The Fine Art of Mixing
Here’s what I know about mixing paint.
Whether you buy a gallon of latex paint at the hardware store or a bunch of acrylics at the craft store, to get the exact color you want for a project, you’ll likely have to blend a few colors together. At Lowe’s or The Home Depot, a machine can do that for you by adding precisely measured tints to a base color. At Hobby Lobby, you will have to eyeball the options yourself and pick a couple that might work when swirled together with a paintbrush.
In both cases, you’ll probably have to experiment with the mix a bit to get the look you want. Even then, you may need to make additional adjustments when you see how the paint dries or the color is affected by the surface it's on or the light in the room.
In short, it's a process.
The Fine Art of Mothering
As a professional artist, Allie Zeyer has to mix, experiment, and adjust all the time, but not just on the palette. She does the same in her personal life, continually finding ways to blend career aspirations with her cherished role as a wife and mother.
In this interview, Allie shares her early dream of becoming an artist, how she shelved the work to provide for her family, and the heartache that drove her to return to the studio earlier than expected. She additionally explains some of the lessons learned along the way. For example, she found that she has to compartmentalize her life meaning she cannot paint and parent simultaneously without getting frustrated or compromising the outcomes. She has to pace herself, sometimes skipping events or saying ‘no’ to gallery opportunities. And she needs help. Her husband, who encourages her to keep mixing both worlds, often takes the kids out of the house on Saturdays so Allie can have dedicated time alone.
In short, it’s a process.
But as Allie explains, “there’s been nothing but positive rewards from this” including some fun family trips, bonding with dad, and the kids finding scenes or barns they think mom should paint. She additionally says that pursuing this passion and developing her talent makes her feel good which, in turn, makes her a better mom. So even though the family has had to make adjustments, everyone is happier on the whole.
In short, for Ally and her family, it's a process that's working just fine.
I want this so badly. I don't want it to just be a talent. I want this as a professional career. I literally put the phone down on the counter and I knelt down to my knees and I poured my heart out to God.
- Allie Zeyer -
Download the Transcript
Successfully Mixing an Art Career with Motherhood
Guest: Allie Zeyer
Shelley Hunter: You're listening to the Faithful Career Moves Podcast. I'm your host, Shelley Hunter, and this is the place where we talk to people who have found the career they were born to do and recognize God's hand in the process.
Welcome to episode 27. Today I'm interviewing professional artist Allie Zeyer. This interview is particularly timely for me because my niece just switched her major to fine art at BYU. My son is in the middle of the graphic design program at Utah State, and both recently felt the sting of well meaning advice to consider more financially stable pursuits, but I disagree.
We are expected to develop our talents and seek personal revelation on how best to use those talents, to find joy and to serve others. It's okay to ask God to help us monetize those talents as well. He knows how much money we will need to provide for our families and what business plan to put in place to make it happen.
That's where it gets tricky for women of faith. Women who believe as I do that motherhood is our highest and holiest calling. In talking to women over the years, I found that we are just fine working, as long as the job is either financially needed or it doesn't impact the family too much, like a part-time job while the kids are in school. We panic a little or think we aren't entitled to a career pursuit if it feels bigger than that or we don't really need the money or we might need help with the kids to make it happen. That's when I hear an undercurrent of angst in equal opposition to the joy found in creating. What if God has bigger plans for you? Bigger than our finite minds can imagine at the onset?
What if money is a byproduct of using our talents? Because greater accolade also means greater visibility, and greater visibility means increasing our sphere of influence, which means having more women of faith out in the world sharing the gospel in normal and natural ways. That would be okay, right?.
Or what if a prompting to pursue a talent is for no greater purpose than to simply help you find joy or heal from a devastating loss as it did for Allie? That would be okay, right? Why not both?
Let's listen to Allie's journey to becoming a professional artist and then you can decide.
Tell me what you do for your career.
Allie Zeyer: I'm 40 years old, I'm a wife and a mother and an artist, fine art. There's a difference in the art world, in the art community. You could have certainly installation artists, contemporary artists. I land in the realm of gallery and what's called plein air work, where you go outside and you actually paint outdoors. I'm more interested in producing artwork that someone can buy for their home, their business, put up on their wall and enjoy for a lifelong.
Shelley: How did you get here?
Allie: As I look back on my journey, I feel like it first started number one with a passion at a very young age, developed to a talent. It then moved from a talent to a strong desire to be a professional, and then it blended into this realm of amateur, but professional.
