Elizabeth Snodgrass

Elizabeth Snodgrass

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1. You are a wife, mother, artist, (can we also say entrepreneur?) – you wear so many hats! What does a typical day look like for you and your family?

I think all mothers wear a lot of hats!  It's just part of the role.

My husband and I live in the Washington, DC area with our four children, who are 9, 8, 6, and 4 years old. I practiced law before having our oldest, but I have stayed  home with our children all their lives. For so long, I was totally—and I meant totally—immersed in the business of babies. This year, there has been a major shift in our family life. My youngest started half-day PreK, and for the first time, I have substantial chunks of time by myself in the house.

My husband takes the children to school most mornings, so as soon as they are out the door, I jump into a few chores and then make a quick trip to the gym. Once I'm back home, I devote two to three hours to painting in my home studio, answering client emails, and posting on my art accounts, before my youngest gets out of PreK. He and I spend a quiet afternoon together, or run errands, and then the big kids join us.

We have after school activities a few days a week, but try to keep our obligations to what really interests and motivates us. The children are far happier when we are not heavily scheduled and love to spend most afternoons playing outside with the neighbor children.

My husband works very long hours, so he is not home with us in the evenings. This colors how we organize our time. I feed the kids a very early supper, when they are most hungry and I am least tired, and I put them to bed at a pretty early hour, encouraging them to read in bed if they are not yet ready for sleep. Often, I will get back in the studio for a bit before my husband comes home from work, and sometimes, that is when my freest work comes out.

2. How did you get started with painting? Was this something you were always interested in?

I've always been creative, but I shied away from the visual arts until much more recently. My first love was theatre. I vividly remember as a small child sneaking into our empty school auditorium one day and sitting on the stage, just soaking in the potential. I could feel inside me, in a very physical way, a longing to create. It's both a thrill and a satisfaction when you are able to make something from a force within yourself. Theatre carried me into college, where I grew a love for student leadership, which is its own kind of relational creativity. In law school, I performed in our comedy sketch shows and wrote poetry for our magazine, but mostly, spent a lot of time studying.

I think what I love about all of these outlets—the spontaneity, the unpredictability, the feeling of combining a bunch of elements to create something so much better than the individual thing—is also what I love about painting.

As a new mother, I yearned for a creative outlet I could enjoy at home. I took up photography and wrote a blog for several years. Decorating my oldest child's nursery is what eventually led me to take up a paintbrush, basically for the first time ever.  

It was only about five years ago, however, that I really started to pursue painting. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I was having fun doing it. My sweet husband is always so encouraging of my interests and he gave me art lessons as  Christmas gift a couple years into my dabbling. That's where it really took off. Soon, people were asking to buy my paintings and commissioning pieces for their homes. It's been a really fun, unexpected adventure!

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3. How do you talk to your kids about your creative work? As a mother of four, how are you encouraging them to pursue their interests and creative gifts?  

My children are my biggest cheerleaders and my most honest critics. They are in and out of the studio all the time, often making art alongside me, sometimes even helping me with the very first layers of a painting. They are familiar with the whole process and love when a painting sells.

Children are naturally creative. It's my job to protect that and give it room to grow. I've made a conscious effort over the years to encourage their creativity, even when that means spilled paint on the floor, blobs of clay on the kitchen island, and a million tiny beads in the carpet.  

I believe in giving them good supplies to work with. It's terribly frustrating to have your vision fall apart because your materials are inadequate. This doesn't mean they're working with professional-grade supplies, but thick watercolor paper, canvas boards from the craft store, or even a fresh pack of markers make a world of difference. My children know this is the good stuff and they value it, and therefore, pour themselves into their work.

One of my sons is a writer. He falls asleep with a notebook across his chest many nights. I've found that a new journal and pen are enough to launch him into writing endless stories. My daughter is a natural performer, and for her, I focus on access to music and lessons, whether they be dance and gymnastics classes or YouTube videos, as well as enough swirly dresses to keep her spinning. These small gestures of material support go a long way in validating and encouraging them.

