Monday, February 9, 2015

Creative Couples: Balancing Work and Family, an Insight into Creative Living

Just Married by Ânia

As a creator it’s important to have the support of your family and friends. To have those you can bounce ideas off of, to comfort and encourage you when a pitch goes wrong or another rejection letter shows up, to keep you grounded and still returning your mother’s calls in a timely manner.  

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, one might wonder about that particular brand of relationship - how it can work with or work against being a creative. So the fabulous Ânia Marcos and I pondered a few questions with our Circles of Trust, to explore the various shades in which a significant other might add color to a creative’s life. No creative is the same, so our relationships are equally as diverse, but we did start seeing common threads.
Clarice and Silvio by Beki

Idea One: Where and when did you meet? How long have you been together? What are your professions and pursuits?

Ânia: Luis and I met at a punk concert! That was around 8 years ago, while I was in high school and he in University. We got together 4 months later (after he did the hand stand on my skateboard, got me chocolates, pancakes and made puppy eyes).
He’s a brilliant software engineer while I’m a designer and artist at the company we both founded, after getting out from University, 4-5 years ago. We’ve been working together ever since, and though it’s not an easy pie, we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Beki: Raul and I met in art school. It was a small school, so it seemed like everybody dated everybody. (Potentially disastrous in hindsight; My mother was hoping I’d fall for an Engineer like my father) We’ve been together over 3 years and recently got engaged. We were in the same major (Illustration) so we had several classes together in the beginning and all of our classes together at the end. While we have many of the same skill sets, we have very different strengths and career goals. He is a Paleo Artist and Creature Designer with an interest in collectable toys - currently employed as a Concept Artist/Illustrator at a video game company. I am a Character Designer and Puppet Fabricator with an interest in costumes/fashion - currently open to opportunities and building my own business.

Immediately we saw an interesting distinction between “dual creatives” (Two creatives in a couple - defining someone as “creative” for being professionally or pursuing a career in a creative field) and “singular creatives” (One “creative” in a couple). While dual creatives weren’t uncommon, singular creatives pairing with Engineers or IT seemed most common. Notable dual creatives include: Sarah Marino and Shane Richardson, Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying, Brian and Wendy Froud.

On Two Wheels by Ânia

Idea Two: What does your support system look like? In terms of balancing careers? Compromising? Sharing your passion and finding mutual interests?

Ânia: Eeeer…. Well, we have the same career goals, since we started our own company: Make Games. The difference is he wishes to code them and I want to do concepts for them. And even though he LOVES sci-fi and I LOVE medieval themes, we both make an effort to understand each other. We work GREAT as a team and are super used to working together - as long as he does not try to give me feedback on my art (I’ll explain later).
Compromise-wise… well… I started watching Big Bang and listen to his infinite mumble about the galaxy, his physic theories and how AWESOME that code is and in return he takes me to watch animated movies and listens to my rambles about how that scene was gorgeous and how well thought that composition was. Yup. OH and he gets me cake sometimes.

Beki: It’s been an epic balance for us since we’re both very ambitious. We more or less take turns or try to do things that will ultimately benefit us both. Example: I stayed in Colorado after graduating so that he could gain experience in a studio, which has given me time to further develop my skills and refine my goals. This Spring we’re moving to Portland so I have a shot at studio work and he has some time to do more personal work. We both do events like CTN-X since it applies to both of us.
It’s great that he’s a fellow creative because I never have to explain why I’m up so late working. Chances are good he’s up too. lol When I rant about storytelling he’s on the same page or adding fuel to the fire. We overlap interests in weird places - like our Asian interior decor - and seem to be very flexible in terms of what movies or music we’ll consume together and separately.
Sometimes it feels like the biggest compromises aren’t necessarily creatively linked. Since we both have deadlines we’ll let dishes sit a bit too long, or the laundry. I feel like these are normal couples issues?

We found this could be a sticking point for many creatives. Not necessarily in terms of interest or compromise, but in terms of understanding and communicating the passion for being creative.
While a few of us found our partners to be very supportive, regardless of them being a creative or not, a good number of us also needed an outside net - our Circles Of Trust - to feel “secure” in our artistic pursuits.
Belladonna from Which Witch by Beki

Idea Three: Are you able to collaborate with your significant other? Would you prefer to or not? What does that process look like? Can you ask/accept critique?