I knew very, very early on that I wanted to be an artist, and thankfully I grew up in a home where I saw my dad paint and sell his work in Jackson Hole, and he's done that for the past 40 years. At a very young age, I was introduced to what it meant to be a professional in this creative realm and creative talent or avenue. When I was young, like eight years old, I would go down to my dad's studio and I'd watch him paint these beautiful blue, gray paintings of the Tetons, and I loved it. I remember standing there in my nightgown, watching him with his palette knife, just mixing paint, and I thought, "I want to do this. This is what I want to be."
That was really early on, before life could happen I knew this is what I wanted. From there, it turned into gosh, squiggle doodles, elementary people would be like, "You're so great when you draw my portrait for me." Then that developed into going to college and actually getting my bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and drawing. Then from there, things just had to be put on hold, I purposefully and chose to soon after graduation put art, so to speak in my back pocket. That way I could work full-time and support my husband while he was attending law school. I worked full-time as a paralegal while he was attending law school.
That was wow a whole trip around the sun in and of itself, learning a new language. Then it got to the point where we were able to have children. Again, I put art in the back pocket and started raising our kids. Then life just got really busy at that point. With the young babies, diaper changing, our first came after what would be five years of unexplained infertility, so we were married eight years at that point. This was after law school. I was grateful to have my son and then my daughter, our daughter, she came very quickly thereafter. They were only 18 months apart. Throughout the day of mom work and busy work, when they would nap, I'd be thinking, "Gosh, I should just to pick up my paintbrush."
I put pressure on myself. I look back on it now and I realize I had this degree, I had this passion, but I also set it aside to raise my family. That took its rightful place and precedence in life which I think it does, but I also, gosh, felt like something was missing. Then we were expecting our third baby and life really took a major turn. He ended up being stillborn at 36 weeks. Through that experience, which was heartbreaking as a wife and a mother, through that process of losing our son, I truly gave myself a full year's time to just experience that and grieve and understand what it meant. Then I realized, "Okay, you know what? I need something more to help refill my life again." I realized it was art, and so, that was the turning point for me.
I was able to, with the support of my family and my husband and it really was, my husband encouraged me to go take a workshop from a professional artist over in Sun Valley, Idaho. That experience really just opened my eyes to this world of professional artists, of networking, of what it meant to really build up your credibility as an artist, both technically as far as the quality of the painting goes, but also how to get out there and to get things sold. There's a real gap that I guess you could say as a starting artist, your circle and network of individuals and friends and family can afford a certain threshold of art.
At that stage it was like, "Gosh, if I could just someone to buy a painting for 100 bucks, I'd be thrilled." Then you realize, well, wait, it doesn't stop there.
There's this whole wonderful world of fine art and collecting and it's so enriching to your life and your space and your home. I wanted that. It was almost like, this full circle came about where I realized, yes, this is what I want and I remember those days of walking the boardwalk of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and coming in and out of the galleries as my dad brought artwork in and out and smelling that oil paint and the bronze as that were everywhere. It just came full circle to me at this point in my life to say, "This is what I truly want." That's a very long-winded explanation of how I got where I am.
Shelley: No, it's everything. I have so many questions. I'm sorry for your loss.
Allie: Oh, you bet. It's a struggle and you never wish that on anybody, but the lessons learned from that experience are tenfold, there's just too many.
Shelley: I'm going to focus on the career side because that's what this podcast is for, but I don't want to lose sight of the fact that that hurt is what brought you to where you needed to be doing right now. Your dad, he was supporting the family with art?
Allie: My mom also was a full-time teacher. She worked full-time teaching English. Then my dad worked when we were really little as a full-time artist, and then he realized the art economy wasn't stable enough. Then he decided also to go work for the forest service, doing topographic mapping. He actually has of CS 12 or 13, and has retired from the forest service, still actually paints and sells his work in Jackson today. I had great influence from both parents on working, and working in the home and out of the home.
Shelley: Partnership is what I hear too. Your mom must have been supporting of his art.
Allie: Yes, and it was fun because we'd always come down and sit down on my dad's paintings and she'd give her critique which my husband does the same on my end and critique my work. Sometimes it's helpful and sometimes it's not. It was definitely a family affair and we enjoyed it. Jackson Hole in the summer was what we did. It was great.
Shelley: Did you feel like you should have made time for the art earlier or it really came at the right time for you?
Allie: I'm going to say it came at the right time for me, because at that moment, I recognized how deeply and strongly this passion was for me. I think if I would've dabbled in it, it wouldn't have the impact that it does to me now. I really cherish it. I cherish the fact that it has grown from a talent into a professional art career, and it has more meaning to me at this point in my life.
Shelley: What does it look like on a day-to-day basis as a mom who is also an art?
