Updated: Aug 26, 2020
South Florida, USA
Photo credit: Madison Short
We are so excited that our very first interview is with Marissa Huber - an artist and writer who thinks up most of her ideas while sitting in traffic during her commute. Marissa is a painter, pattern designer, mother, and creative instigator for the Carve Out Time for Art community and co-author of "The Motherhood of Art" which was published April 2020. Her greatest joy (besides her kids) is connecting with kindred spirits over an experience, a funny story, or shared dreams and feeling positively lit up. She lives in South Florida with her husband, two kids, and mother.
Marissa, tell us all about it.
Thank you. It all sounds like so much when it's spelled out, but oddly doesn't feel like that in the moment! I build, found, and created what I needed. I'm also one of those people that loves sharing new things or connecting with others.
When I was a new mom, painting for the first time after my son was born felt like a relief. It was a thread from my life before I needed it. I also realized that if making art was what I most needed in my limited free time, I damn well better call myself an artist again. I found that becoming a mom made me more focused, confident, and efficient in my art, something that wasn't discussed often. I set forth to interview 10 moms about this, and called the series, Carving Out Time for Art and created a hashtag #carveouttimeforart.
The community of Carve Out Time for Art grew from me wanting to connect with others who were finding the time to make their art, even if it was during naptime with a child, or before a dayjob by waking up earlier, or exploring a hobby later in life. Since 2005, I had semi-regularly posted to a crafting blog, and had many role models in creative mothers who were making things work their own way. I knew it was possible. I didn't set out to create a community, and in the past had never quite fit in with internet forums or spaces that felt cliquey. But Instagram was completely different, and a place where I felt at home with the people that most understood the part of me that needed to create, no matter what, and they were all over the world.
I consciously started prioritizing my own art in 2015. That also meant letting go of certain roles or putting hobbies on the backburner. My creative journey has been an intersection of matching up my circumstances, talents, passions, and being pragmatic as hell with a lot of coffee.
My life is not glamorous by any means, but I try to find the meaning and delights within each day. And laugh, often. I've had big losses that gave me a lot of perspective that shifts my view and keeps things in check.
I love my kids so much, and always knew I'd have them someday - no matter what that looked like. I want to teach them to be kind, to be good people, to help others, and to do what lights them up - just as I sometimes need some time to do my own things. I feel very lucky to be married to an artist who is one of those people that just wants me to show up as me, and accept me for that. Its my favorite thing about him.
What about your journey into art (brief bio / history / backstory)?
My little brother and I were always encouraged as children in our creative endeavors. We spent childhood drawing, writing, making up stories, swimming, and climbing trees. I remember hitting those later childhood years of self-critique with my work. I knew I was good, but didn't think I was good enough to be "an artist". I tried to merge my interests. In college, I started as a Studio Art Major while playing NCAA Division I Water Polo at Indiana University. That didn't work, but mainly because I thought I needed a practical career and doubted I could do art. Interior Design ended up being a wonderful fit for me.
I met my partner (a painter) while working at an art store in college, and loved being surrounded by artists. We moved to Philly for his MFA, and I continued to write, draw and create as a constant. When I was 27, my beautiful soul of a brother passed away in 2005 from a heroin overdose. He tried his best and our family was so proud of him always. I found myself returning to art to feel closer to him in the rawness of grief. It also lit a fire to make the most of my time and go for the things I wanted more bravely. I had enormous perspective. When the worst has happened, what is there to be scared of? Looking stupid? It no longer matters because I can get through hard things, and will again.
I kept putting myself and my work out there, saying yes to things that scared me, and trusted that I could figure things out along the way and use Google as needed. You can't see what will happen in the moment, but when you look back, you can see the path unfold. I now just trust it, and keep doing the work, even little by little.
As part of my creative work, I set out to interview 10 artist mothers, and just never stopped! I interviewed about 70 mothers (and a few dads) on our blog, and then 30 for what became our book, "The Motherhood of Art". Quickly I realized how much the interviews resonated with others, and how fulfilling it was to me personally. I knew it was meant to be something bigger. I interviewed Heather Kirtland early on and she said her dream was to create a book, and hinted if I wanted to do a collaboration. We had an immediate connection and I couldn't have asked for a more suited partner to be on this journey with for the past 5 years!
My work has been a little all over the place, and I want to do everything but can't all at once! I now try to create with what makes the most sense for my life. I got info surface pattern design in 2017 when I started using digital mediums as a quick way to make time for art, during a crazy work year. I learned Adobe Illustrator s-l-o-w-l-y thanks to YouTube and Skillshare, but it has been a fun avenue to explore. I started submitting work to Minted competitions and licensed my first patterns there! It's been an easier fit into my life over the past few years to do art, and still spend time with my kids whom I don't usually get to see as much during the work week. I'd like to paint more in the future, but for now, I love creating patterns with a blend of analog and digital.
How has your art practice changed when becoming a mother?
