Carving Out Time for Art with Michelle Armas

When I started contacting artists that I admired for this series, I knew that I wanted to know what Michelle Armas would have to say on art and motherhood. I’ve been a fan of her for years – and not just her art. Her home is beautiful – she could have a career as an interior designer if she ever wanted to. Her family is adorable, and she is the most loving and fun mother. But what I like most about Michelle is that she’s so open to discussing personal matters in a genuine, open and positive way. She’s had her struggles (as most of us do in various ways), and she makes you realize you’re not alone with your own issues. She’s hilarious, truly one-of-a-kind in an internet that can feel repetitious at times, and she knows when to throw in some good swear words. I know you guys will love reading this as much as I did. I personally threw my fist in the air when I read her response about bad-assery (technical term). You will see. Thank you so much for your time, Michelle!

COTFA-Michelle-Armas-9Tell us about yourself. How old is your daughter? Where can we find you?

I started painting a few years ago to battle the stress of my corporate branding job (ok, I was an intern, you caught me), but it was still really stressful. I have a bachelor of International Relations, and a post graduate degree in Graphic Design and Branding from the prestigious Portfolio Center in Hotlanta. I lasted about one year in the New York branding world before I threw in the towel and started trying to make a living by painting, and now you are reading this, so I guess I made it big time!

I paint in acrylic and oil, large and small, abstract and sometimes portraits too. I also create collages, consult on design and art projects and print textiles and license work to companies all around the world.

I live in Atlanta with my husband, daughter and two sweet doggies.

COTFA-Michelle-Armas-7Has your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having children?

Yes, it has all changed. And even if I hadn’t noticed it, everyone is pointing it out to me! I am more focused on work when it is time to work. I either have Alia and then she is the most important thing, or Alia is at her nanny and I make that time count. I also paint at home at night, if the mood strikes. I have learned that I have to be in the right head space to paint and now instead of beating myself up if I don’t have enough of those days, if I feel like painting then everything else stops, and I paint. Inspiration comes from everywhere, all the time. That part hasn’t changed.

COTFA-Michelle-Armas-5Is 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?

I have child care. I can take Alia to her nanny, a woman who watches three little girls in her house near us five days a week 7am to 5pm. They listen to jazz, watch hummingbirds, do baby yoga, play and sing songs. Usually she goes from 9 or 10 am to 4 or 5pm. Some days I don’t take her, if I can tell that I won’t paint, or work then I keep her and we spend the day together, or she runs errands with me. I thought that I would just get a nanny who would be home with us and I would see Alia all the time, but it just didn’t work out that way. I really hate the idea of having a schedule, of doing the same thing at the same time every day, its death to me. But having a schedule has helped us, also keeping the house German level organized and clean and always doing dishes or laundry right away has really helped us keep our sanity at home. I have given up sleeping in, but she wakes up at 7am, that’s not too bad really. Also my husband and I divide tasks, we always know what we are supposed to do. When its his time to take care of her I let him do whatever he does. If I disagree when what he is feeding her, or how she spends her time I don’t say anything because I need time off, and also if I tell him what to do all the time he won’t learn for himself and I will just be constantly doing it all. That is for sure not going to happen, so I don’t micro manage, or I try not to.

COTFA-Michelle-Armas-6How 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? 

I believe that being an artist makes me see how everything can be a creative adventure. I give her plants, or a towel or her sock to play with, she doesn’t really have many toys. I show her things like leaves and trees and the skyline and I tell her to watch the way the breeze moves the branches of the big oak trees…she doesn’t understand yet, but I can’t help myself. 

I think of creating art as my job, because it is. I never think of it as something I squeeze in because I have to do other things. No, its my full time job. Creating, maintaining my business, working with clients, expanding, making connections, and honing my craft is my full time job. When I am working, that’s what I am doing, and I am not having any guilt that I am not with Alia. I hope that she sees how normal it is, and would never even question that she has the right to enjoy the same privilege to pursue her passions with no limits. I don’t want her to say my mom is a real woman bad-ass because she had babies AND worked! I want her to say of course my mom worked and had babies, why on earth would that be exceptional? oh and by the way she is a bad-ass.COTFA-Michelle-Armas-8Where 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 have a really great studio a few miles from my home, and I also have a shared office space with my husband where I can paint on off hours. I have to be able to work when I can, or want to. I love that my studio is so bright, and spacious. It has concrete floors and is located in a part of town that has easy walks to get lunch, coffee or see friends. At home my husband and I made a very concerted effort to maximize our needs out of our shared office. We designed a wrap around the room, shallow desk with storage so that there was maximum work space, and maximum room in the middle for me to paint, lay things out and move around. Ideally I would have my own home studio, and that’s the ultimate goal. The entire upstairs, with huge skylights and a little deck with plants and hammocks and big sofas and rugs, and everything painted white! I see myself working on a painting while an older Alia plays next to me, hopefully she will be interested in art!

COTFA-Michelle-Armas-10Do 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?

My husband and I decide what our drop off-pickup schedule is every week. Lately he has been working much longer hours and I am the one who does everything for Alia. We had a family meeting, we decided on this delegation of duties, and how long it will last, in this case two months. Then we re-group. Its working out pretty well. I am very busy now, but I know that I will get a break in two months, and he misses being with Alia a lot, but its temporary and this really helps us deal with these kinds of situations. Also we divide work at home, who does what and also we have a deal that the kitchen is always clean. You have to leave it clean every time you go in there, and the dishwasher gets a run every single day, no matter how few dishes are in there, b/c the formula making things need to be cleaned. We used to go out more, but now we do this thing were on Friday night we put Alia to bed, and I make us some cocktails and he goes to pick up a full take out dinner from some place nice and then we plate everything, and light candles and have a romantic date at home. Now that its spring we eat at the marble coffee table on the little porch outside of our bedroom and we chat and laugh and its just like having a fancy date out, but we don’t have to go out!

COTFA-Michelle-Armas-4Do you have any big goals or dreams for your art that you’d like to share? What would be your dream project?

Yes! I see us as a family living in Mexico or some other place that we love (Chile!) together as a family while I paint for a local gallery there and we live in a little house and explore. Maybe we can do it every summer while Alia is in school? Its going to happen. By the time Alia ready to go to College she will have traveled the world! That’s my big goal, for her to experience the magic of travel, or meeting people so different from you and realizing how we are all the same, and how small the world really is.

COTFA-Michelle-Armas-11All images courtesy of Michelle Armas.


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