Allie: You bet. My time, and that's a really, good question. Sometimes I get very frustrated with the limited time that I have, but I'm going to come back to that in a moment. Days are very busy. Our children's ages are 11, 10, and then would be 8, but then also a five-year-old. Mornings are quick. It's getting them up, getting them out the door, getting them to preschool by 9:30, 10:00, between the hours of 10:00 AM. About 11:45 is my time to do whatever I need to for art. That could be marketing, that could building up more information on my website. It could be actually painting. It could be sketching. It could be journaling, anything. Then typically on a Saturday, we've got this new rotation where kids know it's a dad day. He'll take the kids to the office and do what he needs to do, so I can paint.
I really have about 12 to 15 hours a week. That really does not sound much. I wish it were more. It will be, I also have to tell myself to be patient. It will come when kids are in school all day, and I'll get more time. With that limited time though, I really do feel like it can be a blessing because it forces me to absolutely focus on what is essential, necessary, and what will move my career forward. Within art and especially plein air and gallery work, there are innumerable amounts of plein air workshops that you could go to, and also events that you could participate in. A person could fill their whole calendar in a year with going to Colorado, the East Coast, the West Coast, North, South, to participate in all these different events. There are so many professional organizations you could be a part of and you could almost feel you're spinning your wheels, trying to accomplish everything and yet accomplish nothing at the same time, so to speak.
I've been very diligent, very deliberate at what organizations I am a member of, which shows I actually apply for, and which events I will participate in, because time is limited, resources are so much, it's a real big struggle and blessing when I go to events because it gives my kids a chance to maybe come with us, but it also is an adjustment on everyone's schedules as well.
Shelley: I always say that I'll just be the tortoise. I cannot move as fast as some of the other people, you must see other artists that are progressing faster than you.
Allie: Absolutely. Everyone can relate to the fact of what social media and Instagram has done to businesses, to sales, to art. It's fascinating. It's just eye-catching, when you see on Instagram and you pull up an artist and they've got certain videos, and they're completing a painting in about 30 seconds. Well, that's so fun to see online. You're like, "Wow, this artist has got figured out." Then you come home and reality is, it takes anywhere from two hours to six months to complete a painting. Yes, you feel those internal, "Gosh, I'm not painting fast enough. Why can't I get more work out there?" It can be really debilitating. I think also over scheduling yourself.
I actually realized a couple of years ago that I needed to scale back from a gallery because I just simply couldn't keep up with it. I couldn't get the quality of the work out that I wanted, and I needed to scale back. It almost felt like taking three steps back in order to move forward five, you have to be patient with yourself. It's hard, it's a daily battle, and it's just ongoing.
Shelley: What advice would you give to somebody who's young right now and really wants to pursue art, but the prevailing advice they get is, "You should have a backup plan, or can you make any money in that?"?
Allie: I think it would be very healthy to look at it and say, "I may be going to look at this as part-time." Just because you certainly want financial stability to help ease what could be the strain as if you have a lull in a season where you're not selling work, I think artwork can be definitely seasonal. Having a part-time job or a job and maybe doing it on the side, certainly could help. I also think, and I wish I would've been more diligent with my time when we didn't have children, because I thought I didn't have a whole lot of time. That's certainly more the case right now. I feel like in any phase of life, whether you're taking care of older children, you're retired, there's always going to be demands on your time. It's certainly being well-focused.
I also think in the young stages, if you can find any type of a mentor, someone that you could take a workshop from, have a conversation with. I'm floored at the willingness that artists have to share their journey and their experiences and how they've come about. I think it's a real fallacy in a creative profession to put everything on the, oh you are so talented pot. Because I think it starts with talent. However, real professional artists today take dedicated serious study in what they're doing. It's hours. They're looking at master artists from the past, they're going out and doing sketching. They're doing color notes, plein artwork. It's just an amazing amount of work and dedication. I think that's one of the fallacies that others who are not creative, you can't even draw a stick figure, you might say, "Oh, you're so talented. I wish I could have that talent." But it's a lot of work at the end of the day.
Shelley: You looked at your dad? Are any of your children artistically inclined?
Allie: Yes, actually my daughter, she is following the realm of wanting to be an artist, but also wanting to be a teacher. If that really comes about, then we will have three generations within our family of something along the lines of art, which is pretty exciting.
Shelley: It is exciting. What haven't I asked you about being a professional artist that I should have, before I get into my other questions?
Allie: I think I'm going to do that two-part where you've already answered it, where you have to compartmentalize, then also how important a mentor can be. Compartmentalizing, meaning, at one point I felt with painting, I thought I could do both motherhood and painting at the same time. Meaning, I'll bring my watercolor set down to the kitchen and I'll paint there while the kids are playing. I'm ingrained in a study or painting, here comes my child asking for help on this. Then my brain is like blocked. I've taken out of this really intense moment. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, let me try to help you." Then I try to come back and where was I? It's a constant ping-ponging. At the end of the day, I felt like nothing really got accomplished.
