Vocations: Mother & Artist, Learning to be Both


When my daughter arrived here from India in 2009, I was elated beyond measure. I felt powerful, woman, incredible. I was so in love, so captivated, so full of light. Then I spiraled into a deep, black place. Postpartum depression is not just something biological mothers face. On my way down, I saw all the ways that I had identified myself shredded, obliterated by this tiny person and my new role. I was an artist who had worked hard my whole life to achieve this? To achieve butt wiping? To spend my day preparing snacks and picking up toys? Shattered. Hallow. “What a sham,” I thought to myself. “This whole motherhood deal is horrible.” I wanted to run away.

Ms. Warrior Dash, thankyouverymuch

I started running 5Ks instead of away.  I even ran the Warrior Dash in 2011. Though, that’s another story all together…

Fast forward with some therapy, an enduring husband,  an amazing group of praying women, and one remarkable child, I am whole.  Sitting at the bottom of that black pit with the broken, shattered remains of what I thought was my life I had nowhere else to look but up. I had no more illusions about who I was. I experienced the Grace of God in a new way. An honest way. I was not a “good Christian” or a “good mother” or a “good wife.” And God loved me still. In fact, He had loved me even when I deluded myself into thinking that I had been any of these things. I would piece myself together every Sunday and drag myself to church. I could not hide myself, not even there. I did not  even have the strength to pretend. And you know, the women there were patient with me. The older women remembered how hard it was. Two of those women had experienced adoption in the 1970s. They were present for me, not hoisting any sort of platitudes on top of my already burdened shoulders. One misplaced platitude may have crushed me.

First Day of School 2010

First Day of School 2010

When my daughter was three, we sent her to daycare twice a week. Good Christian mommy guilt choked me. I would sit in the parking lot in tears every time I would drop her off. I would call my husband and he would calm me down. “It’s only two days a week. She’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. We’ve agreed to this as a family.” Yeah, it was our family. No one else’s.

Mother and Child, Easter 2011

And wouldn’t you know it, we both started to thrive. Mother and daughter. The bitterness of depression faded. Tenderness grew. She enjoyed her new friends and all the teachers who showered her with attention. I enjoyed the time to cultivate my other vocations. I spent the days she went to preschool writing or working on art.  The other days we spent together. On Thursdays we went to Bible Study where these beautiful, humble women would pray for and share one another’s burdens. And I even graduated with my Master’s degree in May 2010.

Hood College Magazine Photography

It wasn’t long before I could not tell that this child had not once been a part of my own body. We had been divinely knit together in the great and beautiful mystery of family. I have moved beyond seeing motherhood as my job. Motherhood may be a lot of work, but it is not a job. A job you can leave, you get paid for, you get time off. Motherhood is this intense care-giving relationship that is hard and tiring, and beautiful and wonderful all at the same time.


I am an artist. I was born this way. My vocation as an artist had been set aside for a short time when we moved in 2009. Though, some things that are short in the grand scheme of things feel endless when we are in the what I call “eternal NOW” of depression. As the rhythm of family life beat on, I went back to work in the studio… er livingroom. I wasn’t going to let a shortage of space stop the work.

Living Room Studio

Oh, but this has gotten discouraging! Throughout the years, I have often found myself Placeless.  And the Lord Provides Jehovah-jireh! I seared Grove City for nearly a year before I decided to look to my own back yard. We decided to fix up the garage for a studio. And the biggest blessing of all is that my dad drove all the way out here from Michigan to do the work. Not only did the Lord provide a place to work, but He provided an opportunity for my dad and I to work together.

Sarah and her Dad, the Moleman


Now I have a place to work, a contract with a church to work on, and a daycare schedule that works for both mother and daughter.  I have to somehow figure out how to put the two vocations together.

In Kate Harris’ Q post about Mothering as Vocation she talks about how viewing her parenting as her vocation honors God, but the danger lies in the limited view that this mothering is the ONLY way women can honor God in Vocation. One of the young mothers she met at a dinner party was also an artist who balances two vocations. “She said, ‘When I paint it isn’t because I want more ‘me time’ like having a latte or getting a pedicure. It isn’t therapy. It’s what I feel made to do. I am a mother, but I’m also an artist so I have to believe I am a better mother to my kids when I make time to paint even if I don’t pursue that as a career.’ For her it means putting her kids down at the same nap time every afternoon, brewing a pot of coffee, eating a bite of chocolate and painting for a few hours before they wake up.” I see it much the same way. Art isn’t therapy, relaxing, or fun. It’s something I simply have to do. (Her article is totally worth the read, btw.)

And HOW? is the question that rolls around my mind nearly every day. How do I keep all these thoughts straight? How do I make great art when I’m thinking about what to make for dinner or trying to remember not to forget that tomorrow the letter of the day is “N?”

It seems that holding it all together will mean that I will have to exercise some skills that I do not naturally posses: organization, time management, and planning ahead. One of my very favorite blogs helps me do that. www.Artbizblog.com. I am in Alyson’s Artist Conspiracy group, where we get coached in being good managers of our own art careers. Recently, she had guest blogger, Sandhya Manne, talk about the challenges of Balancing the Roles of Artist and Mother.

How do you balance different vocations? (Stay tuned for my plan!)


A figurative sculptor for over 20 years, Sarah tells monumental stories in clay, bronze, and stone.

No Comments

  1. Rosann on May 14, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Sarah, this is absolutely beautiful. I should be sleeping given that it’s nearly midnight, but instead I’m laying in bed squinting at my phone while reading your captivating words. I’m in tears knowing your story…your journey to and through motherhood and the journey to your studio. I have prayed many words over your circumstances the past two years and I feel truly blessed to know you. You are a beautiful mother, artist, and sister in Christ.

    Hugs and blessings sweet friend,

  2. James Smith on June 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Really liked your very sincere thoughts regarding balancing two vocations. I am a 25-year old seminarian with much the same issues to tackle, although from a different standpoint (priest/artist instead of mother/artist.) I I have and continue to deal with similar things to those you describe — especially the need to use ANYWHERE as a studio, lol!

    I could not agree more that if you are really a sincere artist, you are BORN that way and have to take your calling seriously. Although I don’t know many people (in fact, none at all in classical realism) who are studying for the Priesthood and also striving to produce serious art, I am nevertheless highly motivated because God has always helped me make these things work. Your art is marvelous. I wish you the best! +


  3. hempelstudios on June 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you both so much for your kind words. I’ve really appreciated your prayers and encouragement, Rosann! You got me excited about blogging again.

    James, thank you so much for visiting my site. Being a Christian and an artist certainly does leave one feeling very out of place, doesn’t it? People see art as optional, but it really is not. The human soul cries out for it.

    • James Smith on June 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      Right, I agree. There are lots of good Christians out there with a very compromised sense of aesthetics. Sometimes ‘simple’ people don’t really get the value of art. It’s up to those of us called to create and understand art to try and educate that with works really living up to the high expectations of our craft. What we do, we are doing for God.

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