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Rachel Gresswell

New Zealand expat illustrator

S1 Ep16

Rachel Gresswell

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Today I am joined by the delightful Rachel Gresswell. Rachel is a visual artist based in Melbourne VIC, and a mum of 2.

After initially training in painting in New Zealand, Rachel transitioned to drawing, and drawing for animation - creating moving image works out of drawings, or a series of drawings. She was particularly taken by the tequnique developed by William Kentridge.

In this episode we deconstruct the concept of mum guilt and what it means to Rachel, how she uses her art practice to record the day to day moments of her children’s’ childhood how she find wonder and inspiration in the everyday mundane events of our lives and the shift that took place in her mindset in relation to how her art and her work and home life actually could co-exist, and even enhance each other.

**This episode contains discussion around post natal anxiety**

Rachels website and Instagram - -

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Music used with permission - Alemjo -

When chatting to my guests I greatly appreciate their openness and honestly in sharing their stories. If at any stage their information is found to be incorrect, the podcast bears no responsibility for my guests' inaccuracies.

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Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of The Art of Being A Mum Podcast. I'm beyond honoured that you're here and would be grateful if you could take 2 minutes to leave me a 5-star review in iTunes or wherever you are listening. It really helps! This way together we can inspire, connect and bring in to the light even more stories from creative mums. Want to connect? Take a screenshot of this episode and share it on Instagram tagging me in with @art_of_being_a_mum_podcast

I can't wait to connect. And remember if you or somebody you know would like to be a guest on the podcast, get in touch! I love meeting and chatting to mammas from all creative backgrounds, from all around the world!


Thank you!


Alison acknowledges this Land of the Berrin (Mount Gambier) Region as the Traditional Lands of the Bungandidj People and acknowledge these First Nations people as the custodians of the Region.


Welcome to the art of being among the podcast where we hear from mothers who are creators and artists sharing their joys and issues around trying to be a mother and continue to make art. My name's Alison Newman. I'm a singer, songwriter, and mother of two boys from regional South Australia. I have a passion for mental wellness, and a background in Early Childhood Education. Welcome to the podcast. Today I'm joined by the delight from Rachel Cresswell. Rachel is a visual artist from Melbourne, Victoria, and a mom of two. After initially training in painting in New Zealand, right to transition to drawing and drawing for animation, creating Moving Image works out of drawings or a series of drawings. She was particularly taken by the technique developed by William Kentridge. In this episode, we deconstruct the concept of mom guilt, and what it means to Rachel, how she uses her art practice to record the day to day moments of her children's childhood, how she finds the wonder and inspiration in the everyday mundane events of our lives. And the shift that took place in her mindset in relation to how her art and her work, and home life could actually coexist, and even enhance each other. This episode contains discussion around postnatal anxiety My guest today is Rachel Cresswell. Thank you so much for coming on. Rachel, it's lovely to welcome you to the podcast.

Thank you, Alison. It's my pleasure.

Fantastic. So for those who are not familiar with you and your work, could you give us a little bit of a rundown on what kind of art you create? What kind of mediums you work with that kind of thing?

Yeah, sure. So I'm a visual artist, and I initially trained in painting. But really, over the last few years have worked mainly in drawing, and a lot of drawing for animation, as well. Yeah, so creating Moving Image works out of drawing those areas of drawings, and just starting to dabble back into painting now as well. So that's, I guess, an overview of my work.

Yeah. How did you initially get into to drawing in the painting,

I did a Bachelor of Fine Arts in my late teens and early 20s. And in New Zealand. I did that straight after. After high school, I had some really great teachers all through high school, and they sort of encouraged me to apply. And I was accepted. And yeah, I absolutely loved my undergrad years. Four years of just yeah, having a great time. And yeah, I've maintained a practice since that period. Which, yes, it's quite a long time ago now, I guess. But I've just this year started my MFA. So my Master of Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts here in Melbourne. So it's been a long sort of hiatus between study, but just really thrilled to be back in that environment again, and yeah, hoping to see, you know, what comes out of it and what the next stage looks like, I guess.

Yeah, sure. So as a kid growing up, we always sort of an arty person. You're always into touring and things like that.

Yeah, definitely. Yep. I loved. Yeah. All of that stuff. I love sewing, as well. You know, working with textiles, any kind of craft thing. My mom is really creative. So she always still, you know, we'll always have loads of projects on the go. So was definitely, yeah, all around me. And certainly encouraged. And, yeah, definitely, from early, early primary school years through through high school. All sorts of all sorts of different projects, I guess. Yeah.

