Artist Highlight: Cathy, portrait of a mother finding her footing as an artist

“The place is a bit of a mess, and I’m really embarrassed,” Cathy says behind her bangs that curve perfectly over her forehead. I notice blush on her cheeks as her 3rd born smiles at me from across the room in the background of his two older brothers who are leaning on their elbows, their bodies pooling over the kitchen table, engrossed in a cartoon show. Her 11 month old, who took his first steps earlier in the day, is asleep and dreaming in the back bedroom. Her husband, Paul, is here too.

We sit down to homemade pizza and I ask Cathy about how she discovered her art. She confides that she is still figuring her creativity out amidst four young boys and spending 10 years placing herself in the shadow of her husband. She says this in a matter of fact way and with undeniable accountability, like someone who is slowly realizing their own potential. She has been working through, “the idea that you can be a mum in today’s society and care deeply about your children and be completely devoted to them but then also to carve out time to be creative and to care about the things outside of your family that means a lot to you and that being okay.” 

She discusses the “mothering circles” and guilt that comes along with the perception of if you are not one hundred percent “in the mummy world,” then you don’t love your children, if you don’t feel that being a mother completes you fully. When Cathy dropped her eldest off at class, she had to complete a form, under occupation, she wrote down artist, a small but deliberate step away from being defined by her past as just a stay at home mom. Like many budding (and established) artists, Cathy has had a hard time owning her creativity and referring to herself as an artist. She has reminded herself on more than one occasion that she does have something to offer people even if it isn’t as good as she would like it to be. 

She says that her children have influenced her art and helped her make realizations of how she views herself in relation to art. When Louis and Elliot were younger they would create things, she would complement their art, “and hide it in a drawer because, in a very embarrassing way, it didn’t feel nice enough to hang up in the house.” She admits that she has walked a long way to realize that, “things don’t have to look perfect to be valuable. That we’re all a work in progress.”  

Cathy is an accomplished baker, specializing in wedding cakes and celebration cakes. Early August, she made a four tier cheesecake complete with white roses trickling down the side as lush strawberries and blackberries sat atop the surface layers.  While she enjoys baking for special occasions, she is struck by, “how short-lived it is.” She explains her desire to create something with more permanence, “It’s so much work and it’s over so quickly, and so I’m trying to explore ways for me to be able to take the things I love without creating cakes. The side I love is feeding people and moving that to feeding people in a way that sustains them and then taking the artistic creative side and trying to find other mediums that allow what I’ve created to be preserved for a bit longer.” Cathy is intrigued by her quest to find a way to create art that lasts beyond a day. She has recently begun dabbling in watercolor paintings. Finding time away to create has brought insight into the creative process as well. While she would like to work at night she is often run ragged from a busy day nurturing and loving on four boys and a creative husband. She gets in where she can fit in, “This morning I was painting with Theo on my back pulling my hair,” she says with a laugh, “but I have to try.” Cathy is gradually becoming more empowered and having to consistently reassure herself that she is worth the time and act of creating. 

While reflecting on the delicacy of motherhood and creativity Cathy mentions something Paul often says to illustrate motherhood. With their toddler Nathan in his lap, Paul says that motherhood is, “Like pearls on a string, with no knot on the end,” Cathy laughs and adds, “It’s deeply valuable but those pearls just fall to the ground and get trampled on within minutes. . .seconds.”

Cathy met Paul when she was 17, she was married by 20, and in the United States with their first born baby boy Louis by 22. While reflecting on the past ten years, she says, “I always knew I wanted to be a mother, I don’t think I expected it would happen as early as it did and I don’t think I understood how deeply it would transform my life.” She is currently at a place in her journey where she is trying to find pieces of herself amidst the chaos of motherhood. She acknowledges how fleeting her current season of life is, “But I also don’t want my boys to go away from my home and realize I don’t know myself and I don’t know my husband because I haven’t invested in things that make me come alive.” 

The first time Cathy found she could create was when she stepped into the opportunity out of necessity. Her mother burned both of her arms badly while mid-way through creating an anniversary cake, “there was nothing to do then for me to kind of step in, and I didn’t really know what I was doing but she sat with me with her arms bandaged. . .and I realized I was capable of more than I have myself credit for.” 

Cathy was born in a small town in West England, her family moved to Brussels when she was eight, where she lived until age 18. She grew up with two siblings who are both in artistic trades. She credits her artistic impulses to her childhood and being raised without television, “We didn’t have anything else to occupy our time other than my mum providing art supplies for us and that was how we passed our time. So I am definitely grateful to her for doing that because I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating something.” That creative nurturing has rippled over into how she raises her children, she spends time creating with her boys, “we just enjoy building spaceships out of cardboard boxes-we’ve built kid stools and bird feeders.” 

Cathy loves creating meaning through her art and getting away from technology through tasks that allow her to use her hands. In the middle of our conversation about art in the area, Cathy’s third born bounces out of the back bedroom and tells his mother, “There’s a big spider in my bedroom,” he says it two more times so she knows; Cathy kisses his head and advises, “Go shoo him away.” She returns to our conversation and acknowledges her desire to spend more time in the adult art world, “I’m aware that I need to spend more time going to galleries and going to classes for myself, but what I’ve been involved in is looking at stuff for my kids to be a part of.” One set back she has identified to nourishing the teaching of art is the high prices of workshops and classes. The lack of affordability concerns her in that people of low socioeconomics will have less opportunity to learn and grow as artists. She hopes to see more community oriented art classes, “and for art to be available for all.” She believes the work of Smalltown Society and the opportunities of how to best use “the space” is helping to intervene in the gaps present in art in the community. 

As far as her artistic goals, Cathy plans to engage in her art more often. She is currently brainstorming ways to provide more opportunities for mothers to get out of the house “get away from housework and babies and have a time and a space to be creative together.”