Ânia: Doesn’t matter what project we’re working on, if the talk is about logistics and the best way to act, then we’re a GREAT team.
When it’s art time for me, I just shoo him away - seriously, the guy uses his logical brain to see the weirdest, most unimportant stuff. “Hey, does this scene work for you?” - me, while showing him a sketch. “Hmm, the painting sucks you know? So weird. And where’s the colour?” - Yup. It’s like that. Don’t get me wrong, he TRIES. Same way as when he asks me to see how WELL that thing works and I just stated “that looks disgusting, I did NOT design it that way! - “MY POINT IS THAT IT WORKS, ANIA!”...I now learned how to see his work, and he learned to nod and smile/stay quiet.

In short: I resort to my Circle of Trust for critique when my art is in-the-making, BUT always ask for his opinion when I’m done, since his eye ALWAYS gets something. Nit picky Luís…I love that guy.

Beki: We haven’t collaborated much in the past. We have very different styles, speeds and preferences, so we’re more likely to just focus on our own things. We’re trying to do more together, playing to each others’ skills (The ones we don’t share, like knowledge of Zbrush to make face plates for puppets or business/marketing for launching new products) and so far we’re enjoying it.
Critique was an issue. Back in school Raul got a lot of flack for giving me critique, so he would just keep quiet. It took about 2 years to break that habit. As with any other disagreement we have to approach it with the right attitude: choose our words/tone carefully and not posture defensively/offensively. We have to step outside of our relationship. Which is hard because of the next point.

We realized this is universal and probably a fundamental relationship/communication issue that needed consideration on a case by case basis. Some people work really well together. Some people don’t, so it’s not a sign of a “failed relationship” when you can’t get on the same page for a project.

Idea Four: How do you separate work from personal life? What challenges and benefits are there to being a creative or living with a creative?

Ânia: It’s hard to completely separate them, especially when you run a business together. We enjoy talking about our next moves and organize our schedules at dinner, but we also learned that we need our own space. We’re together 24/7 and our work is essentially at the desk, so I send him on his bike rides with his friends and make sure he has some time with them, while I try and make time for my friends too.

Sometimes it’s SUPER hard; even if Luís is an awesome person and supports me however he can and I try and give him and us as much space as needed, when work stress is strong, it is doubled.

If a big deal of a business goes down, our personal work is postponed yet again or a client is a butthead, we both lose it at the same time. If he’s down, I’m down and we bring each other down even if we try not to. It’s really hard to get over something like that. This was a very serious problem before I met art friends and got my other job at the Oatley Academy. Since now I have another job I have to worry about and a personal project - I’m currently working on an illustrated book with two other art friends! YAAAY! - my attention get divided between all of this and I get out of the rabbit hole way faster.

When we’re on tight deadlines he works like a crazy man and I barely see him - besides the office. Like, we get home at 8pm, he showers while I cook dinner, he eats and then disappears into the void (the void being the home-office). On those days I magically wake up around 5 am to pick him up from his desk or the extra bed we have in there.
Then I get ready and go to the office while he sleeps a bit (I’m unable to work that late, so I rather wake up earlier and head out).
Fortunately we usually have our holy Friday night, which consists of watching a movie or a series at home while eating something we WANT. It’s super relaxing and we have one rule: no phones, no computers, no internet for a few hours. And one day of the weekend is booked for us - unless we have group hangouts or family stuff.

Beki: Simply put, we don’t. Our workspace is currently our dining/living room so it all spills over - no separation of space! I’m drawing on the couch watching Netflix (I spread out and get messy - opposite of how I am outside of art???) and he’s sitting at his desk listening to Podcasts. (He’s super stationary and tidy - opposite of how he is outside of art???) This is a typical evening. I imagine some people might find this incredibly lonely.
Even though I have him right there for immediate feedback, I do still need my COT within Oatley Academy. I’ve always been the person with a few good friends - so sometimes I rely a little too much on those few. I realize that can potentially strain those relationships. When I open it up - still being mindful as to quality - my perspective is that much more enriched.
It’s great sharing all of our supplies and making trips to craft stores a regular thing, but sometimes I do wish we had a more structured time set aside for relaxing together. Even when we’re watching movies we’re sitting there analyzing color, accuracy, composition, narrative structure, etc. We can’t turn it off, but then it also doesn’t bother us. It’s easier I think when we have separated spaces - like our old apartment had a dining room separate from our workspace which was separate from our living room. It was easier to focus and disengage when necessary.