Oh, that's really good. I, when you said about your animation, I was just completely taken by your animation I saw on your Instagram account. I was just, ah, I was just blown away. My son. He's, he likes to draw and create things. And I said, Alex, come and look at this. And he was like, Oh, wow, that is so cool. Yeah. Can you explain just a little bit about that, like, I could explain it but I'm, I don't speak the same language.

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. I'm, there are just so many possibilities with animation, moving image and and drawing and, you know, there's so many tools now that are also available. You know, with iPads and stop motion animation software, and, you know, Apple pencils and things like that. So the, I guess the possibilities are kind of endless, but my sort of technique is very old school. So that's literally, you know, drawing a frame, rubbing it out redrawing the next one and sort of photographing them all in between. And then they get laid out on a on a timeline and editing software. And you notice a shift between the small shifts between the drawings that create this sense of motion. And that's a technique. Really, that came to the fore, I guess, through William Kentridge, who is a South African artist. And he's made, you know, huge numbers of films, dealing with, you know, situations of apartheid in South Africa and all sorts of, I guess, geopolitical themes, and he's exhibited widely through, you know, in Australia a lot. So, I've been lucky enough to see a lot of his work in the flesh. So is that yeah.

Are you into that style? Initially, when you discovered his work? Or how did you sort of get into salutely?

Yeah, yeah. So I had a couple of lectures at whitecliff went when I was in work with college and Auckland, when I was doing my undergrad who, you know, shared his work and a lot. You know, we've talked a lot about it. And yeah, it really piqued my interest in I was just was captivated. really captivated by the magic of it. Yeah,

yeah. I just love it. It's like, the the images are over. I think it's easy to steal

five more recently on Instagram, a different technique, which has been super fun to discover. So that's, yeah, they're just using an Apple Pencil in procreate, which is just a little program that I got on the iPad. So they're fantastic. So they're just literally drawing over that that still image and that just seems that my boys playing? Yeah, I guess I'm gonna get the things that we've been up to and locked down. Yeah, just slower. And that's really funny. Actually, I've been finding that making those little animations are kind of almost like triggers for memory, I guess. So when I look back at those I can remember in quite in quite a lot of detail. Like being with the boys in that situation, whether it was you know, jumping in the puddle or playing in the backyard with a leather that type of thing. So, yeah, I have a terrible memory. But I find when I've invested the time to create, you know, these these drawings, which, yeah, they do actually take a bit of time work. But I find like, they really cement that event into my memory, which I'm super glad because you know what it's like with little kids like moments are so fleeting and anything that can help you to remember these day to day experiences as

gold. Yeah, it really helps you to hold on to those. Those they seem like maybe, like you said, like, day to day experiences, but they are so special, because that's all those little experiences going to create, you know, their child. Yeah, it's an incredible way to record them growing up really. I mean, I'd be pretty psyched if I looked back and my mom was doing that sort of stuff for me. It's pretty special for before you had your children, like you just mentioned how the children are, they come out in your work. Can you talk about where your inspiration has sort of come from and

I'm, I've always been really interested in the the idea of the every day so I guess the things that take up our day that necessarily special or memorable but that is They they take our time Our time has invested in doing these things every day. And I guess from after having kids, a lot of that does become very domestic just because you're in the house or around the house so much with them, and you're doing so much for them. So I guess it's me being interested in the everyday that's sort of channeled my attention that way. But I guess before having kids. Yeah, I was interested in things around work and around memory and kind of family and those sorts of things. It's almost hard to remember, in some ways, because I guess having kids is such an all consuming kind of thing. And it's such has such a profound effect on your life. Yes, it's almost hard to remember. Before that. What I would say at the moment is my MFA my, is a research program. So the theme of my research, or what I'm looking at investigating is more around representations of faith in contemporary visual arts practice and Australia at the moment, and I guess, looking at how that shifted in recent history, in line with Australia becoming a more secular nation. So I guess there's those two points that have influenced my work both before kids and now it's, it's, it's around questions of faith, and it's also around the idea of the everyday, and certainly how those things are connected, and how they influence and speak to each other. So that's words that you but yeah,

quite well. Yeah, cuz your example, one of your work, so I was looking at it from above, it's at a desk, so the person might be moving the mouse or moving the pen. And it's like, it just makes you stop and think about, like you said, it's, you know, a lot of people might document like a birthday party or, you know, something a big event like,

yeah, yeah. That you do,

over and over and over and over again. You know, it just that when I saw that I just made me stop and think, oh, wow, like, that's an incredible thing to me, because you would have had to put so much focus into that to draw that many times. And, you know, I just found that yeah, incredible. Yeah.

