An Interview with Jenica McKenzie

Today’s interview is with the the fabulously wonderful Jenica McKenzie.  If you don’t know Jenica, you are in for a treat!!  So much love and inspiration from this incredible mom/artist. She is the originator of the super fun, totally inspiring RAW night.  RAW stands for Random Art Workshop, which are a great way to gather friends and nurture your own creativity.  I have put together a few of these here in Colorado and I highly recommend you steal her idea.. they are so much fun!

On to the interview…

First off, why don’t you tell us a little about you and your family.

John and I have been married for nine years and have 4 children (ages 2-8). John works full time selling parts in the petroleum transport industry, goes to school full time (engineering), gardens during the summer and is a closet writer. We home educate with more of a montessori/unschool approach, allowing the kids to study what they’re interested in, at their own pace. I’ve had a love for photography my whole life but have only taken it seriously for the last year. I’ve been painting for 2 years.

What would you say your big dream is?

I was a little surprised when I realized that every future goal I have is to encourage and enrich women’s lives in one way or another. I want every woman to know who she is, how much potential she has, and to have the tools to unlock that potential.

I am amazed by how you juggle being a mom to FOUR kids, homeschooling, being an artist and being pretty dang social. How do you do it all?

I don’t try do it all perfectly at once.  As Elizabeth MacCrellish once told me, “You can’t sit down and eat a 5 course dinner in one bite. you wouldn’t want to eat the mess on your plate if you dumped your salad into your soup, poured that over your entree, heaped a scoop of sorbet on, and then drizzled your coffee onto the top. you have to eat and savor each, one at a time.” My other secret is that I put my kids to work which multiplies, rather than divides, my time. I tell the kidlets, “If you separate the laundry while I do the dishes then we’ll have time to read a story together.” And it works! Once they see it in action they realize the pay off for them.

I also know that you don’t really get to “do it all” – what things do you let yourself neglect to make sure you are spending time expressing yourself as an artist?

I quite regularly let my house get messy, messy, messy. There are too many other things to do! I’m a terrible shopper as well, it’s nothing short of normal for us to be out bread, eggs, milk, and worse: toilet paper… and clothing? If i can’t buy it online it might as well not exist.

When you are really in the zone, being productive, making art and doing all the things you want to be doing, what does a typical day look like?

Every tuesday I load the kids up and drive to my mother’s (45 minutes away), she watches all the kids while a friend and I paint together. Then we drive back home and do school and clean for a bit. In the evening I head to yoga and recenter. It’s the one day a week that I look forward to most because it just seems to flow so nicely. Of course that nice flow probably comes from it being the day that I’m the most self serving, haha.

Do you feel like parts of yourself have been neglected since becoming a mom, or like things have moved to the backburner, so to speak?

When I got married I put all of my art supplies away and decided to focus entirely on doing and being everything a good mama does. Only problem with that idea, is that I had never learned that good mama’s also nurture themselves because no one else steps up to nurture them. I was an excellent mother to one child, then an amazing mother to two, but when the third came I found that I was outnumbered! And then when I found that I was pregnant with my fourth child in 5 years, I simply broke.  I had been putting everything into my children, which is a good and noble thing, but for me I didn’t balance that properly.  I was a mess!  When you take a flight there’s good reason that you’re told to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.  It took some blogging, networking, and creating before I found myself again.  I feel like I rose out of the ashes at that point and emerged a happier, healthier mama; willing to balance my needs with everyone else’s. It’s still touch and go some days but I’m learning to cultivate wholeness.

What do you wish you had more time for?

I still wish I had more time to paint. While I can do art projects with my children, I’ve learned that at this stage of our lives, I simply can’t paint for me while they’re awake!

How do you squeeze in time for yourself, your art, your passions?

I’ve had to make it a priority.  I give myself a break and remember that if my children were in public school I would have several hours to myself each day. Seeing that I’ve made the decision to have them home, I have to carve that time out for myself and choose not to feel guilty for it.  Once a month I gather with my RAW group and create art with friends; I’ve learned that this focused time away helps me to feel more centered during the long hours we’re all together. I have all that I need to give when I’ve been filled up myself.

How do you tap into your own creativity and passions in those times when you feel tired and worn out from your mama duties?

At this point I often choose a nap over art! But I have to remember that creativity FEEDS my spirit and enlivens my body.  It’s worth the sacrifice to put a little bit of time in. Once I get painting, the tiredness leaves and I get mooovin’ and groovin’.  It’s first jumping the hurdle of resistance.

Do you ever feel guilty for wanting time away from your family? How do you deal with that?

I used to feel really guilty about leaving my children.  But as Karen Maezen Miller said (paraphrasing) it’s easy to let someone off the hook when you realize that you’re the one holding the hook.  I’ve realized that my family does better with a happy & centered mama, instead of a stressball of fury. ;-D  because I mostly paint outside of my home, I do feel guilty about the time I end up spending away from my husband.  We’ve learned too that different things rejuvenate different people. I’m an extreme extrovert and I thrive being around people, my husband is more of a homebody and would prefer to study while I paint.  It’s just about finding balance.

What would you say is the single most important thing that helps you balance who you are as a mom and who you are as an artist?

The knowledge that creating art makes me a BETTER mama. I’ve tried to live without art as a mother and it nearly killed me.  Art saved my life and it’s brought our family closer as well.  There’s a synergy that exists when children see their parents following their hearts.  When I paint something new, my children will copy the new idea and add to it. When I watch them create with reckless abandon, with no fear, I put aside the judgments I have of myself and I allow myself to just get messy.

Wow, that is such an amazing perspective!  What gives you hope and inspiration?

Seeing other women who have struggled this same path and “won.” Sally Mann and Edith Vonnegut immediately come to mind.  My children consistently boost me too; if you came to visit, my children would take you by the hand and say, “Did you know my mama’s an artist, come see her paintings, would you like to buy some?” This cheers my heart and helps me to see the value in my own work.

What do you see for yourself in this next year with regards to being an artist and being a mom?

Honestly, I haven’t a clue. Ultimately I do art for myself, but I still enter contests, talk to galleries, and try to get myself out there like any *real* artist would. As far as being a mama is concerned: now that my youngest is two, I feel my burdens lightening. And sometimes I think that I want more babies…call me crazy!

What are your biggest hopes and dreams for your family?

I’ve always wanted a large, tight-knit family. I think we’re working towards that.  I hope that they’ll always stay close and that they’ll be able to pursue their own dreams.

How does your making art help make those dreams come true?

I think that home life holds the most raw and vulnerable moments of our lives, it’s through these moments that children learn true compassion. Not when things are easy, but when they see our imperfections and flaws. My hope is that my children will learn that creative thinking is what saves us and that they’ll follow their hearts, as I’m doing now.

Anything else you want us to know?

If you feel a yearning towards something, take the steps TODAY to do it. We control our own destiny, we control our happiness, we control our lives. So know this, that NOW is the time to find your bliss.

Oh yes it is!!  Thanks for encouraging all of us to do that.  You are so inspiring and such a great partner on this journey toward creative, passionate motherhood.

Jenica McKenzie is first and foremost a woman :: a creator of life and beauty :: a mama to 4 littler ones :: a wife, a partner, a companion :: a mixed media artist :: photographer :: reader of bedtime stories :: laundry goddess.  She can be found on her blog, her art blog, at her shop, on facebook, or organizing a RAW group activity.

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