Being creative is intensely vulnerable for most of us. I want my children to realize that it's ok to put forth effort and have it not go like you hoped, or not be objectively "good." I don't spend a lot of time praising their end products. Instead, I try to concentrate on what I notice about their process. So, rather than "What a beautiful painting!," I'm more likely to say, "I love how you shaded this section" or "How did you choose to use those colors?" I hope this helps them realize the value of what they have done, as separate from what they have produced.

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4. How are you seeing the fruit of your creative work blooming now from seeds that you planted long ago?

My parents always encouraged me in creative endeavors. They gave me the gift of years and years of dance lessons, voice training, endless rehearsals, summer theatre camps, talent pageants, and auditions. It takes a lot of work to make all that possible for a child, and every time they did, it was a vote of confidence in me, a quiet agreement that what I felt called to was worth pursuing. I wouldn't say it is so much seeds that I planted but seeds that they planted which allowed me to launch into a new medium in my thirties.

5. What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and artist?

As a wife and mother, my inspiration comes from God's promises and the little moments that highlight those promises  in our lives. The toil of the day to day and the suffering that is part of life on Earth can feel oppressive, but the times when I can see how He is at work in my husband, my children, and myself give me strength and hope to stay the course.

God's awesome creation is my biggest inspiration in work. The changing of seasons, the weather on a particular day, or a beautiful vista may each be reflected in a painting. Also, the colors He gave us. I love the interplay of colors and how the addition or subtraction of one changes how you see the others.

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6. Do you have any favorite resources that you’d recommend to fellow creatives?

The most important part of my creative journey has been taking local art classes. I know not everyone may have this sort of resource available to them, but if you do, take advantage of it! Just being around other artists and seeing their process and technique in action, seeing the way their art develops, is amazingly educational and inspirational.

7. Do you have a scripture, word, or mantra that guides your work?

My work is deeply instinctual. I cannot tell you what is going to come out of me from one day to the next. Perhaps that will change with time, but at this point, my work is always a surprise—even to me! I'm guided by something internal that I cannot pinpoint, so my best work comes when allow that part of me the greatest freedom.

8. How do you believe motherhood and creative work complement one another?

I love that my children enjoy being part of my work. I don't think they would have felt that way about my career in law! And for our particular situation, working for myself is imperative. Two of our children have type one diabetes, which is a chronic, life-threatening disease. Because of that, I need to be able to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels, communicate with their school nurses throughout the day, and be able to drop everything at any time to go perform more urgent medical tasks. Painting from my home studio perfectly fits these needs.

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9. What is something you have learned in the past year that you are taking in to the next year with a new perspective?

I had several periods of time in the last year where I felt stymied in my creative process. I had all these swirling ideas, but felt miserable trying to execute them. I was looking at other contemporary artists' work on Instagram and loving what I was seeing, and that just made it worse, because I felt so defeated. After reflection, I realized that I was drawing too much inspiration from other artists. Instead of just appreciating their work and recognizing its beauty, I was wanting their work to somehow inform mine. I was trying to change how I naturally paint and it was just gumming up the works! I still love keeping up with other artists, but I am now really intentional about staying true to my own natural style.

10. If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a word of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

My advice would be two-pronged. Just go for it, if you can. Work it in around the edges. Make the early morning or naptime or the hours after bedtime, or some other chunk of time, yours. Don't expect your process to feel perfect. There will be interruptions. There will be noise and children who need you at unexpected times. But if you plug away at it, both you and they will become accustomed to you spending time creating, and it will become easier.

But the second part of this is don't do it right now, if you can't. Sometimes, the demands are just too great. Sometimes, what you really need in those precious minutes where you could create is to take a nap, instead. If it stresses you out or makes you grumpy with your family, take a deep breath and WAIT. This is a season. When you are in the trenches, that season can feel like forever. But as someone who just came out of that season about 2.2 seconds ago, I promise life will eventually give you enough space that you can pour into something additional to your family. Just hang on.

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Stephanie Teague

Stephanie Teague

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