December 2015 – Claire Joyce

The Stats

Name: Claire Joyce
Current Location: Tempe, AZ
Education: Printmaking BFA from Kansas City Art Institute, Painting MFA from University of Georgia
Preferred Art Medium(s): Pencil, watercolor, glitter, fabric
Children (age and gender): Two girls, 18 months and 3 years old
Website Site(s) and (this site badly needs a redesign, but is suffering neglect since my first baby was born).

The Questions

What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, where are you now, etc.)?

I was born and raised in Jefferson City, MO where I was lucky to have parents who encouraged my intense need to be making, doing, and drawing. I went to the Kansas City Art Institute for college, with one semester spent in Brighton, England. After college my friend Kate Legere and I traveled the United States together in a pink van campaigning to be co-president (a sort of road trip/performance). Our Domesticratic Party promoted skills that, at 22, I might be alarmed to realize actually play into my adult married life. After this I had what was probably my most exciting, stressful, and educational job working for Paul Mesner Puppets in Kansas City. I constructed puppets for productions, helped to build sets and occasionally had to assist in performances. Paul was my pre-grad school education and taught me so many practical and imaginative skills, including reimagining the use of objects. After this I went to graduate school at University of Georgia, Athens where I

received an MFA in painting, though my work at the time was experimenting with installation and multimedia. My material exploration in grad school led to my large glitter works. During school I met my husband, Garth, and we were married not long after I graduated.

Current studio shot. Claire with her daughters Willa (18 months) and Ramona (3 years old)

Current studio shot. Claire with her daughters Willa (18 months) and Ramona (3 years old)

Since our marriage in 2006 we have lived in Atlanta, GA, Huntington Beach, CA, Eureka, CA, Philadelphia, PA and have recently settled in Tempe, AZ. We have an almost four year old and an eighteen month old.

Was there any part of your formal (or non-formal) training that prepared you for being a creative maker and a mother simultaneously?

I am not sure that it is possible to prepare for being a mother and a maker simultaneously. For me, I have a very deep need to be actively involved in the making of something at all times. The work I choose to do tends to be very labor intensive and time consuming and has always required me to be very proactive in planning how to find enough time to work. This practice may be helpful in carving out a bit more time in my life to be creative. I have also found that when I do not make this time for myself it bursts out in other ways—suddenly needing to do elaborate sewing projects or teach myself to upholster furniture. I think working and creating are important to my well being and mental health.

Absolutely. My own mother is so inspiring as both a mother and a maker. She raised three insane children and always found time to insert creativity into her lifestyle and ours. When I was young she made (and smocked!) clothing for us, when I was in high school she took classes to learn about video editing and more recently she has spent time focusing on re-investigating drawing and painting.

Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother?

Another inspiring artist and mother is Didi Dunphy, who was teaching at UGA when I was in graduate school.  Didi’s work (which I love) is playful, fun and interactive. Her daughter, who was probably ten or eleven at the time, would always be a charming presence at early evening art events. I admired the ease and exuberance she managed to project while teaching, making, very actively showing, and mothering. After Garth and I were married she was the only female artist with a career who expressed positive feelings about being an artist and a mother.

Can you talk about how you balance your role of artist; and the role of mother? Did you take time off after the birth of your children? How did that work? What about childcare?

Domestication and Material Culture, 30” X 22”, graphite and gouache on paper

Domestication and Material Culture, 30” X 22”, graphite and gouache on paper

Balance is so hard. So often I wonder if I am finding balance at all. I took some time off from studio work when my kids were born, but found myself making up for it by pushing all that energy into sewing or cooking. Much of my time off from the studio was unintentional, it seemed as though when my first baby came a lot of people stopped asking me to participate in projects or shows. I made a conscious decision at some point to say “Yes!” any time I was asked to participate in a show or project, even if I was a little scared about finding the time to do it. This did help me gain some confidence that I could still work in a meaningful way, I just had to be more realistic about the scale and intensity of the work I was choosing to make.

My new portrait business really structures my time in a way that I am finding successful. When my kids are napping, I am drawing (unless there is too much laundry or cooking or cleaning). It is nice to know how much time I am devoting to something and sticking to that as much as possible. At the moment, my portrait business is helping to pay for some childcare, which gives me more time to work on the portraits.

Your work has taken you into drawing, installation, mixed media, sewing, costume design, and more. Is there a medium in which you feel the most “at home”? Do you see yourself exploiting other media in the future?

I am sure I will work with other media in the future, to do that I need to find the time to explore materials and I don’t have that luxury at the moment. I am trying to allow myself to be satisfied with smaller, more reasonable projects (at least until my kids are a bit more independent).

Tell us about your glitter painting? Where did the idea come from? How are they executed?