I was more angrier at my children because they came and needed my help, and I didn’t get quality painting time in. The biggest help that I've had is recognizing I need help. I need someone here while I'm painting to help me with my kids, whether that's a great young woman from the ward or the neighborhood or my niece, to come and play with the kids while I'm upstairs painting or even my husband taking the kids on a Saturday and giving me four hours of completely free time.
One time I was up in my studio and my son came up and said, "Hey mom, can I watch from the Kindle?" I was like, "What?" I took him by this shoulder and I said, "Buddy, when dad's at work and he's at a hearing, do we call them up to say, "Hey, can we watch on the Kindle?"" He looked at me like, "No." I said, "Well, I'm working here, dad's downstairs. Ask dad, please respect this time."
It's a little bit of teaching kids to respect your time and manage you time. Then also I think again, how important professional mentors can be finding a person that you align with and understanding their work ethic, and mimicking their work ethic. If you can emulate how they do it on your own, I think you'll see dividends of improvement, both in productivity a better way to do your business, a better way to have workflow or processes or even ideas. Those would be two things I think that are helpful.
Shelley: I love that story. I've done multiple businesses and side gigs. I remember the first one I ever did is when my daughter was just born and I thought, "This will be a family business. She will play at my feet while I process orders. Then eventually we'll pack things together." It never happens.
Allie: No, it doesn't. You cannot wear two hats at once. It doesn't.
Shelley: To your point, if the whole idea is being a work-at-home mom, but then you're crabby at your kids for interrupting you, then you haven't achieved what you were setting out to do.
Allie: Exactly. That's truly it. The times where I realize I recognize that and I'm aware of it, it helps me relax a little bit. There are also points where I might be dabbling in the studio, and I invite the kids to come with me and paint with me, knowing fully well, my real attention in time is going to be on them because they ask questions, "Mom, how do I paint it this way? How do I do this?" Then I just have to realize, well, that's the purposeful moment at this time.
Shelley: It's different. I used to involve my kids quite a bit. What I found the biggest challenge for me was, if I bought some time for myself, if I said something like, "Look, I really have to finish writing this document. If you guys will watch this show or do this game, give me one hour and then we'll go to the park and we'll get ice cream and stuff." If they were engrossed in what they were doing at the one hour, you're tempted to just squeeze it. I realized early on, no, I have to honor my commitment to them. I said it would be an hour just like I'm asking them to give me an hour. I got to give them one hour and then make good on that. I found my kids were really good because they knew I was going to come through on my part of the bargain.
Allie: Yes. I think that's exactly right. I'm going to internalize that. Because I think I do try to squeeze it too much.
Shelley: Well, it's so tempting because you don't get that time. I hear you. Can you tell me a leap of faith you had to take to get where you are now?
Allie: You bet. One specific moment really stands out above any other. It truly was like the starting point. After we had experienced the loss of our son and after I had attended that workshop in Sun Valley and had come back and really told myself, "I really want to do this." The house was quiet. Kids were in bed. It was probably like 10:30 at night and I was just leaning over the kitchen counter.
It was dark and perusing over Facebook and came across an artist that I really admire and appreciate his work. His name is Jeff Pugh, he's a Utah-based artist. I read his post and I'll paraphrase what he basically said was, "Gosh, I'm so thankful that I can paint, that I can support my family, and I thank God every day that I can do this."
As I read that, I thought, "I want this. I want this so badly. I don't want it to just be a talent. I want this a professional career." I literally put the phone down on the counter and I knelt down to my knees and I poured my heart up to God. I said in language that I use and my common communication to God, I said, "Heavenly father, help me. I will do this the right way. I will do this your way. I will stay true to every promise, every covenant I have made, I will keep the Sabbath day holy. I will do this if you will help me figure this out and help me make it work." As a professional and a career, some professions require you to be present or to be at work or to be functioning on a Sunday.
For me, I don't have to. I purposely knew that any workshop, any art event, anything that required my time and my attention on a Sunday, I would either say no, or maybe do half of it, or somehow tried to reserve that time to show respect to say that, "Hey, look, I'm trying here. I'm going to do my best. Please help me to figure this out." I've received that over seven years' time, I can say, "Gosh, look at what has happened." I've been able to be a part of some national shows. Four short years, I was able to at achieve signature status with one professional organization, and now taking part in judging their shows, which is what I was so excited to be a part of and still receiving awards and productivity and sales. It's been huge. It's been a huge blessing.
