Tag Archives: artist residency in motherhood

Ladylike Artist: Dorothea Lange

Photo by Paul Taylor. 1935.

You may not know her name, but I can guarantee you are familiar with her iconic photograph Migrant Mother. The image has come to be a staple in most U.S. History textbooks, representing the poverty that struck farmers during the Great Depression. It also is used as an example of the type of work that was done by photographers hired as part of the New Deal program, the Farm Security Administration. By the time she was hired under the FSA to document the plight of displaced farmers, she already had a portfolio full of images capturing the very real, daily effects of the Great Depression on the West Coast.

To be able to photograph people, especially people you do not know has always been something I have admired. There is a vulnerability to being photographed, a sudden self awareness, that I am uncomfortable experiencing so I am uncomfortable asking others to experience it. When I see work by a photographer like Lange’s, a photographer who spent her entire career photographing others, I am in awe. Her work alone is awe inspiring but considering her willingness to move in to an uncomfortable space to take these photos adds a level of deep reverence I am not sure I could articulate.

She believed these photographs were important, she believed that the government and the American people needed to see what was happening to their fellow citizens. It is evident she respected the individuals she asked to photograph. Although she did not spend long periods of time getting to know each of them, she made a point of introducing herself, sharing a bit of her story, what she was doing, why she was doing it, and asking for permission to document a few moments of their life.

The depth of her passion was exposed while on assignment by the military to document the Japanese American relocation and internment in California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were looking for a photographer that would take the propaganda images they thought the American people needed to see in order to be assured that although these individuals were rounded up and relocated in these camps, they were being treated well and not tortured. Instead they hired a photographer unwilling to conform. Lange documented the harsh reality of what was happening to American citizens. Despite having a sensor follow her around to direct what she could and could not photograph, her images still captured the truth they didn’t want seen. Once they saw the images she was producing, she was fired and all of her work was impounded until the end of WWII. At the end of the war they were quietly released to the National Archive where they remained unseen until 2006 when they were published in the book Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment.


To learn more about the artist:


Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about woman artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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Ladylike Artist: Sally Mann…

Sally Mann, photo by Liz Liguori

Sally Mann was one of the first photographers I was exposed to, one of the first photographers I could name to describe and recognize their work as being theirs. She was one of the first artists I felt I could actually have a conversation about which encouraged me to talk about her work.

Her work is easy to talk about in that it has a depth to it that continues to deepen the more you explore and discuss it. Her images are captivating but slightly uncomfortable. They challenge you to ask yourself, “Why is there this un-easiness? Why do I feel like maybe these images were not meant for me to look at?” Even her landscape photographs give you that slight feeling of trespassing.

Sally Mann, David. 2005

As a photographer you tend to photograph your surroundings, yet I struggle with photographing my children. Or maybe it would be better to say it this way, I struggle to share those photographs with others. I am not talking about the silly snap shots or videos that are shared with family, but these moments where I realize that I am not just capturing a snap shot. The image has crossed over that mythical hard to describe line into something more, something that could be art. Although my intimacy with my subject is what has allowed me to capture the moment, that intimacy has also made me incredibly protective of the image and of the subjects.

Sally Mann, Damaged Child. 1984

It could and probably is this completely differing approach that captivates me about Sally Mann. She photographed her children in those serendipitous moments and instead of hoarding and guarding them, she openly shares them with a world. A world that has often been very critical of how she has allowed her children to be seen. In her book, Holding Still, she talks about involving her children in the final selection process. She always gave them the power to say, “No, I do not want anyone to see that.”

My own children are still little, too little to offer permission or to even understand what it would mean to hang an image of them in gallery. Maybe when my children are older, when time separates the child I experience in my day to day from the one in the frame, I can have just enough of the detachment required to objectively consider them as something more.

As always, thanks for reading.


To learn more about the artist:

Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about women artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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Still trying…

Still trying to be okay with little chunks of time. This past month my focus needed to be else where. I didn’t doubt for a second that I was doing the right thing but at the end of the month when my already molasses slow art process is making almost no visible signs of any momentum forward it’s hard not to be dis-heartened. To allow the self-doubt creep in.