Misconceptions, 4’X6’, glitter and glue on panel

Misconceptions, 4’X6’, glitter and glue on panel

The glitter paintings started when I was in graduate school, around 2005. Glitter seemed like such a ridiculous but relatable material to work with, so I started making very simple, striped pieces. One day I realized I could create blended color gradations with the glitter and I jumped into an entirely new (and very labor intensive) way of working.

The glitter pieces are made on large, flat panels. The panel lays flat when I am working and I use small paint brushes to apply glue to the area where I want the glitter to stick. I use my fingers to pinch and sprinkle glitter on the wet glue (probably the same way most people used glitter in kindergarten), all the color mixing and gradations happen by sprinkling into one layer of wet glue. The entire piece is made using only glitter and glue—no other paint or pigment.  Observers have compared my process to the sand paintings of Tibetian monks or fresco muralists. The large paintings take about 300-400 hours of active working time to complete. I have only finished one small piece this way since becoming a mother.

Latching, 24” X 32”, glitter and glue on panel. Only glitter piece completed since becoming a mother

Latching, 24” X 32”, glitter and glue on panel. (Only glitter piece completed since becoming a mother.)

What is your current studio practice like?

My current studio practice has become completely consumed with my tiny portraits. This is a blessing and a curse. Because I have orders to fill I absolutely have to draw every day, which is great. It also means that most of my creative time is being dictated by other people, which is sometimes a relief and sometimes a bit of a struggle.

In our new house I have a small studio space and I am really looking forward to working on some projects that I can complete while still working on the portraits.

Tell us about Tiny 2 Hour Portraits? Where did the idea come from? Do you see it growing in the future? What has it taught you?

This past summer I allowed myself to sit down and draw during a naptime–not something I always gave myself permission to do. I did two quick sketches of my kids, made a little Instagram post and a couple of people asked if I would ever draw their kids. Hmmmmm, I thought, with a little structure this could actually be a way to help pay for some of my older child’s preschool and maintain a drawing practice. I decided I could probably make a small portrait in two hours, which was about the length of time my baby was napping. It was also appealing to me to make artwork available to people at an affordable price point.

Drawings for Tiny Two Hour Portraits

Drawings for Tiny Two Hour Portraits

As I mentioned, I think the structure of this little business is really helpful. I have a predetermined size (5” X 5”) and a time limit (two hours). This really helps me know how I am going to fit this work into my day. I think I will be able to apply this to future work—the main lesson is to find reasonable goals and try to work within that framework. I like looking back on the many, many drawings I have made since I started the business in August and realizing that a small piece of my day, every day, can honestly add up to a significant amount of work over several months.

Outside of the Tiny Two Hour Portraits what are you currently working on in the studio or in your sketchbook?

collage and drawing using coffee, graphite, and gouache

collage and drawing using coffee, graphite, and gouache

I haven’t gotten anything done except my portraits in the last couple of months. I think with the holidays approaching my orders just took off! I do have a lot of ideas swirling around in my head. Just before this project I was working on some drawings with collaged elements. I have a strange collection of little vintage photo cards and these drawings expand beyond the edges of the photo to provide a more fantastical and complex narrative than the photo itself offers.

Are there any projects, hobbies, or activities outside (ex. running, knitting, tea connoisseur, arts organizations, etc) of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find them feeding your practice and if so how?

I am excited and passionate about so many things it can be hard to list them. . .

I love to make clothes and costumes and toys for my kids, if I get deep into these projects sometimes it can be hard to pull me out.

We recently moved to the desert and have a huge front yard with a cactus garden, so I have become a little bit obsessed with learning about desert landscaping (though I don’t know much yet).

Cooking is really important to me, I am constantly learning new tricks in the kitchen and my husband and I love to entertain and feed people.

This is another activity that with daily practice can accumulate into a large skill set. Perhaps all of my interests really require patience and time and the ability to take things piece by piece, trusting that you are building towards something exciting, which absolutely applies to my art making.

Sewing projects for Claire's kids. A Marie Antoinette Halloween costume, a family of cats, and a piñata costume

Sewing projects for Claire’s kids. A Marie Antoinette Halloween costume, a family of cats, and a piñata costume

Anything else we should know?

I think it is complicated and glorious and bizarre and messy and really hard to become a mother and still hold onto the things I valued in my art practice. More often than not I get to hear people say, “You want to make art while raising kids? GOOD LUCK.” I’ve had numerous artists (especially female ones) express to me that I cannot be serious about my artistic life if I am also a mother. I think it is so much better to support and normalize this idea, and I really appreciate that there are places (like this website) that are encouraging artist mothers and providing amazing examples and role models.

Finally just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs?

When given the chance to listen to something, I have to admit it is usually podcasts these days (I am a total junkie) I have been listening to:
99% Invisible
One Bad Mother
Women of the Hour with Lena Dunham
You Must Remember This