Yeah. Yeah. And that was a work. That was literally about work. And that was about, I guess, when you know, when you're growing up, and you think of being an artist or something like that, you think, yeah, you know, I'll be an artist, that'll be my job. But it's like, no, the reality is, I'm going to have to have a job, like a job job to support the arts practice. So I guess in that particular work that you're referring to, it's, yeah, it was me grappling with, I guess these two parts of my identity, or not even identity but the things that I do and I'm looking at one through, I think I said in the statement looking at one through the lens of the other, I've always seen them as two quite distinct camps, and in some ways, but this was an attempt to kind of reconcile that for myself, I guess. Yeah.

So let's jump on in and chat about your children. So you've got a couple of boys. Yeah, two boys. They six, four. So

currently at home with us with with lockdowns? Yeah. But now they're good. Most kids probably they're just big energy. People. Lots of lots of fun. Lots of nice, yeah, lots of everything. Before we had kids, I was working full time. And in some ways, I've found that more of a challenge to have an app practice With full time work in some ways, there's something about the energy that you expend, or that I found I needed to have in my job was just kind of greater than them what it is to be with kids all day. And in some ways, yes, kiss. Yeah. So so there's that I found it hard to come home after a day of work, I guess and, and sort of reset, and do a second shift with that, which I did do. But I found that I did find it really challenging. And then, when I was pregnant, I naively thought that, yeah, I'm gonna not work I'm gonna have all this time and it's gonna be amazing. And the baby's just gonna, you know, sleep quietly, and it's quite

famous last was

totally different, didn't happen. But in some ways, I you know, even with little babies still had tiny pockets of time through the day when Remi eldest son was born, I sent myself a little challenge of, of doing these contour drawings of his first 100 days of life. And they were just tiny, like little a five drawings and I've got this really clear memory of, you know, sitting beside the bassinet and he had quite a routine 25 minute sleep cycle that the first sleep cycle so I remember like at 20 minutes, I'd start rocking the bassinet trying to get them across that get to the next sleep cycle then I used to do these little contour drawings while I was doing that and then as they've gotten older I I only work three days a week now so yeah, I guess times just shift it around a bit but certainly on the days when I'm at home with the boys Oh, they definitely won't have more energy for that for that night shift on that yeah yeah, it's just everything's different at the moment because of COVID and lock downs. Yeah, like everything's just a giant kind of mess and we're making making the rest of it and trying to squeeze in things here and there but there's no real routine at the moment I guess I'll have them work there's a workers and yeah, every day's a school

day I feel for you guys over there My goodness. Because your children in your art, do they like to look at themselves in your art? Like do they get excited to be part of

Yeah, yeah, they do. They do. They love it. Actually. I love looking at it. And I've been surprised even some more abstract things they've been able to, you know, pick each other out. So yes, yeah. They're involved. I know that I do it. You know, we often paint together or not often we sometimes paint that's not a sort of a stressful activity. Yeah,

you prepared for things like that? Don't you have to get ready to clean up and have not have to go everywhere? I work in childcare so I can understand what you're saying.

Oh, goodness, childcare is amazing. I love my job. I get to like it's it's kind of a relief that the kids get to do all those types of activities at childcare because

Oh, yeah. Okay, but you got to you got to get it out of childcare. And then you can get changed and it's fine. You can go home looking like you haven't touched any paint or text lately

A couple of the big topics I like to chat to my guests about are mum guilt, and identity. I guess I can just ask him, What do you feel about the topic of mum guilt?

