Friday, November 25, 2011

Rachel Power introduces the Mother Artist Network

Bravery is... letting curiosity and wonder overtake fear.
                                           Imagination is... a place without boundaries.
Generosity is... the source of everything good in this world. (Rachel Power)

The Mother Artist Network is a place that invites BIG ideas and discussion about creative practice and motherhood. Through a forum of ongoing blog posts the MAN will feature voices of mother-artists at all stages of artistic engagement and motherhood. It will feature you. How is your creative practice propelled and challenged by being a mother? We very much hope you will contribute to the conversation by commenting below or emailing us to add your story to the mix.   

The world of  creating while mothering is a particular navigation and one that Rachel Power generously exposes in her remarkable book The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood. As a fan of Rachel's work it is an absolute pleasure to welcome her here to launch our BIG MAN.  Enjoy, and thank you Rachel for opening the door for us. 

Rachel Power and son Griffin 
Bravery is... when you do something scary.
                                              Imagination is... making up mythical things like dragons.
Generosity is... giving away something of your own. (Griffin, aged 9)

Having my first child, almost ten years ago now, marked the beginning of my ongoing struggle to reconcile my creative and maternal ‘selves’. Writing seemed so frivolous and indulgent compared to the solid, important work of raising a child. How could I justify time spent away from my baby — and the relentless demands of household maintenance — to pursue something with no clear outcomes or economic rewards?

It didn’t help that my years of studying art history, with its focus on European males (not all white, but mostly dead), had sold me the Romantic myth of “the artist” as tortured, self-obsessed genius with no option but to damage those closest to them. While motherhood was calling on me to find ever-greater resources of patience and selflessness, art felt like an opposing force — an uncompromising, masculine domain.

I began searching for examples of Australian women who were managing to maintain their artistic careers amid the claims and chaos of family life. I felt like I could barely string two words together let alone attempt a whole novel, and was beginning to fear that I didn’t have what it takes to demand all that I needed to demand of myself, and of everyone around me, in order to keep writing.

Poet and academic Susan Rubein Suleiman said something that still rings true for me:
“Any mother of young children … who wants to do serious creative work — with all that such work implies of the will to self-assertion, self-absorption, solitary grappling — must be prepared for the worst kind of struggle, which is the struggle against herself.”

As my kids get older, I still don't find it any easier to withdraw from them; to make myself 'unavailable' in the way writing seems to require. As I wrote in my book, The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, no amount of money, no amount of structural change, can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artist–mother: the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart; a split self; the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other.

Since publishing The Divided Heart, people often ask me what I learned from the process. All of the women I interviewed offered pearls of wisdom that return to me all the time, but the overarching lesson was this:  

Women need to give themselves permission to be an artist (or creative person of any kind). No one else is going to give you that permission. A woman needs to stake a claim in her own heart and mind for her right to make art. For mothers, this means carving out time, against all odds, to devote to a creative practice — because it’s the thing that connects us to ourselves and to the world. Art is not a mere indulgence.

Perhaps if the Mother Artist Network (MAN) existed when my kids were babies, I may not have needed to write such a book. Back then, it seemed almost impossible to find Australian voices addressing the specific complexities of combining art and motherhood — which of course inevitably means the often overwhelming intricacies of combining art, motherhood, relationships, paid work and the domestic load.

So it’s very exciting to be cracking the champagne bottle over the virtual bow of this new ship of ideas. If Lilly and Jo's glorious magazine project, BIG, is anything to go by, MAN promises to be an extraordinary forum for artists to share their experiences of navigating mothering and the creative process — a place to flee to when the littlies are finally asleep and you're in need of solace, inspiration and BIG ideas from kindred spirits.
Rachel's daughter, Freya
Bravery is... swimming in the deep end.
                                           Imagination is... dreaming when you're awake.
Generosity is... playing games you both want to do. (Freya, aged 6)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

News of the BIG MAN and setting up shop in Sydney and Perth

Lilly and I have braved the frontline. We have experienced the BIG ship on the ground, set up fete tables both in Sydney and Perth, and enjoyed being among the families who took to the BIG ship with surprise, interest and enthusiastic boat building. We loved watching the creative process of each child as they re-imagined the cover-ship and revelled in sharing the story of our collaboration to the intrigued passers by.  Thanks so much to St Brigid's College of Lesmurdie in Perth and Lady Game Community Kindergarten in Sydney for such warm welcoming.

Meanwhile in the BIG offices, we have some very exciting news to share: our brand new MAN - The Mother Artist Network will be launched on Friday by the brilliant Rachel Power, author of The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood (Hooray!) A shared lounge for creative mothers everywhere, the MAN is a creative and conversational space that shares stories, invites contributions and tells it like it is.  It is for you. Please join us.

