in a minute, or lack of bathroom etiquette. My husband is also really supportive, though, I think he also wants me to be happy with the move abroad.Sonia Brittain Art Painting with ChildrenDo you have any big goals or dreams for your art that you’d like to share? What would be your dream project?

It has been a long-held goal of mine to maintain a daily drawing practice, so I really want to remain committed to this project, and hopeful ly complete it. I am really enjoying having the freedom to go where I want with this personal challenge, and my major goal is to try and continue exploring the subjects I want to sketch, and also look at finding ways of loosening up a bit. I think I have got much faster sketching and painting, but I would like to speed up even more, as my toddler will gradually nap less, and I also want to start producing some more finished works on paper. I would also like to sell my work in future as it would be great to contribute to the family income doing something I love.

Thank you, Sonia! You are such a fabulous mother and artist. I wish I could hang out in Basel for the day and paint with you. When you do start selling your work, we will update everyone and I will be the first in line to purchase something!


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