I know this is just a season, and there will be times when I miss this season desperately… but right now I just wish the art side of things was happening faster. Maybe I’m not flexible enough or I’m just not acknowledging that I’m too tired. I tend to underestimate the energy required to keep up with two children that are 3yr and 1yr on a daily basis. They always wake up 5minutes before my alarm, no matter how early I set it, and after getting them down for the night I have just enough in my tank to fall into my own bed to sleep. If I am not actively trying to keep them alive my brain tends to go into sleep mode, which makes thinking about anything other than basic survival needs of my kids a challenge.

PaperboatsThis month I have snuck in a few tiny chunks of art time. Right before the holidays I offered a limited time offer on my 16 Things Prints. Those three prints are back and now available in various sizes. I am working on adding at least one more to the series this month.

I am also offering photo restoration and re-touching services through the studio store again. A sentimentalist at heart, there are very few things that I enjoy more than bringing an old photograph back to life. You can go to my website or etsy store to find out more about how the process works.

In the meantime I’m going to try to keep taking the chunks when I get them, trying to appreciate all the beautiful distractions and opportunities, and remember this is a marathon not a sprint.

Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors as one tired momma wrote this post and attempted to edit it a few days later.

As always, thanks for reading.


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Pick up the damn brush…

Last weekend I was lucky enough to hear Crystal Evans Hurst speak at an event. It was incredible. One of those soul stirring moving talks that somehow manages to call you on all of your shit and you’re really glad that someone finally did but a little bummed because you know you can’t go on living in denial anymore type talks.

It was the kick in the rear I needed in a really big way.

Sometimes you need to be coddled and given sweet words of gentle encouragement and sometimes someone needs to stand up and tell you to quit the shit already and do the damn thing. I needed the latter.

She told me to pick up the damn brush.

Well she told an arena full of other woman, a group of people I happened to be a part of, to pick up the brush. I don’t think she said the word damn… but that’s how I heard it. That’s how I needed to hear it. And it felt like she was talking directly to me.

And I need to just pick up the damn brush already.

When I started the artist residency in motherhood back in June I just said that my goal was to be more intentional about having a studio practice. I didn’t really define what I thought a successful year in this residency would look like but I can tell you that I definitely clearly defined what failure would look like. I have been operating with that definition of failure as my focus. I have been making sure I only do enough to say I tried but not too much that when that failure happens I can’t shrug it off and say “No biggie. I should have known better. I mean after all (insert believable excuses that are all actually full of BS)!”

It was and is important for me to be more intentional about having a studio practice. But even if I’m not, I am still going to make stuff. I can’t help it. It’s so imbedded in who I am that I am always finding ways to make even if I am not consciously choosing to make. However, if I want to satisfy this deep passion to be an artist, I need to start picking up the damn brush. I need to stop with all the second guessing, the wondering what it means, why I should or shouldn’t, if anyone will ever take me seriously, and the endless list of things that keep me at that point of only doing so much.

I want to make stuff. I want to share that stuff with the world. And I need to be okay with the world’s cold shoulder.

I also want to inspire other people. To share my story just in case it motivates someone else in the smallest way to be bold enough to pick up their own brush.

Hopefully at some point I’ll have something else to write about other than trying to overcome all this self-doubt keeping me from doing what I love, but for now this is what I have to work with.

As always, thank you for reading.


You should check out:

– Crystal Evans Hurst website

– This amazing reading of a letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse that shows that we are not alone in the agonizing self doubt (warning: some pretty crude language is used in this letter)

– And this page about Eva Hesse because I love her work so much

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Just show up… 

It’s really hard to focus in here… 

When I know all of this is waiting for me on the other side of the door… 

The beauty of having my woodshop right off the kitchen is that the baby monitor works in there, allowing me to hear when my little ones are waking up. Sometimes the lack of physical distance from all of the things that are easier to do while the kids sleep makes it harder to focus.

Or maybe I’m just looking for a reason to not focus… trying to avoid all those negative ninja gremlins waiting in the rafters of my studio to attack. 

Self doubt sucks. But it’s real and stupid but real and a pain in the ass but also real but also really lame and I wish it wasnt real but it is. 

I’ve been trying to just to show up. Not vanguish all evil or create a piece so stunning the art world can sense it’s existence and seeks it out so they can hold it up as the greatest peice ever made… I just need to show up. 

It’s not easy. I can feel the weight of all of the meanial and safe daily tasks trying to pull me away… the pile of dirty clothes luring me into the laundry room with promises of finally seeing the bottom of the hamper… images of a clutter free kitchen dancing in my head… the promise of all the things I could accomplish in the hour the kids sleep if I don’t go into the shop and waste my time making something that wont be that good anyway… In reality all those safe and menial tasks make me feel like a modern Sisyphus. 