We cannot wait now to formally open the door to the next edition - Treasure Maps and very soon will reveal our incredible cover artists. If you haven't subscribed yet you can do it here. (And we will even include a Christmas note if it is for a gift - just write your message in the special notes when you pay)
SYDNEY: Twyla ready for action
PERTH: The BIG boys prepare for the action with toffee and cash tin close by.
PERTH: End of the day and the boys set up a breakaway stall - seems the senior ed and his sidekick have it under control!

PERTH: Ships of all ages
PERTH: "Can I draw the sea and my fish under the rock, actually it is a shark"
PERTH: Side by side
PERTH: kids in process
SYDNEY: "Can I draw this boat for free?"
SYDNEY: Side by Side
SYDNEY: The girl with the lady beetle tattoo came back three times!

Friday, November 18, 2011

A different sky

Photo by Paea Leach
"Tree fall over" said Nadia, as my beloved old Jacaranda tree was felled today to make room for the building of our new house.  I imagine the relocating of birds tonight, and try not to think about them. A single bird landed on the stump and I saw a human recognition of change in his pause. Of disappearance. I think about people forced to flee. About homes burnt. Or under water. Or occupied by force. I think about Boatbird. I distract myself by looking at flights that will see me land in Sydney in January to map out the BIG pages side by side with Lilly. It will be 13years since we last saw each other. We have a very BIG magazine to make.

Sacha climbs the tree stump top and finds a different sky. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Giveaway - to the movies!

Luca, our 'senior' editor LOVES the worlds, stories and magic of the movies.  Favourites are My Neighbour Totoro and Ponyo (see trailer below) by the brilliant Japanese director  Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli fame (picture Luca with Ponyo DVD under arm as we pick up our sushi lunch, singing the theme song in unison with the Japanese woman at the counter!) He is especially looking forward to Arietty (based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton) due for release - at last - in Australia in January 2012.

In the mean-time there is the just-released award-winning animation SANTA'S APPRENTICE to see, and we have 6 double passes to give away! Just leave a comment below by next Monday 21st November telling us your favourite kids movie to be in the draw. The film recently won the UNICEF award for the best animation highlighting the goals of the Convention on the Rights of Children at the Annecy International Animation Festival in France:

Santa’s Apprentice truly is a delight for children of all ages. I fell in love with the story immediately as it’s uniquely a Christmas tale set in Australia. We had a fantastically talented Australian team working on the key animation of the film headed up by Ian Harrowell and a wonderful composer in Nerida Tyson-Chew whose music, with a 50 piece orchestra, brought the emotion of the story to life. It is a true honour for all involved for Santa’s Apprentice to win the UNICEF Award at this year’s Annecy festival” 
(creative producer Avrill Stark)

To all of our International readers, we are sorry this giveaway is only open to Australian residents although we would still love to hear of your favourite film! The movie features an all Australian vocal cast including Deltra Goodrem, Magda Szubanaski, Shane Jacobson and Georgie Parker  - watch for some long-distance working processes in this making-of trailer:

Does anyone else have fond memories of laying with the seats down in the back of your folks' car at the Drive-In watching the children's movie before falling asleep during the adult one and then being driven home like that...?
Winners update: Britt, Life without mathematics and Ozemutha, please email us your details and we we will fly your movie tickets to you. Moomah - we LOVE spirited away - seems we are on the same filmic page ;) Cyndie and Skye you have also each won a double pass. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Editing BIG Kids Magazine

As an editor, I must be quite methodical. As a parent, I must be organised and practical. But as a writer and illustrator, I love being swept up in a creative storm where there are no boundaries. (Karen Comer)

The 'First Flight' edition of BIG Kids Magazine in September this year was our first experience of publishing a magazine. Lilly and I have authored published papers, produced limited edition artist-books and directed full length dance and theatre works - we are obsessed with the 'process' aspect of creative practice and used to drafting and re-drafting. However, when it comes down to the wire of copy editing, we could read through our work 50 times and still not see the missing 'i' in Imagination (Oh yes, it happened, MORE than once!) 

Once you are so close to something it harder to see it with any distance or indeed, perspective. And here is where Karen Comer came in. She acts as copy editor, and increasingly as advocate and friend. Based in Melbourne (I know - you'd think we could at least get ONE of our team members in the same city as one of us!), Karen is brilliant at her job and her incredible generosity helped to get us over the BIG line on numerous occasions. We asked her a few questions and here she shares insights - no doubt she will read and want to edit this post, but again she generously gave us range to edit HER words and so we have enjoyed the play ;) Thanks Karen, we LOVE having you on the BIG team!

Can you explain the role of an editor?

An editor’s job involves asking lots of questions to the author.