It became a non-negotiable, even if it wasn't always there. Being a mom cemented the fact that I was an artist, and it's who I am, and how I see, process, and find meaning in our world and time here. I stopped thinking it was about how good I was, or if I was worthy enough to make art when looking at the people in my life who were further along or spent years in school studying painting. I could still make it work! It is not a competition of something to feel insecure about. The fact that I needed to make art (at least sometimes) as part of my self-care, mental health, and just to feel like I was doing something with my life that felt meaningful was impossible to ignore.
How did you feel about motherhood back then and how do you feel about it now?
I knew I always wanted to be a mother, and it felt like a slight mystery of how much you would sleep and what would be possible to do. Once I was pregnant, it was all anyone mentioned. It was a weird sense that the main focus of my life was no longer me, but the soon to be mother of a child. I'm sure people are also just supportive, excited, and love sharing their own stories - all good stuff, I just found it noticeable.
It seemed like everyone told me that I would never have a moment to myself again, that I'd have to give up on anything I wanted, and that I'd be expected to live (and love - ha) every moment through my child from now on. There was a sense that my autonomy would be gone and that it would be something I was expected to accept and not resent or grieve for. Oh, and it also seemed to be a slightly different message that my husband was receiving. I was hopeful but also nervous that they'd be right.
The way I feel about it now is that just like in any other part of our lives, there are infinite ways to live a life. We need to figure out what is right for our own values, preferences, and unique situations. Also, things can shift at any time! We can change our minds. Just when we figure something out, it all changes. Such is life. It's fluid and I often remind myself that we don't owe anything to someone that is judging us (in our extended family, or a coworker, or a random person in the grocery store). Just do your best. I think most of us just want what is best for our kids, and also a little time at the end of the day that we can reserve for our own dreams too.
You said that comments from people around you were the engine for you to prove that you can be both an awesome mum and a successful professional. Would you share some crucial moments, wins and challenges when you decided to change your daily routines?
I don't like when people are told what they can't do. My parents always told me that I should never let being a girl stop me from doing anything (as a kid growing up in the 80s for reference). I felt empowered from a young age to question authority and the status quo, and felt comfortable pushing the gender norms. That could be playing water polo with the guys and also bringing my knitting project, or volunteering for Habitat for Humanity with another women and having a good conversation on feminism with a group of misinformed men. This came to play as a young professional woman in the corporate workplace, and dealing with primarily men in the construction industry. This is a topic that is interesting to me on so many levels, but I'll do my best to answer the question on hand - but wanted to give that background.
I fist want to mention that although I talk often about what is possible for mothers to do, I also think it can be incredibly difficult. I don't think there is a enough post-partum support for families in the United States, and I say this from a place of privilege having a good career, decent healthcare, and 11 weeks of short term disability leave after my 2nd child was born, supportive managers, and a lactation room at work. That being said, I personally try to accept what I can't change, and find ways to deal with it. When I was overwhelmed with the slog of a routine with my first child and living in Philly, I felt like there were 72 steps to leave the house for work and daycare. My husband's full time teaching schedule left much of the caregiving on my shoulders. I started doing capsule wardrobes to limit unnecessary decisions, and got some new make up for easy morning prep that felt more ritual than routine. It sound so small, but spritzing a perfume that felt like a second to myself for me, or knowing that the outfits in my closet all fit my changing body and made me feel good was a game changer. My takeaway from this? Find moments in your day that are annoying and make a tiny shift that can make it feel special. Buy yourself a gorgeous coffee mug and nobody else can use it. Use the soap with your favorite scent while washing the dishes. Light a favorite candle when you're writing in your journal or taking a bath.
A turning point in my life was in 2015 when my professional career and parenting (especially with a two year old with bad asthma) were so stressful that I ended up passing out at work, half-in / half-out of the bathroom, falling flat on my face, smashing my glasses and scaring the crap of a bystander. I laugh now, but it was pretty traumatic. I have a beautiful memory of my favorite boss urgently leaping over me as I laid on the tile and it makes me tear up every time. I didn't know how I was going to pick up my son, since my husband was teaching in the next state over. She told me that my husband would figure it out and that it wasn't going to be me. I was by the President's chauffeur (who was also a dear friend).
I scared a lot of people with this incident, but it was also a moment of strength. I was not weak for passing out from the mental and physical exhaustion of the circumstances. If anything I was a human at her breaking point who had held on for way longer than was necessary. Enough was enough. Also, I needed more compensation.
The moment made my husband and i realize that we needed to make a big shift moving forward. And we did. Work redistributed some of my workload, and I made it my mission to find a new job, with much better compensation that was near family. In fact I still have the job I got that helped us move to Florida, and it supports our family while my husband is the primary caregiver. Shortly after that incident, I started doing "The 100 Day Project" and taking my art more seriously. I did daily watercolor vignettes of interiors with small stories about a strong female. I was energized by connecting with others on Instagram doing the project, and feeling part of a community. I learned about my own art making, like how critical story-telling and narratives are as a reference point for decisions, and how I love to cheer people on in these tough moments.
What helped me make time to work was having a designated place to do my work, and a small tray with everything I needed on it. Papers were prepped, watercolors were on my small palette, and my favorite brushes could stay in this caddy. I also liked having the accountability from my friends, and the support if i needed to skip a day or catch up later. Many of those friendships I still have today!
