Carving Out Time for Art with Samantha Dion Baker

“Throwing my sketchbook in my bag allows me to make time for my art wherever I am. Whether I’m at the playground, the soccer field, the doctor’s waiting room, it’s always right there. And I draw anything and everything. I draw what we eat, I draw a sign on the wall, I draw a quote that one of us has read and I think needs to be remembered, I draw the chair I’m sitting on, the cat that crosses our path… I’ve made the world around us a part of my process, and because of this I can find the time to create every day. “

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I’m a big fan of the sketchbooks and illustrative style that Samantha Dion Baker shares daily on Instagram. She manages to find beauty in daily life, in the market trips and chores that others would deem mundane. She reminds me to always be curious about the world and that beauty and inspiration can be anywhere and in any form. You don’t need to have a dedicated light filled loft studio to create something daily (although nobody needs to apologize if they’re lucky enough to have one!). You can carry your sketchbook and some paints, or a pencil.

I also admire Samantha because she self-published a charming and gorgeous book of her 28 day trip to Scandanavia in 2015. When she found out I was interested in self-publishing my vignettes for The 100 Day Project, she offered to chat with me about her lessons learned. It’s not every day that people offer to help you fulfill your own dreams, yet I’ve found that it happens all of the time with women I know in our art community. So thank you, Samantha! You really are the coolest.

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Tell us about yourself. How old are your children? Where can we find you?

I am an illustrator. It’s sort of funny to say that when I’ve been working as a graphic designer for about 18 years… But it’s true. Now I am an illustrator, an artist, and, yes, still a graphic designer… It sort of all blends together these days. I came into this second career after my kids were off to school and I had time to re-think my life goals.

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I have two boys who are 11 and 7 years old. They are amazing and are my best friends.

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We live in Brooklyn, NY, right over the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a wonderful place to create art and to raise children.

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

I come from a family of artists. I grew up in my grandmother’s sculpture studio and watched my mother create intricate illustrations in her home office. It was natural for me to pursue art as a career, so I got myself accepted to Cooper Union, where I studied everything the school had to offer. After graduating, I decided to work in design, always trying to avoid the computer, if possible, to work by hand, and to sneak my handwriting into my projects.

After a steady flow of design work in the non-profit sector, working mostly with art galleries and museums, I began to open my sketchbook more often. My boys inspired me, and pushed me to draw more. I realized I could do more by hand than just use my handwriting in projects. I could actually make the pictures I was drawing into part of my design process and thinking. The drawings I make in my book have opened up a whole new world of creativity for me. I only have a few clients left who don’t use me for these drawing skills. Some clients I’ve had for years who never knew I could draw have now asked me to illustrate for them. It has been an amazing and empowering transition.

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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?

I am very much a creature of routine, but parenting and routine don’t always go hand in hand. We have to be flexible, and go with the flow. Throwing my sketchbook in my bag allows me to make time for my art wherever I am. Whether I’m at the playground, the soccer field, the doctor’s waiting room, it’s always right there. And I draw anything and everything: I draw what we eat, I draw a sign on the wall, I draw a quote that one of us has read and I think needs to be remembered, I draw the chair I’m sitting on, the cat that crosses our path… I’ve made the world around us a part of my process, and because of this I can find the time to create every day.

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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?

Without a doubt, working daily on something I love has made me a better mother. I am still stressed, and drop balls all the time. I cannot tackle our family calendar, so have surrendered that job to my husband. I am constantly saying, “Wait one sec, I’m almost finished” or “wait, I have to snap a picture of this for my book” which sort of means I am not always 100% present for them, but clearly I am excited about my work. And that is the best thing for any child to see. To be happy, and love what you do. That’s all I want for them!

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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?

As I mentioned earlier, I take my art with me wherever I go. So NYC, Brooklyn, the places we travel, it is all my studio. I would absolutely love to get a studio space nearby in Brooklyn, so that I can transform my small drawings into larger pieces of art, but I think that’s a bit in the future. For now I need the flexibility.
Do I create art with my kids? YES! But I don’t do it in the typical way. I’m not a crafty mom. I take them to see art all over the world, and we discuss what we see, and they take this information with them into the world. I find it opens up creative conversations. With these conversations, occasionally a project comes into play. For example, we saw Matisse cut outs. So we came home and cut out shapes. Another time we went into a children’s section of a modern museum where they had rolls of colored tape, which then led to a crazy tape-art session at home. We draw on leaves together, that’s about as crafty as I get.

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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?

If there is a way to take your art with you, I recommend it. Some people need soft music, a clean work surface, and total quiet to be productive and creative. My life doesn’t allow for these circumstances, so I keep my studio in my bag. There are small tools you can buy, but all it takes is a piece of paper and a pencil or a travel set of watercolors, and you can carve out some time wherever you go.
My older son also just got an iPhone, which has been life-changing for all of us. He’s pretty independent, at 11 years old. I can send him to the store to buy some milk, or to the park to meet a friend. So I can tell moms of little ones, your time does become more free as your kids become independent. Of course, if your budget allows, a babysitter is everything! Hire one. And don’t feel guilty about it.

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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?

I just self-published a book – a reproduction of my summer sketch journal (I do a page a day, and share it on Instagram @sdionbakerdesign). I only printed 30 copies at first, and they sold out in 4 days. I now have the 2nd edition available in my Etsy shop, and I plan produce a series of these reproductions, around once or twice a year.

It’s my dream to work with a publisher to do a series of journals, but for now it’s nice to have complete freedom. A goal would be to create a book on NYC, where I go to different cafes and points of interest, and make a new page each day. I’d probably want to work with a publisher for that sort of project…. I’m working towards this!

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Thank you, Samantha! I cannot wait to see what new projects that 2016 brings for you.

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