The Handmade Parent is a series of interviews with parents who have an art/craft business or passion. The series explores how artists/crafters manage their family and their creative passion while promoting their work. Today Linda Demers interviews Margaret Owen of PermanentMagenta.
Kidoinfo: Please briefly tell us about yourself, your family, and your art or craft.
Margaret: I grew up in Farmville, Virginia, and then in suburban Washington, D.C. I received a BFA from the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art. There I met my husband, Michael Owen, a painter and native Rhode Islander. We now live in Providence with our 5-year-old son. I paint, teach, and work as a caricature artist. Last year I bought a sewing machine from Craig’s List and went crazy for fabric. Since then I have made a lot of handbags and my own clothes. In the past year and a half, I have discovered that I love to teach and lecture on art. One night this February my friend Bronwyn, who writes the casapinka blog, suggested that I start a daily painting blog. I have enjoyed it immensely, expanding my comfort zone in terms of what I paint, my ability to accept myself as an artist. and presenting my art in a public space.
Kidoinfo: Is your art part of your business or do you hold another job in addition to your artistic work?
Margaret: My business and my art are thoroughly intertwined; painting, caricature, and teaching.
Kidoinfo: When do you find time to make your art/craft?
Margaret: I have evenings from 7:00 or 8-ish to 10:00pm (my husband and I alternate story/bedtime with our son). Many nights I am able to use that time to work. My son has been in a variety of care situations for 2-4 days each week since he was 2. So I have those weekday hours to work with as well. There are exceptions to the rule, however; for example, it is 11:00 pm as I write this.
Kidoinfo: What prompted you to choose your art medium?
Margaret: My great-aunt Ellen was an oil painter. Because of her I received a set of oil paints early on and just kept coming back to them.
Kidoinfo: What inspired you to become an artist?
Margaret: Other artists. Living in the D.C. suburbs I had access to the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection (still a favorite museum), and the Hirschorn. I spent many Saturdays with my best friend, Peyton Marshall, taking classes in painting, sculpture, and printmaking at the Corcoron Gallery of Art. (Gosh, at the time I can’t possibly have thanked our parents enough for chauffeuring us back and forth.) One of my most exciting drawing memories is working from Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, a giant multifigure bronze in the Hirschorn sculpture garden. I was (and still am) so excited by El Greco, Degas, Cezanne, Vuillard, Schiele, Kollwitz, Mondiran, Rothko, Diebenkorn and others. I have to say, though, that I remain mystified as to why I have the burning desire to translate my experience into two dimensions with gooey pigment. What an odd thing to do! If it weren’t for all the other artists and those 30,000-year-old cave paintings I would think I was a total nut.
Kidoinfo: Where do you find your inspiration?
Margaret: The sale of my work! Because, much more than inspiration, I need permission to do what I love. (True of most everyone, I think, whether or not they have figured out that they are an artist.) I have to help support our family so my painting/teaching/drawing hours must be justified financially. Happily there is no other work that I am qualified for right now that would do more than pay for childcare.
Kidoinfo: How do you promote your art?
Margaret: I hand out my business cards and put art class flyers up at Whole Foods, Seven Stars, and local libraries. Last year I called a couple of local libraries to arrange lectures and demos. Oh, and I pester friends, family, clients, and acquaintances with promotional emails.
Kidoinfo: How has having a family impacted your work?
Margaret: Geeze. It certainly has changed life as I knew it. Since having a child, my threshold for stress has risen dramatically, and I can fit more work into less time. One parenting perk I hadn’t considered before my son is all the time I get to spend reading children’s books. It always feels luxurious to sit down with a stack of wonderful stories and beautiful, lively, funny pictures. It is a great pleasure.
Kidoinfo: How do you work around your children?
Margaret: PBS kids! Oops, you are publishing this. Um, he has a big desk with lots of art supplies in my office, which opens onto our livingroom/playroom, so I am able to do a bit of desk work with him in my care. He used to endure the occasional trip to the post office, but I have since discovered home pick-up and bought my own postal scale! Mostly I work when my son is asleep, in preschool, with his dad. etc.