My job as an editor – regardless of the subject I am editing – is to help the author communicate with their readers. It is that simple! I want to ensure that there is nothing that will distract or confuse the readers. So spelling, punctuation and grammar must be correct. This does mean I am slightly pedantic at times but I couldn’t bear for a reader to put down a fabulous book or magazine because one sentence did not make perfect sense! Whatever the message or idea or theme or information the author wants to share, I want the audience to receive that message or story presented in its very best form.

The relationship between the illustrations or photos or diagrams and the accompanying text is very important. When I edited a nursery rhyme book for Hinkler books a few years ago, I checked an illustration for the rhyme – ‘Hector Protector was dressed all in green.’ The illustrator had used red for poor Hector Protector! I became particular about precise illustrations as a languages publisher for Jacaranda, John Wiley and Sons. If you are learning the French word for donkey and your only clue is a picture, it is imperative that your donkey does not look like a horse!

Can you paint a picture window of what your day was like as a full-time editor and as it is now as a freelance editor and mother?

When I worked full-time for an educational publisher, I loved all the big-picture projects. Starting with a blank piece of paper and a subject, then finishing up two or three years later with a tangible book. I loved the collaboration with authors, copy editors, designers, sales consultants, illustrators, subject consultants, multimedia specialists …

How did having children impact your work life?

Now, with three small kids, my editing life is quite different! I work in carefully planned but snatched hours, often first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and often in my pyjamas! I work while my oldest son is at school, my daughter is at kinder and my youngest son sleeps in the afternoon. I carve out hours on the weekend, when my husband takes the kids to footy practice or in between kid birthday parties, family events and grocery shopping.

I have swapped my office with the window overlooking a pub for a home study with bits of lego and colouring pages on the floor. My projects are not of the big picture variety any more – there is no time for that expansive, spacious kind of thinking so I usually do the detailed copyediting part of the project after most of the decisions have been made.

My work as a freelance editor ebbs and flows. I love having a project – it teaches me new skills, I learn something new, have the chance to work with creative people and it pays the bills. I also love not working – it gives me the chance to spend time on my own writing and illustrating projects!

What drives you to create worlds for kids in the stories you are currently working on?

Being at home with my kids means I have permission to read all day – well, nearly all day! And so I started my blog – Earthly Joyride – to share all the amazing picture books we like to read and the things we make and do in response to what we have read. And then I started to do a few courses on writing and illustrating for children. And now I write and illustrate my own stories and hope that eventually there will be a tangible book with my name  on it, just as I always imagined as a child.

As an editor, I must be quite methodical. As a parent, I must be organised and practical. But as a writer and illustrator, I love being swept up in a creative storm where there are no boundaries. Most of my stories are sparked by tiny ideas – a fragment of a sentence, half a story from a friend, a photo, a scrap of material, something one of my kids said. 

It takes me a long time to write a picture book. Perhaps 18 drafts over 7 months. Perhaps half a story written on holidays, then finished 8 months later, reworked for the next three months. The process goes on and on. Mostly enjoyable, sometimes frustrating.

There are times when my timetabled life infuriates me – school and kinder pick-up times, editing deadlines, Monday’s swimming lesson. But it does provide a sturdy frame for everything to hang on and within that there is the space to create. Not always enough time, but it is a starting point. And once you start to create, there is no choice but to hang on for the ride!

Turquoise tailed peacocks
From a picture book Karen is working on

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Distance charged with sound and onset
I have counted all the way from me to you 
subtracted all the numbers
and our distance is the sum of zero 
(Jo Pollitt with Paea Leach and Anica Boulanger-Mashberg - from 'micro distance' 2009) 

Lilly's exhibition, Infinite Proximity opens tonight at Art2muse in Sydney. Meanwhile I am working in the studio on a solo that is accompanied by an exhibition of photographs taken by the dancer. We laugh and celebrate the long distance intersections, cross-fire and difference in our work. Lilly's micro 'conversations' artist book, and a glimpse of her exhibition work hanging in situ are below. 

Lisa Rodden hanging her work for the exhibition with Lilly's work on the right

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kids Art Exhibitions - Lilla a

1. Jean-Claude le Parisien, by Elia 9 years. 2. Paco Ray-Ban, by Jeff 39 years
These very fabulous robots from around the world feature in the latest exhibition now open on the gorgeous creative blog Lilla a, and we are very excited that the next exhibition will  be in collaboration with BIG Kids Magazine!

 1. R1 by Jaś (3,5), Antoni (6,5) and Mom. 2.Robot Brummi-Brum by Annika, 9years.
We first connected with Anna from Lilla a ("the small a") early in the BIG journey when we fell in love with this Bird House Exhibition, and her approach as a designer and mother to creating projects that can be done side by side with your children on their terms!

Bravery is being just a little bit scared
Imagination is a whole world
Generosity is the little hand giving you half of his last biscuit 

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