This was another point where we saw differences, but many similarities again. The idea of having an outside Circle of Trust also came back up as a positive way to create a “buffer.” Separating your creative/business space from general living space also seemed to help - sometimes you have to physically remove yourself from an area of stress to relieve the stress and not bring it with you to another area.

Merry Christmas by Ânia

Idea Five: Can you remember the best/worst moment you both had with you career pursuit? Be it a critique or a situation, does anything come to mind?

Ânia: Maybe one of the toughest was this time when he was super flooded with work (I usually do my part and then pass it on to him. His part takes a bit longer than mine, so it’s not unusual for me to be waiting on him) and the company was not going well at all. The ambience between us got super thick and heavy. The stress kept building up and we were both super aggressive to each other, even if we didn’t realize it. It was bad. Really bad. I can’t remember how we got over that time honestly, more than half of it was deleted by my brain. But we’re just glad it’s in the past.

The best would probably be when we get together to have our game brainstorm ideas and explore the possibilities and come up with plans. Super exciting, we have tons of fun all the time with those!! Can’t wait to actually have them out there!!!

Beki: For me the worst was during school, when we were first starting to date. We had a grad class together and the crits were generally horrifying. People seemed to enjoy ripping into Raul for no good reason. Nobody ever commented on my work or when pressed would just say “that’s nice.” Equally frustrating. Once Raul tried to give me some feedback, but this group of girls pounced on him saying he was being especially harsh. So Raul never gave me another crit for the rest of the term. Even when I asked he couldn’t - they had him convinced he was being a jerk. I couldn’t get them to leave him alone either. I got discouraged. That stuck to me for almost a year post art school - beyond the almost 2 years it took to get him critiquing me again. I am very glad to say that’s behind us now.
Best moments...I always like to think those are still to come. Recently, our experience at CTN-X sharing a booth was fantastic. It was very encouraging and energizing. Can’t wait to do it again this year! :)

We found it helpful and insightful to reflect on direct positives and negatives. The retrospective let us problem solve on a larger scale, let us see “issue” areas where we can ease future disagreements and boost each other into a positive mindset.
La Belle et La Bete Sketches by Beki

Idea Six: Any piece of advice you’d like to give to our readers?

Ânia: Don‘t let stress eat you alive. If your work is mainly at the desk, do some sport, try and eat as healthy as you can and give each other the space you need. Log off from the technologies from time to time too. When you two are together, then let it be just you two. Don’t let tweets and Facebook notifications ruin your moment.

Beki: I agree with Ânia - definitely take care of yourself!
I’m also going to advocate for therapy. I know some people don’t like the idea or feed into the stigma, but it’s given me MANY tools to communicate better with all my relationships and in my art too. It makes all the difference between “I feel stuck and unhappy and I don’t know how to fix it” and “I feel empowered to make the changes necessary to get my point across.” Like any other skill, it just takes practice and patience.
Fred: Just pick up your pencil and put it to paper. Anything that happens after that is success. Just keep picking up your pencil.

Lise: One: Keep at it. Don't give up, continue to push yourself and you'll get there. Two: Join the Oatley Academy, even if you're not a digital artist the community there is Amazing, and you learn so much more than things that only apply to digital mediums! You'll meet people who are dedicated to becoming better artists and that will cheer on everyone else in the process as well. Three: keep an Achievement Book. A small notebook where you write in your achievements, ALL and ANY achievements. It doesn't have to be huge, it could be that you actually dared to remove the spider that somehow found it's way inside your home even though you are terrified of them. It could be that you finished a piece and felt good about it. That you managed to give someone else a critique that they found helpful. That you kept on working on your art even though you felt like crap and just wanted to throw it away. Eventually it comes to a point that some of the challenges you struggled with earlier aren't a problem anymore.

Angela: Being in a relationship doesn't mean you always have to agree or like the same things. Patience, empathy, and understanding can open the doors to new connections you never would have thought you could make, enriching your relationship in ways you probably never would have planned on!