“A Mother always has to think twice—once for herself and once for her child.” - Sophia Loren
The Creative Process:
My becoming an artist and becoming a mother are so tangled up that I don’t know where one starts and the other begins. When my son, Spencer, was born in January of 2000, I was twenty-four years old and a junior in college. The Fall semester before he was born, I had to order a desk and chair from Disability Services to be put in each of my classes because my pregnant belly couldn’t fit into the one-piece chair-desks that populated the classrooms. I was working toward my Bachelor’s degree in art.
My student work in the last two years of college was filled with babies crawling on the walls around an exhausted, stretch-mark-laden woman lying on the couch. My life had transformed from college kid to mom, and motherhood infused everything I did. 9-11 happened when Spencer was not quite two years old and I created a huge painting of a silhouette of he and I pointing at an airplane. In the background was written “don’t panic” over and over and over again.
After graduation I did the thing of getting a “real” job for a while but I was determined to be an artist. I spent the next ten years as a single mom and a working artist, along with lots of side jobs that allowed me to work from home. I vacillated between feeling selfish because we were always poor, and feeling the incredible importance of showing my son that we could make it together, that he could do what he wanted with his life if he worked hard enough. I also felt the freedom of being able to be there for him, always, when he was sick or there was a break from school. I didn’t need to get permission from a boss to leave work. Slowly, slowly, my art grew and my art business grew along with it.
When I turned thirty, I began to find myself in a way I never had before. I had begun jogging for the first time, and taking some hula hoop classes, and for the first time in my life I felt strong and confident. This is around the time I began painting women. They were a reflection of my own journey to find beauty and strength in myself. The people around me always told me how strong I was, how hard I worked, but like so many women I did not feel any of that on the inside. The more I painted these women, the better I felt about myself. They became my meditation, catharsis, and solace. I wanted to share them with the world and it is still my hope that my paintings can help other women celebrate themselves.
Today is another story, family-wise. I met Todd eight years ago through a mutual friend and four years ago we bought a house together. He wanted children; Spencer was a teenager and thought I was “almost done.” I had a sense of freedom that I’d never had before with a nearly-grown child and finally a lot of time on my hands to focus on myself and my work. I was so scared—and knew from experience—that I would de-rail all of the hard work I had done to become an artist, at least temporarily, but finally I agreed with him.
Lumen was born in 2014. During my pregnancy I had planned to make crazy amounts of art, but all of my creative energy went to the baby. Todd spent this time building my art studio in the back yard, and the paintings I did make during this time were all pregnant women. The first time I became a mother I was young and isolated. My family was out of state; my friends were young and didn’t get it. This time around my friends have children, too. I stumbled on an amazing group of women, all with children Lumen’s age, who are my new tribe.
I have always painted women alone. Not lonely, but on solitary journeys inward. I still believe in the inward journey and I will always be on it. But now many of my women are in groups, supporting each other, or with their children. Even on a journey inward, you don’t have to be alone.
Lea K. Tawd is an artist—mixed media painter, muralist, and portrait painter—living and working in Outer SE Portland. Her work can be found on her website LeaKArts.com, or you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a studio tour.