It doesn't really resonate as a term so much with me. I guess. Yeah, I mean, of course, I would have worries about the kids or, you know, certain things that are going on on with them that you you worry about. I think after I had Remi, our first child I had, I had quite bad postnatal anxiety. Um, so I definitely would think that I had a lot of guilt then about certain things. And a lot of that was tied into breastfeeding issues. And I had all sorts of things that were misdiagnosed, and it kind of came to a head and I switched over to bottle feeding. So I definitely had guilt around those sorts of issues quite early on. And just the classic, you know, expectations on your stuff that, in hindsight, are unrealistic. And but, you know, it's very hard to see that for yourself. Yeah. But I guess now, I think my practice has always fitted in around the kids, probably, and especially until this year, when I started doing my masters. So I've never, I've never felt guilt in a sense that, you know, time that I've been investing in that has been taken away from them, because it's always been something that I've done at night. You know, occasionally, might have had a few hours in a day type of thing. Also, I think, when I think about the word guilt, it, it feels to me like it's something that you would feel after you've done something that you knew intentionally was wrong, or misguided, or bad or something like that. Whereas I think being a parent, you're always acting in their best interest you. You're trying to do your best even if, you know, maybe it's not, maybe it's, it's not quite right, but yeah, so I guess there's a term but it's not something that would sit, sit with me, I really am. I think if there was something that was bothering me, you know, be quite quick to talk to Simon and my, my husband about it and you know, thrash it out together type thing. Yeah. It does feel like a label. And it feels like it. It, it does a disservice to the very real and deep feelings that you would have towards your child. Like it feels like it kind of almost glosses over that depth of feeling that or concern that that you have for your child. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I don't. Yeah. Yep. It's so much more complex and detailed and unique. Individual then, you know, then being able to apply a label like that, I guess.

Not all love that answer. Age dwellers Cafe is a fortnightly ish, long form interview based podcast featuring conversations about politics, environment and mental health in a world on edge with Ben had it. Ben is an international relations researcher, environmental educator, mental health advocate, and longtime friend of mine who enjoys having a yarn over a hot coffee. The podcast tries to make sense of the different kinds of edges that define us, divide us and shape how we interact with each other. In a world that's gone a little bonkers, and what it means to be a little different. Check it out at pod or wherever you get your podcasts. So then leading into identity and I you did mention it earlier, talking about your work and your art practice. When when you throw motherhood in the mix. Do you feel like that it's important for you to retain that the part of yourself that isn't the mother?

Yeah, absolutely. So I guess like I was saying earlier I use I used to think about things being more siloed in these kind of camps, like I had my art practice and I went to work and those two things didn't really intersect, but over the last few years, and maybe it's an impact of having kids, I'm not sure. But when I think of all those different types of, perhaps of identity or other roles and embedded comments that that I would have, you know, as, as a mum, and as an artist, and as a spouse, daughter, everything, yeah, I see myself as being all those things equally. And fully, I don't see them as part of the jigsaw either that that would fit together. But, but that I'm all those things. And practically speaking, of course, they have different kind of biting, you know, different stages of life, or even through the course of the day, like those things fall into a natural kind of balance, but they're all part of an integrated life. And I've, I think I've finally gotten my head around that a bit more, and that they don't, they don't have to bite up against each other. It's just all they can sort of all everything all the time. Yeah, yep. And but they definitely feed into each other. So if I've, you know, had some space and time through the way to, to focus on my artwork and to be quiet in the studio, then absolutely, that reflects in the way that I am with, with my kids in the sense that I think it helps me to be more present. When I am with them. I'm not so much thinking about. But it allows me time and space, I guess, to really focus on them. So I think they shifted from thinking that they all these different things take away from each other, but they don't they all support each other and work together. Like I said, as part of an integrated life. So that's been a big shift for me, and, and being able to shift my thinking around there. And I think it's helped. Yeah, help me manage my expectations. I guess I've myself. Yeah, I think it just, it kind of satisfies that desire, I guess to for that part of your life that then enables you to concentrate on another aspect. And that's, that, that sounds very kind of cut and dried. But thanks, unconsciously, it's, it's all those things feeding into each other. And, and, yeah.

It's a wonderful abs and no one's ever answered it in quite that way. I think that's a lovely thing. Yeah. That's really cool. Especially because, yeah, you've adjusted your thinking, and you've come to this realization, I think that's awesome.

Yeah, helping me to be a bit more, a bit more settled, I think. Yeah, yeah. And not always, not always feeling like things are taking away from each other. I think that's a big thing. Things are not at the expense of each other. It's just a different balance of time and space in that moment.

And then I guess you can feel quite comfortable with whatever you're doing at that time. Yeah, you like sort of keep saying it again. But you can actually be quite settled in that moment and not have your mind racing off.

Elsewhere. Yeah. Yeah.

That's, I think that's gonna help a lot of people actually. Hearing you say, that's something a lot of people's do struggle with.

Yeah, definitely. It's, and it's not saying time for that as something selfish or only fulfilling yourself, but it has a broader impact out into kids and family life.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, a lot of people talk about needing that something for themselves, so they can feel fulfilled. And then that helps them present. I hate saying the word best version of themselves, but the version that they want to present to their children or to their spouse or to their work. So they they need that to fill them up. So then they can go out in the world and

how they want to be, I suppose. Yeah. 100% agree with it. And it manifests in all sorts of different things. You know, for some people, it's exercise or cooking or whatever it is that I guess is is good for the spirit. Yeah, that's Sitting here. Yeah, absolutely.