I love your list of things you want to experience that you shared on your website. I find it really inspiring. How does it work? Do you have annual goals or do you just improvise and do whatever is possible at a certain time?
Oh thanks! I saw Erin Loechner of Design for Mankind do it and thought it was such a fun exercise. I've always been one to write down goals in my journal over the years. i like to be big with my goals, but also very loose with what count! I like to take my dreams seriously but not myself too seriously.
Here's an example. Several of the watercolor illustrations I did for Caitlin Wilson Design in 2013 was on a bulletin board in her feature in Domino Magazine. You can be damn sure that I crossed off "have artwork in a magazine"on my bucket list and jokingly ran around the house asking my family if they wanted my autograph. Ha! But it truly was exciting! Why not count it? Later I was featured on purpose in a magazine, but the accidental first time still makes me smile!
I love goals and big dreams, and tracking attempts and badass rejections too. It all goes into the same place on our paths. I try to write down any pitch I do in my annual bullet journal so I can see how far I've come, and proof that I'm trying.
I have a vision for things I'd like in the future (2020 is making me re-evaluate though!), and will make a point of focusing on specific goals for set amounts of time outside of that fun bucket list. I read "The 12 Week Year" by Brian Moran and have done his method of hyper-focusing on 2-3 specific goals for 12 weeks at a time. It's helped me stay diligent on specific projects knowing that there is an end point and deadline, and then I can switch gears. You basically break down a project, measure progress, and are honest with yourself.
I like to do a lot of things, and it helps me to make real progress without feeling bored. When we were in editing / marketing mode for our book, I knew that personal work would need to go on the back burner. So I accepted it and knew I could focus on that once I competed the tasks at hand. I also may have a softer goal, like eating healthier by trying to have 4 green smoothies per week, or making a point to spend 2 nights a week sitting with my dad for a little after work when he was not doing well. What really helps me is being specific with where I can funnel my energy or free time when I unexpectedly have some, or something needs to be done. Otherwise, I spend that time standing in front of the fridge thinking of snacks or not knowing what I want to be working on. I don't do this "12 Week Year" all the time, and I'm not hyper-vigilant about it, but it does work when I attempt it.
One of my main goals right now would be to design some patterns for Marimekko and have a line of wallpaper for Schumacher! Oh, and license my work on surfboards and get one to attend Surf Camp with friends before I turn 50.
Your husband is a fine artist. How do you support each other in your art and parenting practice?
It really helps to understand how we need our time for ourselves and in the studio. We say we need it to feel human! It's been tough in many ways navigating studio situations and changes over time. We went from living in Philly with Mike having an outside studio space and me having space in our apartment, to moving to my parents' house to help them and working in a patio, the garage, and eventually using a bedroom as a shared space while Sloane is a baby. Although her diaper changing station is in there! We make do with what we can, and try to take it one thing at a time.
Regarding time in the studio, we've started checking in with each other over the week to plan our creative time. That communication has helped a lot, so we're both on the same page and not resenting each other. An example would be, I have a deadline to submit this pattern and need concentration time on Saturday morning, can you hang with the kids and I'll wake up earlier? Or lately he's been working at night after we put the kids to bed into the wee hours, and I can be on parenting duty in the AM while starting my work day with the help of TV and chocolate milk. Virtual school started today, so I'm sure we'll have a new schedule to shift soon!
And in parenting, we just try to be on the same page. If one of us is getting frustrated, we can tap out or talk about the household chores. It's not perfect, but we try to give each other the benefit of the doubt, especially during the pandemic.
What is the message behind your art?
My art is a reflection of my thoughts on life. I fully feel the existential crisis and occasional futility combined with a playful love of life and humanity. My favorite thing is a shared laugh, moment, or connection with a friend or stranger, and how we can truly see each other for a moment. I've been like this since I was a kid. What does it all mean and why are we here? How can it all be so significant yet not at once? What happens to our beautiful memories and moments once our loved ones are gone, and it's forgotten? Sounds super fun, right?!
I want to share human moments, and experiences and delight seen in my everyday life through colors and pattern, and hope that it can bring a bit of beauty and joy into people's homes and life.
What I most do is try to highlight the beauty and poignancy in a moment to document it in some way, mainly through color, shapes and pattern. A design could be inspired by purple Jacaranda blooms that fell onto the street and me smile. Fresh strawberries at a farmers market! Shadow shapes noticed on an impromptu late beach day to let the kids dig out their crankiness in the sand. I'm inspired by a cobalt teal cement mixer seen on my usual monotonous commute to work, or hot pink lipstick on a special friend who cheered me up during a rough work day. I think of how to record sitting with the warm lump of a sleeping toddler feeling so much love, you wish you could seal the moment in your heart but know it's not possible. All the life moments, and the beauty in the every day.
With pattern design I think about it like this. Some artist designed the wallpaper I had in my room as a child. It was bright red, with loosely drawn white stripes and four colors of simple, graphic butterflies. I don't know who that person is or why they created it, but it's such a strong touch point to beautiful memories of my family. Perhaps I can do that for others with my commercial art. Art that has remnants of a memory that can live on in the background of another's moments. Or maybe just a damn pretty pillow at times! Ha!