Carving Out Time for Art with Kaetlyn Able

I first saw Kaetlyn Able’s beautiful watercolors a few month ago while perusing some of my favorite creative / maker / artist hashtags (I think it was #cylcollective started by Grace Gully). As someone who occasionally paints house portraits, I always admire how others do it in their own style. Hers are fantastic. I was blown away by Kaetlyn’s realistic house paintings that blend so well with the flora, and then fade into abstracted colors at the edges. There’s a bit of a surreal quality to her work in my opinion. And, from what I can see, she is constantly trying out new things like her recent night sky paintings with stars and collages. I’m so happy to share her perspective for this week’s interview – particularly on decluttering which I love, and now realize most of my artist friends do too! So enjoy. Thank you so much, Kaetlyn!
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Tell us about yourself. How old are your children? Where can we find you?

I’m Kaetlyn Able, a fine artist originally from the Boston area, now living and working in Montana. I make contemporary nature and history inspired paintings and drawings in a variety of water-based media. I show my work in galleries and I’m also slowly (ever so slowly) working to create an online presence and shop. I’m also a full time stay-at-home mom to my two little boys. My oldest is four and a half and my youngest is almost three. You can find me on Instagram, where I share images of finished work, work in progress and bits of my inspiration. I have an Etsy Shop where I’m beginning to sell prints and small originals. And I also just started a Facebook artist page.

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Has your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having children?

Yes, absolutely! All of the above. It sounds so cheesy to say, but it’s completely true that motherhood has changed me profoundly, and for the better. And those changes carry over into my work. My experience as a parent has been a crash course in going with the flow, slowing down and enjoying the ride. Consequently, my art-making has become more joyful and much more process-focused than it used to be. I was a full time artist with an out-of-home studio space before my first son was born. So when I first started really working to carve out time to make art while caring full time for my kids, I viewed the new constraints on my time and on my work space as negatives. But the reverse has turned out to be true, which has been such a surprise! While I do have significantly less time for art than I used to, it turns out that I’m a lot more focused when I work in smaller chunks of time. And my family and household obligations force me to step away from my work (in a good way), so that I can come back later with fresh eyes. This really saves me from over-thinking and over-working things. I’ve always loved making labor-intensive, technically rigorous work, and that hasn’t changed. But it took me a few years of experimenting with new media and techniques to figure out how to keep doing that within the framework of my new life with kids. So now I use techniques that require a lot of small steps and very little cleanup. That way I can do a little bit here and another little bit there, even on a crazy, busy day.

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Is 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?

There have certainly been times when I found it difficult to make creative time for myself. Especially when my boys were babies and going through certain phases. But I get a little bit cranky when I don’t have some kind of creative project going on, so it tends to become a priority for me to make that time as soon as we exit those little periods of survival mode. I spend most of my leisure time, when my youngest is napping and when both kids go down for the night, making things. And my wonderful, amazing mother-in-law and father-in-law come over once or twice a week and play with the kids while I get extra hours of art time in. My husband and I also trade a few hours on the weekends so that we each get a nice chunk of alone time to work on our respective projects. When our kids were younger my projects tended to be mom-specific: tie-dyeing onesies, sewing and dyeing swaddling blankets, making elaborate baby purées, sewing soft toys. Now that the boys are older and we’re all sleeping well, I have more time and energy to create the kind of conceptually rich, labor-intensive artwork that I find most fulfilling. We also try to maintain a minimalist lifestyle, which frees up a lot of our time. Last year we decluttered our home and sold and donated about a third of our possessions. Having less stuff helps me stay organized, makes the housework quick and easy, and helps me focus better when I sit down to create. I also gave up TV a few months ago as a way to carve out even more time as I prepared for my current show.

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How 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? 

Making art makes me so happy. I think it’s great for my kids to be around a happy, contented parent. My hope is that it sets a tone for their own lives, that finding their own fulfillment will be a priority for them. My children are also very interested in my work, and I think that being exposed to it enriches their lives. They see what I’m creating every day, and we talk a lot about it. I’m currently working on a series about some of the historic homes in our town, and this has really captured their imaginations. They’ve started drawing the houses too, and building them out of blocks. They each put their own unique twists on the theme. And when we’re driving around town they get all excited when we pass by a house that I’ve painted.

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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 work out of a home office that I share with my husband. I love our setup. I have a big desk, a work table, a little cart and a nice deep closet where I keep all of my supplies and the kids’ art supplies. My husband and I sit back-to-back every evening after the kids are in bed and work on our individual projects together. We jokingly call it our parallel playtime. I love how efficient my work corner is. Everything has its place, and I have some room to store work for upcoming shows. And I like that its modest size forces me to be very thoughtful about what I keep in the space and what I add to it. If I could improve our space I would add more natural light. It gets pretty dim in the summer, when the trees outside are in their full leafy-ness. And I’d add a bit more charm too. We rent our house, and the things that we can’t change are a sort of uninspiring builder-grade beige.

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Do 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?

I highly recommend decluttering and stuff-purging, as I mentioned above. The process has helped us to change our consumer habits as well, so that we accumulate much less than we used to. We spend less time shopping, trying to organize and find homes for new things, and looking for things lost in the clutter. And all of this saves us an incredible amount of time, space and money. Another way that I free up time for art is by turning the household tasks into fun activities for the kids so that we get it all done when they’re awake. But it also doesn’t feel like drudgery. We have laundry folding races, they help me cook and bake, they pretend the couch is a boat and that the vacuum is a sea monster, and they love dusting. And starting this week both of my boys will be going to preschool two mornings a week. So that will be a huge new chunk of dedicated work time for me.

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

Right now I’m working with an amazing gallery right here in Montana. I would love to expand my market by also finding a west coast gallery and a new east coast gallery (my old, beloved east coast dealer sold her business to carve out more time for her own art!).

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Thanks again Kaetlyn! Now someone fine this talented lady new gallery representation STAT, will you?!

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