We talk a lot in childcare about having a cup filled up, like with the children have that emotional cup filled up and it's so important as adults not to forget that we actually do need that. Yeah, absolutely. Have you got other

mums that have had a similar experience juggling the art and, and mothering that you've sort of been added to?

Yeah. Probably not in my immediate network or my immediate friends group, but certainly call it colleagues or other people that are at school that you come into contact with. But I think what I found most valuable is just the friends who are juggling some sort of balance between being a mother and also like, we were talking about continuing to invest in those things that they feel it feels fills them up. So, you know, for some it's work completely and it's it's about maintaining that balance between work life and home life. And you know, for others, it's, I guess, different sorts of hobbies, but I guess yeah, there's probably no one specifically. With Ah, that's, that's close to me. But I would also listen to a lot of podcasts and things like that not not even so much to do with being a parent and managing an app practice. But I, I guess there's this so much available you can be you can kind of always find something that that helps you in some aspect of your life. I really enjoyed that episode you had with Rachel power. Yeah, I read her book. Very early on, when after we had me a son, that that was a real game changer for me because I was really struggling with postnatal anxiety. And I just lost myself in that book. I just, I just loved it. You know, just, I think, just realizing, which seems so obvious now. But realizing that you know, so many people are in the same boat juggling, dealing with the same issues. And I think having your first child, it's such a shock. Well, I found it's such a shock to the system. Just completely turned my life upside down. And I know it's the same for everyone. But I think reading that book. It really helped me early on. I think, yeah, yeah,

a lot of people have said that to me that it almost it gave them validation that what they're experiencing was actually okay, and normal. And you know, this Yeah. And I told him to Rachel was amazing. She's such a generous person. To lovely to talk to. Yeah, and that's thing I think, even like, we know, everyone has kids, like, we know lots of people have children, but when it's happening to you, you can feel so alone and so confused and lost and just takes you know, in that case, one thing to say actually, this is normal you get liberated, you know,

because there's so much information like there's so much information and and to find something that really help is helpful and really resonates it's that's yeah, it's worth the trawling through all the other stuff that you find yourself googling it. Three o'clock in the morning when the baby won't sleep or feed, but certainly you're taking advice from some, you know, mother and Midwest, Texas. Some time What am I doing? Oh man

So my main focus at the moment is my MFA. I'm doing that part time. So it's going to be a four year process, which is great at the moment, because, you know, so much time has been consumed with lockdown and homeschooling and just being on full time as a parent. But definitely in the background, I'm chipping away at, at work that I'm developing as part of my, my studies, and some working with my, I have two supervisors as well, who I meet with, you know, kind of every three to four weeks to look at things. So I'm working on a new series of drawings, which are taking that concept of animation, so of sort of things moving through time, and, and displaying that kind of, or working with that visually, but they're not drawings that are layered on top of each other, as they have been previously for making animation. So I guess, I'm exploring the possibilities of, of time, like the passing of time in in drawing without the final outcome being an animation, so they'll stay as a suite of drawings that will, I think, be like the final outcome, but still dealing with these with the ideas of, of times, passing and how to represent that visually, and aesthetic to deform. Yeah, so that's sort of where I am at the moment with, with, with my studies. And, and, as I said earlier, my research is, is looking at representations of face I'm working with identifying artists who work with those sorts of things in their work currently, and, and also looking at the sort of working back in into recent history and, and looking at how questions of faith have been articulated in, in art.

Yeah, it's really interesting. So yeah, it's almost like you're being a bit of an art historian.

Yeah. And drawing threads from that into my own practice as well. You know, things that you you read and, and think about, you know, have a way of weaving themselves into your own practice. Certainly, that's, that's been my experience anyway, so it's quite loose. I don't have, you know, an endpoint mind at all. It's just starting to flesh out some of these. These ideas, I guess. Yeah. But it's very slow. And a lot of it is just going on and in my head, because we don't have the bandwidth at the moment to, you know, be spending a lot of time in the studio. Yeah,

yeah. When this damn COVID moves or moves on. You'll be back. Yeah.

Yeah. If you or someone you know, would like to be a guest on the podcast, please contact me at the link in the bio. Or send me an email at Alison Newman dotnet

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