Hi Charlotte! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, and happy Mother’s Day. Can you start by telling us a little bit about what brought you to Australia from Sweden and what drew you to painting?
Happy Mother’s Day Kate, lovely to chat with you! I always had a niggling feeling that I was supposed to live somewhere else besides Sweden. In my twenties I travelled around the world and when I came to Australia it was love at first sight. I thought this is it, this is my place.
I don’t know if I can say that I was drawn to painting, it’s just part of who I am and what drives me. I’ve always painted, drawn, and created things, it just shifted in to a more ‘practical’ career in design after high school. I love working in design don’t get me wrong, it’s just that when I had kids, I felt like I lost foothold for a long time. I really needed to peel back, simplify and find myself again. Painting is closer to that core and it makes a little spot behind my ribs glow and hum if that doesn’t sound too hippie dippy.
You have two beautiful boys, Lukas (9) and Nils (6) and I’ve been privileged to witness your journey into motherhood. We’ve shared many of the challenges of balancing creativity, small business and parenting along the way. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learnt through your own experience?
I’ve got so many lessons and they never stop coming! I hope you’ve got some time.
My first lesson is that everyone’s journey is different. Some of my creative friends have taken a break from their own work and feel complete fulfilment with the joys of motherhood. Some have managed to grow their creative ventures even quicker than before kids. And then there are mamas like me who didn’t want to take a creative break but had to, just to keep their head above water.
The lesson for me was that I needed to find my own path and that came from looking inside and being good with my map, not looking at what others were doing or going through. Talking and sharing with other creative mums helped a lot though. I asked myself a lot of questions while I was treading water; What brings you joy in your life? What does success in life mean to you? When you are 92 and you are looking back at your life, what will you remember, what will you be proud of, what will you regret?
My answer was to live surrounded by family and friends, raise my boys to be good humans. To paint, make things and share it with people. Live at the beach. Make choices that are better for the planet. To be all of myself to the world – dorky, emotional, always full of thoughts and love. I revisit my list all the time when I lose perspective.
Another thing I try to practise is to chat to myself like I would to a good friend. I have full conversations with myself over tea, and you know what’s crazy? I mostly have the answers! I’m also getting better at being kind to myself in those conversations. Sometimes I have to pull myself up and say, would you really speak to a good friend like that? Also, it’s a journey! Take the scenic route. Stop to smell the roses. Pat the dog. Do a little detour to find something beautifully unexpected.
Your family moved from Brunswick to Mornington Peninsula last year. How has that impacted your family dynamic and your art practice? What do you love most about living there?
I think that what surrounds us is reflected in us and it’s part of what we become. Nature and the ocean are what re-charge me, so I feel completely like I’ve come home. I don’t feel the same stress as I used to. The pace is slower. I’m more in-tune with myself and my art. When we were in Brunswick, we used to spend the weekends at play-centres and shopping at Barkly Square. Now we go to the beach, explore rock pools, surf and ride bikes. It’s what I dreamed of for the kids – to have an opportunity to be connected to nature.
Life with kids can be chaotic, messy, loud and extremely busy. How do you find moments of calm throughout your day and get into a creative flow?
I need to schedule my creative time. When the boys were younger I only had a couple of hours here and there so I would collage. I would tell myself that it was the act of making that mattered not the outcome. Clem would take the boys to the playground and I would cut and glue, no thought process. Sometimes it would be crap, sometimes there would be some grain of gold in there, but I’d always enjoy the making.
Now the boys are both in school I have one day a week to paint. Even though I have some solid time dedicated to painting, it doesn’t always mean that I’m in the mood. Then I negotiate with myself. Sometimes I just prime or prep some canvases and go for a run. Sometimes I do something that normally isn’t part of my process, like a completely abstract painting playing with colour, or I get some clay out and make a mask, or just some doodles on paper.
Sometimes inspiration strikes when it’s time to make dinner, and then Clem, my love and teammate, steps in so I can finish that creative thought.
To add to my ‘lessons learnt’ I’ve realised that it’s easy to be fixated on outcome, output, and deadlines, at least when you are trying to turn your creativity in to something to live from. With my painting, I’m trying to keep it in a sphere where I have room to play, fail, try new things, and not restrict myself too much by the expectations of myself or others. I’m hoping that by doing so, I’ll do better work.
It must be hard living so far away from your own mum, especially now that international travel isn’t possible. How do you stay connected to your Swedish heritage? Are there any Swedish traditions that you’ve introduced your boys to?
Honestly, it’s so hard, thank goodness for Skype though! I really struggle to keep up the traditions on my own. We have so many of them and they are really fun and quirky too! I’ve realised that traditions have so much to do with your extended family and community, you come together to celebrate.
We do have Swedish friends over for Easter and Christmas and make traditional food. We also go to Swedish community groups to celebrate Valborg or Midsommar sometimes. Easter has probably been the easiest for me to introduce the boys too. We usually decorate branches inside with homemade decorations (kind of like a Christmas tree but with feathers and eggs), and then the kids dress up as witches and go door knocking asking for lollies (kind of like Halloween). There’s always a kind neighbour that can be convinced to take part.
Lastly, can you tell us a bit about where your mind goes when you’re painting?
Oh, I love that question! I need music when I paint. I can’t have podcasts or audiobooks on because I need to hear my own brain. I listen to my own thoughts while I paint, but it’s a different place in my mind to when I go for a walk and think for example. I guess you could describe it as a form of meditation. The flow of music, creating and thinking makes its own language in a deep, subconscious form.
Learn more about Charlotte Swiden here.