Staying Creative After Having Kids: A Designer Gives Advice For Finding A Work Life Balance

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance, Megan Carter design
Designer Megan Carter talks about her experience of staying creative and balancing a career as a designer with having a family, and how her two daughters help to inspire her work. 

 

Hello, my name is Megan and I am a surface pattern designer living in West Yorkshire. My love of creating patterns has been with me since I was a kid. I still have some drawings showing collections of patterned cushions, curtains, and wallpapers, my dream job in the making. My patterns initially come from my love of looking at nature, which I combine with my knowledge of contemporary and historical styles. My signature graphic patterns have a strong sense of colour and often a vintage twist. I recently spent my 40th birthday in Vienna, and I came back in total awe of the beautiful historical applied art I saw, and full of inspiration.

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance, Megan Carter Vienna Bloom

I studied Surface Pattern Design at Staffordshire University and graduated in the year 2000. For the last sixteen years I have worked as an in-house designer for Tigerprint (Hallmark Cards) and UK Greetings. My designs which have evolved over this period of time, they are still pattern based, but also have an emphasis on illustrative characters. For the past eight years, my time has become divided between being a mum and still trying to keep my creative hand in as a part time designer at UK Greetings. This has been a massive learning curve for me. Firstly, the realisation that when you have your first child, your world will never be the same again in every sense and secondly accepting this!

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance, Megan Carter Card Design

I chose to put my career on the back burner when my kids where little. I still wanted to do my job which I loved but wanted to get the work/family balance right. It’s almost like you lose who you are for a period of time. I didn’t feel like I was a designer or in any way creative during that first year of motherhood. I had to accept that life was different, and work was something for later. I went back to work part time after a year and it took a period of readjustment to get back into designing again.

Three years later I had my second daughter and again took a year off. I think this was the hardest time, both personally with the dynamics of juggling two kids, and as growing as a designer. When I came back to work the second time I found my confidence was pretty low and it definitely felt more hard work finding myself again. I think if I hadn’t kept the creative part of myself alive in the early years of motherhood, I would have lost a massive part of who I am.

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance, Megan Carter Flowerful

From my own personal experience I feel that as kids grow with their own independence, it gives you as a parent more space to develop as a person again. Small children require such a huge amount of energy and it felt so hard when they were smaller to summon much creative drive. A big lesson for me was accepting this, and not feeling guilty that I couldn’t do everything at once.

Over the years, my creative energy has definitely grown and I’ve found it a lot easier to do artistic activities with the girls as they have got older. These are a few of the things we have tried that I would recommend with any children you know. They will have a great time, and you probably will too!

  • We live in a Victorian terrace in West Yorkshire with a ‘petite’ back yard. It’s been fantastic over the last few summers for creating chalk masterpieces with the girls. It’s so simple and fun to do, and easy to clear up when the rain comes.
  • Being a surface pattern designer, I am really interested in working on some ideas for colouring books, and colouring-in is another past time that the girls and I spend many an hour doing together. As a creative person needing to do something with the the kids this is heaven, and really inspires me to get designing my own colouring books!
  • I recently painted the girls bedroom. They got involved by painting some old picture frames to hang on their walls. We took the glass out and attached a piece of string across the back so they could clip one of their own pictures from it. It also enables them to change the picture whenever they want, creating a personalised gallery.

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance

  • We often have 3D building times using boxes, plastic tubs etc from the recycling. Being naturally drawn to 2D imagery I’ve found this quite tough but my husband is a 3D motion graphics designer and studied packaging so he is very useful during these activities. The girls must have it in their genetic make up though, as they are quite happy these days to do it all by themselves!
  • At the beginning of last year I took two modules from Rachael Taylor’s MIID classes which were a breath of fresh air for me. One of my favourite briefs was to set up a strip of paper on a wall or door and spontaneously doodle on it. This was great to do for myself and also with my girls. I now have a collection of doodles which are a great starting point for new patterns. I have a new doodle sheet of paper up for the start of this new year which I’m hoping will be as big a success as last time. I think I may come up with some new approaches for starting points like picking a particular theme, word or image. I thinks my daughters could be a great form of inspiration for this as they often come up with new and interesting vocabulary!

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance, Megan Carter design

My words of wisdom for being creative with kids is to let them lead. I think being quite a control freak and precious with my own work I could have a tendency to be like that when doing activities with the girls, but I’ve learnt to step back and let them get on with it. They need to be able to get messy and put their own ideas into it but also have the support and encouragement from you as a parent.

A great positive outcome of having children is the impact they have had to inspire my work. My most successful greetings card designs have been a range called ‘Cocolata’ for Sainsbury’s. The style is illustrative and whimsical, which is quite a different look to my current surface patterns. I think a lot of my card designs have partly been inspired by collecting a wealth of magical, beautifully drawn picture books for the girls, and also being inspired by their own little imaginations and outlook on life. Just thinking about what animals the girls love or what colours and patterns are on their own clothes are great starting points for new designs. I have designed numerous birthday cards for them over the years with their own little characters as the focal point, another area which I would like to develop in the future.

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance, Megan Carter design

Due to my limited hours working part-time, being a parent has also improved my ability to work to tight deadlines at a fast pace, which will be a useful skill to have for future projects.

It’s been tough financially but most importantly, with the support from my lovely husband I’ve had quality time with my girls that has allowed us to be creative together and also kept some creative time for me. I feel as though I have come out of the woodwork over this last year especially now my kids are slightly older and at school. Since then, I’ve had this fantastic surge of creative energy. I’ve also had the time and space to develop and apply my ideas to new projects and collaborations.

It’s early days but I feel really positive towards what lies ahead, still being a juggling mum but with a space for doing what I love.

Print & Press | How to have a creative work life balance, Megan Carter Sweet Scented Design

Megan can be contacted through her website, and her social media channels:

 

Do you have any advice for staying creative after having children? Maybe you have found some great projects and games to play, or a way to make the most of any spare minutes? We’d love to hear your ideas!

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