Kidoinfo: How do you involve your children in your art?
Margaret: A couple of years ago. we would shoot photos together of all manner of trucks, and I made a children’s book about a grappling digger. Sometimes he will operate the pedal [of the sewing machine] while I work on a handbag. Though we often draw together, I rarely do work-related drawing with him.
Kidoinfo: What sparks your creativity? How do you keep focused once in “the creative zone?”
Margaret: The aforementioned desire to interpret my world in 2-D seems to just be there. I stay focused with a balance of structure and freedom. My studio space is a constant, always my place to work with my supplies ready to use, when not actually making something I can sweep, prep canvas, sketch, put hanging hardware on the paintings. Funny, I think my biggest key to success is washing my brushes. As long as I take care of the practical matters, the art takes care of itself. I am sensitive to my changing desire. I may be working on a portrait commission and want to paint a fish or make a handbag or dress or do something else entirely. I find that the more I honor those small urges to change focus, the more productive I become overall.
Kidoinfo: How do you find time to accomplish everything?
Margaret: Thanks for the grin. My therapist would really get going with that one. Um, if i could rephrase the question, “How do you manage not to drown in your own expectations?” I would say that I recognize that I am capable of a finite amount of stuff and that certain things have to be prioritized or they don’t happen. I have the phrase, “Put the big rocks in first,” on my bulletin board. It refers to a story in Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? by Ajahn Brahm. It’s a wonderful book, as helpful as a flotation device. In this particular story a professor demonstrates that you can add gravel, sand, and water into a jar with big rocks, but not the other way around. To keep my head above water, I try my best to put at least some of the big rocks in first. Journaling helps keep me balanced, and I am an absolutely insane list maker.
Kidoinfo: What do you like to do in your “spare” time for just yourself (read, garden, travel, run, etc.)?
Margaret: All of the above, walking, running, yoga, biking, swimming, playing chase on the playground, these are essential to me. I have to have some physical play in order not to fall apart emotionally. I do love to garden, but mostly I only fantasize about it and am grateful for the perennials we put in five years ago. I love spending time with my friends and family (and am surprised at how much effort is necessary to make this happen, considering that I live within two of those people!), and the fact that I can check out 99 books and from any Rhode Island library never ceases to delight me.
Kidoinfo: One random fact about yourself or your family–relevant or not.
Margaret: For a couple of artists, we are pretty uptight. It’s early to bed, early to rise, dinner begins at 5:45-6pm almost every single night. We heavily rely on routine in order to be creative and are sissies when it comes to varying the schedule. The school teachers and lawyers I know lead wild and crazy lives by comparison.
Kidoinfo: How do you support the handmade community?
Margaret: I trade a lot with other artists. My husband buys gifts from Craftland and the RISD store. I buy jewelry designed by local artists from Studio Hop. I love Kreatalier. You could also say I support the handmade community by unabashedly encouraging anyone within earshot to make more of their art and offer it for sale or trade.
Kidoinfo: What was the last handmade item you purchased? Made?
Margaret: I recently bought some earrings from an Etsy seller (a pay-it-forward sale piece—$3!!). Today I made a whale finger puppet. A couple of nights ago I made some desperation pillow covers for our couch, the old ones have been a downer for years!
Kidoinfo: Where can we find your art?
Margaret: You can 1) go to my daily painting blog, PermanentMagenta.com; 2) go to my website, MargaretMOwen.com; and 3) go to my Etsy shop, PermanentMagenta.etsy.com. You can also find me at the monthly market bizarre at Kennedy Plaza downtown.
Linda Cox Demers moved to Barrington from Chicago with her husband and her two boys, ages 13 and 8. She runs her handbag and accessories business, à la mode, from home and has recently discovered a passion for blogging. As an independent designer, Linda enjoys promoting local artists and the “buy handmade” movement. Visit Linda’s blog at www.alamodestuffblog.com