Interview with Sharilyn Kuehnel: Artist, Mother, Maker, Art Educator, and Blogger Extraordinaire!
I am very excited to be posting my first interview on this blog today, which features the fabulous Sharilyn Kuehnel, writer of the blog Weekdays From Scratch! I first met Sharilyn about seven years ago, when we were both working at an art supply store in Vancouver, BC. Since then, our lives have taken us in different, but related directions, and I was happy to recently reconnect with her, and to discover her inspiring blog. In Weekdays From Scratch, Sharilyn discusses her own creative endeavours and her experiences parenting her two lovely young children. I have been very inspired reading her reflections on and approaches to incorporating art and creativity into the everyday life of her family. I was excited to have the opportunity to pick Sharilyn’s brain about parenting, artmaking, and art education.
I hope you enjoy reading her responses to my questions as much as I did!
A: I would like to have a child one day, and I am curious about how artists who are parents carve out time and space to continue to create. What are ways in which you fit in time to make your own artwork?
S: It can be a very tricky balancing act but then again aren’t all things in life? When we had children we decided that one parent would always be home with our kids while they are small - not only does that mean living on a single income much of the time but also I am usually the one staying home - only because my husband has a better job! With a great deal of time on my hands and not a lot of money I returned to my creative roots and began drawing, painting and making things in order to bring in a bit of extra income for myself. Contrary to popular belief newborns do not take a lot of work - and if one approaches parenthood with a relaxed and easy going attitude - flexible to whatever “schedule” you are on then you will find pockets of time when you are in the house and baby is sleeping to work on your own art work. Now that our kids are bigger my own work usually takes pace at night or in the evening - they are also willing to work along side me which can be fun. Often when I am drawing or painting or sewing they are working on their own projects. I would say though that there are weeks when I have to make time for myself to do some work - and that really only requires me verbalizing my needs to my husband who then goes out and does something fun with the kids while I have a few hours to myself. It’s all about priorities right? My priority is to hang out with my kids, have fun, do some art work, make something to sell - we do not have the cleanest kitchen floors, the beds are often unmade and I only do laundry on Friday morning.
A: Has your art making process changed since having children?
S: Yes absolutely! I feel my process is more freestyle and fun - less up tight and over thought. Having kids has helped me to rediscover my love of colour - I find that when you are encouraging your own children to explore and be free and to just try things it helps when you “walk the walk”. I feel like I have been given a hall pass to have fun with my art and not worry too much if it gets messed up - maybe I would say that these kids of mine are a reality check - they love something that I might look at too critically and they think it is perfect - after looking at it a moment I start to see it as they do and often agree!
A: This is a very pragmatic issue, but I think a lot about the space in which I create my artwork. I am really lucky to have a lot of space at the moment, as I live in a small town - but I expect that at some point I will move back to a larger centre, and will therefore need to downsize. I know that you live in a city apartment with your family of four, and I am wondering where you do your creative work. What does your creative space look like?
S: It is true we are a family of four with two kids under the age of five living in the heart of the city - we do not have a lot of space! My creative space is our entire apartment! Our kitchen table is the hub of life in our household - everything from eating to sewing to painting to paying bills and playing puzzles happens here - this is the real place where most of my work takes place - but only because I can spread out. We do have a “bonus room” AKA the storage closet AKA the art room which I refer to as my Studio Space - it really is a storage room but we have outfitted it for use as a studio - my husband also often works from home in this space - it is a room where we can leave what we are working on and close the door - we make it work. I should also say we have really pared down our belongings to make this lifestyle work - there is not much in this space that we do not love - we do not keep things we don’t need - once again it is about priorities - yes to camping gear stored under the bed - no to a huge plastic pile of toys in our kids’ room.
A: As an artist and educator, I am always curious about the experiences other artists had with art education when they were young. Did you make art at home when you were a child and a teenager?
S: I come from a family of makers - builders, show makers, cabinet makers, farmers, sewers, wine makers and poets. My maternal Grandmother was a painter as is my Mom, it is through them that I have always been around art and other artists. As a kid if I admired an Emily Carr painting in the gallery my Mom would take that interest and make some sort of project for me out of it - I once spent an entire July replicating an Albrecht Durer etching in pen and ink - my Mom is the queen of teachable moments and I draw a lot of inspiration from that in my daily life with my kids. I took a lot of art classes through our local Art Gallery as well as just hanging around the community hall during my Grandma’s painting classes - she gave me my first set of oil paints for my eighth birthday!
A: Did you have any formative art educational experiences at school, or outside of school?
S: I am not really sure what to quantify as formative experiences - I mean isn’t all education supposed to be formative? I lived and breathed for my art classes and home ec classes in high school - I loved to read but wasn’t keen on writing essays and I liked debating about history but couldn’t seem to memorize anything for tests. My art, sewing, woodworking, and cooking classes were what made sense to me - I excelled - I also had great teachers who loved their jobs. Outside of school my parents travelled around North America with us quite a bit - mostly camping - my dad taught us how to hung and fish - and instilled a deep respect for the planet - he also taught us to be quiet and look - to watch.
A: Did you have any memorable art teachers as a young person?
S: My high school art teacher - Mr. Hunter - he let me do whatever I wanted and if that meant making clay beads or jewelry out of hot glue then then he was OK with it. In university I had two professors that I butted heads with - Eileen Truscott and Byron Johnston - they totally called me on my baloney and pushed me to work harder than I wanted - I probably only graduated because I wanted to show them I could!
I had another teacher when I was really young - hanging around my Grandma’s painting classes down at the Community hall - her name was Mary Smith - I though she was probably 98 - but in reality she was probably about 60 - she taught me how to paint leaves and draw flowers - she took the time to show me technique.
A: Do you have any specific resources that you look to for ideas for art activities to do with your children, such as books, magazines, websites, or blogs?
S: I love Pinterest! There are so many great ideas floating around out there and you can snag one and change it around to work for you! Through Pinterest I have come across Art Mommie. Other blogs that I love are SouleMama and MayaMade - both blogs are about a more simple, close to home type of life - both of these blogs are chock full of inspiration for me!
So many books it would be impossible to list them all - I love children’s books as much as my kids do - I draw a lot of projects from children’s books. Locally we have a store called Collage Collage - we do a lot of drop in classes there and I really like how they run things. The class starts off with all the kids sitting on pillows for a story, then we move over to the tables and work on projects based on the book we just read, then it is back to the pillows to re-focus and hear the story again. I like to use this formula in our own days at home - we also dig a good theme day - you can do a story, snack, song and project and or game all based on one theme - love that!
A few notable books that are currently influencing my painting and drawing right now are Style Nomad by Sibella Court, The Americans by Robert Frank, as well as the novels of Barbara Kingsolver.
My current favourite magazine is Taproot
- for radican urban homesteaders or anyone who likes to live life slowly!