I’m so pleased to share this lovely interview with Lynne Millar. She blends painting and motherhood so well, and the joy she has for her life and family is evident in her work and photographs on Instagram. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and photos of your beautiful family, work and space with us, Lynne!
Tell us about yourself. How old are your children? Where can we find you?
I’m Lynne Millar, 38. I live in the Central/Bay Area of California with my husband, Steve, and our four kids: a son, 14, and girls 11, 8, and 5. I spend my days home with them (and often their friends – we live in a fun neighborhood with lots of other kids so there is often a constant flow of children running in and out), and working in my studio (in the back of our garage).
Has your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having children?
I’ve painted, created, and taken art classes since I was a child, but was the kind of artist who did not often show my work to others until a few years ago. I made a decision to be brave (sharing something so personal as art is super scary for me) and take myself seriously as an artist about four years ago. Without a doubt, being a parent hugely influenced that choice. I want my children to develop themselves to their fullest, and find joy in who they are and in their talents/interests – so attempting to set an example doing that for myself helped me overcome some of my personal shyness and lack of confidence. I think it’s important for them to see how hard I’m working to achieve my artistic goals, and also, to see that I often fail (I regularly make really bad paintings!), but don’t quit. When they were very young, I painted mostly with water-based media because it dried quickly and was relatively portable (I’d move my pile of art stuff around the various flat surfaces of our house so I could grab a few minutes of on my projects here and there). As the kids have gotten older and I worry less about someone small thinking solvent is lemonade or something horrible like that, I’ve transitioned to using mostly oil paints (although I still love, love, love gouache and watercolor).
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?
Time is without a doubt the hardest part of attempting to be an artist and a mother. I read in your previous interview with Sonia Brittain her observation that having children made her a more efficient artist because her time is so variable. I totally relate. If I’m painting while my kids are around, which is often the case, I have one eye on my canvas and one on the whirlwind around me (and also my ears listening for suspicious silences, which never mean anything good here). When I’m not actively working, I store up ideas, thoughts and notes in my sketchbook or on my phone and when I find a minute, try and jump right in and work like a crazy woman.
But, while navigating through the daily chaos and carving out any consistent time has been a challenge, I like to think that all the crazy adds a depth to what I’m trying to express through my art that wouldn’t be there if my life was simpler. And also I realize (with sadness, actually) that it’s just a short time before things will change. My youngest is in preschool now, with kindergarten on the horizon, so finally some blocks of time where I’m able to focus 100% of painting are emerging. I’m pretty regimented about those precious preschool hours – as much as humanly possible, I try to take care of other household business so that during that time I can put my head down and work.
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?
I love this question! Being an artist totally makes me a better mother. It gives our family direction: like pretty much every mom, I try to be very mindful about the kind of lives I’m facilitating for my kids. (Mind you, the operative word here is TRY – I have not figured out the application of this to brilliant effect, and my kids still watch plenty of TV.) In theory, I want the paintings I create to reflect the reverence I feel for nature and God; the joy that beauty brings into our lives. But if I’m not making a conscious effort to draw those things into our family life, I can’t reflect them back out in my art (garbage in, garbage out, my dad always said). For that to happen, we try our best to read great books, fill the house with music that makes us happy, get outside as much as we can, and be kind people.
(school art, above, our Wayne Thiebaud project; below, our Gee’s Bend quilt project)
Being an artist has also helped me contribute to our school community, which has been SO satisfying. When my oldest son was in second grade I started coming in to his class to do art-history based art lessons (that’s actually what I earned my degree in, I was too scared to be graded on my art and so I studied great artists instead) and over the years other parents have joined in, and we’ve grown into a thriving art docent program (this past year every single class in our school had a docent, which made me incredibly happy). Preparing and teaching those lessons are consistent weekly highlights for me. Kids are so naturally creative and it always fills my bucket to watch them jump into new projects so fearlessly. Plus, it keeps me connected to the art history-loving part of myself, which is really important for my work as an artist.
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?
Up until a couple of months ago I painted mostly in my kitchen – my easel was usually set up right next to our island where I could pile my stuff and set up still lifes, etc. It was kind of nice because I was right in the middle of things, but also kind of bad because I was right in the middle of things.
Since I’m getting closer to the kids being off at school for longer periods of time, we finally converted the back of our garage into a studio so I have a dedicated space to work in (hooray!). But my art stuff usually trickles back in because if I’m still working when the kids are home, I like to be in the general area where they are.
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 think my main tip here is to try and take yourself seriously as an artist, and let that seriousness inform your choices (where you have control over them). I say no to many things now that seemed a lot more important a few years ago, because I’m committed to paint every day (every possible day – but man, with kids, things come up!). Mary Oliver, in her book A Poetry Handbook says: “Writing a poem [or painting a painting] … is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.” So – make serious and consistent appointments with yourself to make your art. Believe in yourself enough to respect and guard your own time.
Do you have any big goals or dreams for your art that you’d like to share? What would be your dream project?
My goals – ack! So many! I just want to get better! I still feel very held back by my lack of formal artistic training. I’ve tried really hard to make up the deficit by studying and practicing and taking classes over the years, but there are so many areas in my art that I would like to improve on. Lots of workshops I’m dying to take. This summer my goal is to really focus in on figure drawing.