But fear makes me forget that there is no end to the daily chores, that there will always be clothes in the dirty hamper, that no matter how hard I try I can not clear the clutter and mess faster than my two monsters can make it. 

An making art / being vulnerable is scary. Especially in a society that values art as a final product but doesnt always value what can be seen as the foolish and frivolous pursuit of making art. 

So right now, I’m just trying to show up. 

As always, thanks for reading. 


You should check out:

Brene Brown, Professor of the Dark Arts and Expert Advice Giver on how to defeat The Gremlins 

– This summary of the story of Sisyphus incase you didnt get the reference I made

– This amazing residency for mom’s if, like me, you are trying to navigate being a mom and an artist. 

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Use Your Words… 

Constructive criticism can be incredibly valuable. Critique was one of the worst/best parts of art school. It was the worst because it required a level of vulnerability. When done with a great group who understood the benefits of not just saying something superficial or nice like “You worked really hard,” it was the best. It created a dialogue to help you talk through your ideas, potentially gave you a new arsenal of inspiring artists to look at, and gave you a gauge of how well your idea was being articulated to an audience. 

After graduating the regular critiques ended. Sure I have a group of people I know that I can send photos too or video chat with who would talk through something I’m working on but I have to seek them out, put myself out there instead of showing up to the mandatory critique whose attendance and participation is a requirement if I want a good grade. 

When I do seek it out I ask things like: 

“Does this look dumb?”

“How weird does this look?”

“Am I stupid for thinking this works?”

“Stupid right?”

Talk about a meaningful conversation!

And it’s not just with something I’m making, it’s with anything I do. If I’m not sure about something I’m wearing: “I’m not making this work am I?” If I have an idea that I want an opinion on: “I know this idea is stupid but what do you think about (idea)?” It’s annoying just writing about it.

I’m constantly telling my two year old to use her words instead of whining… I need to take my own advice. Those style of questions are basically a grownup form of whining. Whining shuts everything down but your desire to get away from the whiner as quickly as you can. Or at least that’s my reaction. 

I’m trying to be more direct and clear. To ask things like, “I am having a hard time resolving this design aspect. Any thoughts?” Or “Could you give me your opinion on this? Wondering how I am doing with articulating my idea.” It leads to way more constructive dialogue than a pouty, “This looks dumb right?” 

As always thanks for reading,


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The Beginning…

Today is the official start for my year long Artist Residency in Motherhood!!!!!!

I have been thinking and wanting to do this since I first heard about it over a year ago. At the time I was working full time and waiting for kiddo number 2’s arrival. I really liked the idea of the commitment but I lacked the courage so I pretended like I would do my own version of it which was code for “i’ll make a lot excuses so this never happens.”

I did dip my toes in the art making occasionally. Drawing became a great outlet in the weeks leading up to kid2’s arrival. After kid2 arrived she sometimes would take a nap at the same time as her sister and I would run to my studio as quietly as I could and then just stand there. Not sure what I could actually accomplish in 20minutes (or at all) I usually ended up trying to organize something or cleaned while promising myself that next time I would do something more creative.

It was thrilling.

Then I did what I am really good at doing and completely discredited any shred of creativity I was foolish enough to think I had. Awful stupid things that I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough at if I heard anyone else say them filled my head. The worst of them… ‘Grow up Ren, stop with this foolish art stuff.’

In Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly she calls it Shame Gremlins. And dirty little gremlins they are. She talks about how the more vulnerable you feel the worst the gremlins become… the lady knows what’s up. Every time I would even think about the potential of doing something art related the gremlins would spring to action, propelling down from the rafters shouting their war cry ‘REN SUCKS!!!!!’ The more I tried to ignore them the dirtier they played, knowing exactly what to say to shut me down.

Not to be all ‘This book totally changed my life..,’ but this book is totally changing my life.

I feel ready in a way that I just haven’t before. I am also tired of letting the gremlins run things and ruin something I really love doing, and that’s showing up in the studio to make art. 

What was going on while I was writing this post, seemed more accurate to chose the shot where none of us are looking. (This is also the reason for any spelling or grammatical errors in this post)

As always, thanks for reading!



You should check out:

Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly… Don’t forget to support your local bookstore if you can 

-Artist Residency in Motherhood’s website 




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