Vanessa Roeder, whose professional art-alias is Nessa Dee, is one of those super moms we like to imagine only exist in comic books. Not only is she a talented artist, but she also homeschools her three equally amazing children. In this Conversations with Smart People interview, I asked Vanessa for some tips on how to make time for art when life gets busy.
Art offers an outlet for creative expression and, when used as a self-care tool, it can also have a positive impact on our health. In many ways, art is our unique interpretation of the world. Vanessa was gracious enough to share some of her thoughts about how art has enriched her life and supported the emotive aspects of her well-being.
Q: How on earth do you find the time to immerse yourself into art projects when you also homeschool three kids?
Vanessa: Being organized was not always a strength of mine, but as my family and the demands of homeschooling grew, I was forced into it. Once I made my art career a priority and defined my goals, I knew I had to start utilizing my time wisely. I try to stick to a schedule of schooling in the morning, and painting in the afternoon. On days I know I won’t be able to set foot in the studio, I’ll carry a sketchbook with me to hash out ideas for a picture book or new paintings. Deadlines and lists work wonders! I have a large calendar on my wall in my studio, and when I’m immersed in a project, it is filled with daily lists and weekly deadlines. It’s so satisfying to be able to cross something off a list. No matter how much I plan and schedule out our week, though, life with three kids can be unpredictable. School can drag out into the afternoon or evening, studio time becomes “let’s interrupt Mom” time, and days can pass without getting any of my art goals accomplished, but I’ve learned to be flexible. If I don’t get any painting done one day, I’ll sneak it in when I can. I’ll work nights after the kids go to sleep, or on weekends when Dad’s here to keep the crew entertained. It can be extremely frustrating when things don’t go as planned, but I remind myself that raising my kids is my top priority, and getting to paint and illustrate is icing on the cake!
Q: What are some art projects that you have worked on together as a family?
Vanessa: I have some pretty crafty kids, and when they were younger, I used to plan out simple arts and craft projects that we could make together each week. One of my favorite projects was our “Box House.” It was a essentially a stacked city assembled from recycled boxes, paper towel tubes, and any trinkets we could find. My kids immersed themselves in making every little detail of the city, and once it was finished, I was forbade to ever throw it away. Four years later, it still sits in the corner of our play room. As the kids got older my planned projects became springboards for their own creativity, and I learned it was better to just give them access to my art supplies and let them create, as it was with our robot paintings. Before my third was born, I wanted the whole family to make something special for his room, so I threw a bunch of different art supplies in front of the kids, and said, “Make a robot.” Once finished, we ended up with three uniquely wonderful art pieces: a robot made completely out of buttons, one made from paint and scrapbook paper, and one out of ink and washers. They all hang above my youngest’s bed. (We’re still waiting on Dad’s robot, but he made mention to finishing it soon).
Q: As a form of expression, how has art impacted you personally?
Vanessa: Art has been such a prominent part of my life since I was a young child, so I don’t think I realized until much later how making art has affected my emotional well-being. I definitely had periods of my life when art became an outlet for expressing my thoughts and feelings. Even now, when the overall theme of my work is lighthearted and fun, I still sometimes use the canvas to directly reflect my mood, though it’s cleverly disguised in a child centric painting. But I don’t think everyone has to have a Blue Period, or each piece has to express an emotional journey taken in its production for art to be beneficial. Just the act of creating something is, I think, good for the soul. In the busyness of life where there’s this pressure to fit so much into each day, it’s easy to forget to take time to just mentally and physically rest. Painting gives me permission to do just that. When I step into my studio to work, I begin to let go of the stresses of the day, clear my mind, and just focus on putting a paintbrush to canvas. It’s a powerfully restorative process.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of being an artist?
Vanessa: Focusing has been one of my biggest challenges! As a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer differed from day to day, though it always had something to do with art. I can’t say I’ve changed all that much. For a long time, I was haphazardly exploring different facets of art and art mediums from being a muralist to up-cycling furniture. However, as my studio time is precious these days, I’ve had to narrow my focus to only children’s illustration and art, and I constantly remind myself of the goals I’ve set so that I’m not distracted by every new art opportunity that presents itself. I do teach an art class once a week to middle and high schoolers, so if I really feel the urge to try something different, I’ll incorporate it into my lessons.
Q: What is the most unique art medium you have experimented with?
Vanessa: I started dabbling with combining paint and collaged paper in college and was immediately hooked. I loved the texture and depth that layers of paper added to the painting, and I started to crave more of that tactile quality. I experimented with joint compound, tissue paper, fabric, embroidery thread…pretty much anything I could get to stick to the canvas that created more texture. When I realized the canvas could be more than just a two-dimensional surface, everyday objects from keys to buttons, galvanized wire to drawer pulls became my art supplies. While these aren’t typically considered an art medium, reimagining found objects and incorporating them into my art has been creatively satisfying. The downside is that you start looking at every piece junk as an art possibility, and in turn become a hoarder of trinkets.
Vanessa’s talents have not gone unnoticed. In recent years, she’s also become a published illustrator: Varla’s Gift, The Seed, and Useless are all available on Amazon. If you’re interested in seeing more of Nessa Dee’s art, visit her blog, Etsy marketplace or Gallery Direct.