Shelley: That had to take some discipline because I've seen those plain air shows and they're on the weekends.
Allie: They are. I try to choose the ones that make sense for me in building my career. Then I also try to make sure that I'm painting on Sunday and that's okay. Some artists do that, but for me I knew this is where I needed to land.
Shelley: I love that part of your covenant that you made with God in that moment. What is an unexpected blessing? Something you just couldn't see for yourself in pursuing this?
Allie: I think the positive effect that this has had on our entire family, I'm very, very much aware that anything that is taking the mother out of the home is a demand on everyone's time, energy, happiness, everything. I'm very much aware of that. I'm constantly asking my husband, "Is this too much? Is it too much? Are we doing too much? Is this demand on my time too much? How's everybody feeling." At the end of the day, I look back and I think we've gone to some really fun places as a family. There's some real sleepless nights where you're taking care of young kids at an event and it's, oh, everyone's exhausted. Every time we go out and somebody sees a great scene or a barn, my kids are like, "Mom, you should go paint that." I'm like, "Yes, I should." There's been nothing but positive rewards from it. I think that's pretty amazing. Also recognizing how good I feel, then in turn, I can be happy with my kids. It's just been great.
Shelley: I love that. I love the visual of your kids seeing something that they think you should paint. I think that's beautiful. I just want to draw attention to it again, you said your husband encouraged you to go to that, the workshop?
Allie: Yes. I was just worried, you've got these young kids and you're thinking, oh, four or five days, time away from your babies. You feel like, "Ooh, can I even do that?" It's not even possible, but I honestly feel like it's also because of being exposed for my husband, who's never been exposed to fine art, having him come into our home, and as we were dating and early married life, to see that it can work and you can do that.
That was truly from the exposure of my dad, and I also had great support for my parents at that time. It really was him to say, "Why aren't you doing this? Why wouldn't you think you could do this?" I think sometimes we as women just have that mental brain block that my home, my children, that's all I can focus on right now.
That truly is an absolute priority. I also feel like, gosh, to have to put things on this side your whole life, that's not an answer either, and that's not an answer that I think I'm willing to accept. One time we were in Jackson Hole at an art event. I was sitting down to another professional artist who was, oh, probably 10, 15 years older than I was, maybe even 20. Talking to her, she was another female artist. She basically said, "I chose not to get married. I chose not to have a family." So she could pursue her art career. I thought, "Wow, in this moment, I'm at the same event as you, but my kids are right in front of us, our whole family's here." Certainly my timeframe is like the turtle. I'm a little bit slower, but it's okay because I get both. That's rewarding at the end of the day."
Shelley: My final question for you is, how have you seen the hand of God in your career?
Allie: I think I see it daily. I see it all the time, because I am the sole proprietor, the one person, it's so much energy. Sometimes I feel like I am this little person trying to pull a semi-truck through the mud with a rope and not moving forward.
Allie: Then as I look back and I look over a year's time or three or four years' time, I realize, wow, there's no way I could have accomplished this on my own. It truly is daily communication to God, asking for help to visually see how a painting could come together, how to manage my time correctly and appropriately, and how to move things forward with a website and a business and sales and all of it. It's so encompassing that it's just a daily, daily communication that I receive and help.
Shelley: I love that. Where can our listeners find your work.
Allie: On my website, which is AllieZeyer.com and also on Instagram, which is AllieZeyerFineArt. Then also the Wilcox Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming and Relic Gallery in Holladay, Utah.
Shelley: Thanks for being on the show.
Allie: You bet. Shelley, thank you so much for having me.
Shelley: What do you think? In addition to the angst that moms feel when they're prompted to embark on a career? I've also noticed that the women all talk about some pretty consistent benefits as well, such as a supportive husband, who believes in the pursuit, kids seeing their parents partner in that way, or kids growing in independence they might not have otherwise achieved, a more joyful mom—someone who has her own passion and interests and a woman of faith out in the community, living her testimony leading by example.
My favorite, as Allie put it, the part where it feels like you're pulling a truck through mud, only to see that with God, the path is clearly paved and you're moving along at a pace that is perfect for you and your family. I've seen this time and time again.
I appreciate Allie sharing her story. It's another great example to me that God knows the secret longings of our hearts and the prayers offered in the kitchen late at night. Don't stop asking. Thank you Allie for sharing your story and thank you for listening.
Thank you for listening to the Faithful Career Moves Podcast. If you want to know more about how to connect your natural talents and abilities to job opportunities and business ideas, then visit our website at faithfulcareermoves.com.