Redefining Success as an Artist

Intimately Clematis by Angela Fehr - SOLD

If you are ever in the greeting card section of the grocery store, you may see the work of one of my idols, Marjolein Bastin. Her delicate botanical artwork graces an entire line of stationery products and she has expanded into other areas of the gift and home decor market as well. As an artist myself, I dreamed of being her and realizing that kind of success, even in small measure. I couldn’t understand how, when hearing that I painted, women would often tell me, “I used to paint before I had kids.” I refused to accept that once I had children, I would have to give up painting.

Now four years have passed, during which I have birthed three children. In the last year, I have completed four paintings, which totals about twelve hours of painting. My five-year plan for getting my art into the world is gathering dust in a binder somewhere, and I struggle to complete a piece to display at the art society’s member exhibits. I am starting to resemble those women who “used to paint.”

Should I be upset by the shelving of a dream? Should I be kicking and screaming in protest, fighting to carve out a space for myself to further my artistic goals? I’m not, and I’ll tell you why – I am redefining success.

My late aunt Zola Bruneau was an incredibly creative person, smart and funny. Through my growing up years my visits to her home were memorable because she was always doing something interesting. My cousins and I would enjoy homemade root beer while playing with the stuffed cats in pyjamas she had designed, or we’d bounce in a mound of down parkas she was dissecting in order to make a giant comforter (or was she dissecting a comforter in order to make parkas?). Her birch bark “gnome homes” actually became a small business venture, as did her passion for finding antiques and collectibles at garage sales. In the months before her sudden death she was busy collecting china and making mosaics, and her sewing room housed a quilt she was crafting out of vintage handkerchiefs.

Aunt Zola never attained business success, and she never sought the attention of the spotlight, but when I think about what she achieved, I want what she had. Like her, I enjoy doing many things, and if I were to focus on making a name for myself painting, it would require sacrifice in other areas. Last year, I may have only completed four paintings, but I also sewed clothing for myself and my daughters, designed and built a wall shelf for our home, worked to learn new recipes and techniques in cooking, and did a lousy job of teaching myself to crochet. There is something very freeing in being able to do whatever I want, without worrying about whether it will garner praise from others or reap financial rewards. When I define success as the pursuit of my passions, I don’t have to worry about the value of the outcome, because the joy is in the journey. I’m hoping that journey will one day include learning pottery, a painting trip to Greece or Spain, bead craft, artistic welding, woodworking and glassblowing (hey, I can dream!).

I don’t think I’ll ever have to tell people, “I used to paint.” Because I love it so much, I will find a corner for it in my life. But the yardstick of my days is no longer my achievements. As my three children grow up, I feel most successful when I see their creativity in evidence. When my daughters and I sit down to paint, I may not get very far before I am distracted to wipe up spilled paint water, or remove brushes from paint-stained mouths, or to hang soggy paintings which drip down my refrigerator, but I am seeing a dream come true all the same.