The Art of Making a Mess


I do just enough dishes to have a clean spot on the counter to paint. Listening to the shitstorm that is American politics on the radio, I fear that my dumb little animals are meaningless. I paint them anyway.

I dream of projects I have no time to complete, making to do lists and marshalling the kids to plow through chores. When I run out of steam, I crash hard.

I can’t breathe.

In the bathroom, I’m emptying my diva cup into the toilet, and the baby pulls herself up on the edge of the toilet seat. She’s fast. She’s waving her hand around my crotch, as I see some of my menstrual blood drip out of the cup. I don’t see where it goes. I check the white tile, my bare leg, the baby’s clothes. I see her huge, stupid grin. And then my blood trickles down her cheek.

There’s an alert on my phone. It’s a portrait client who wants an update. I haven’t worked on her painting in a month. I was going to finish it before this job I had set up for a local performance piece, but I got sick, and I had to put her painting on the backburner while I addressed the other deadline. I don’t tell her I was sick. To me “I was sick” is code for “I have terrible time management skills.”

painting with kids

I haven’t been able to paint for a week. The baby cries every time I set her down. So I set up a large watercolor canvas on a low table in the living room and start painting together with the girls. The painting looks pretty amazing, until Phoebe scribbles all over it when I’m out of the room.

I am never alone, but so lonely. I am trying to create beauty, but feel like a wreck. But I can’t stop carrying my kids with me, and I can’t stop craving moments to make art any less than a drowning person could stop craving air.

Phoebe and I paint together again. She keeps making chaotic choices, trying out things I don’t like, and I keep trying to rein her in. She gets the paint pallet way too wet and pours it over the canvas and I’m biting my tongue because I want to freak out. But then I realize the splatter gives the sky a unique texture, and the saturation of the colors is truly amazing. I love it more than anything I’ve ever made on my own. When it dries, I hang it up above my bed.

asteroid in purple sky

bird scribbles

While clearing away a stack of papers, I find that first piece that I thought Phoebe ruined. I realize it isn’t so bad after all. The scribbles kind of look like birds. So I hang it in the kitchen. It reminds me that maybe it’s ok to just not be ok, at least for a little while.

And, for a moment, I feel free.

10 Responses to The Art of Making a Mess

  1. Cassie September 21, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    This is amazing 🙂 So naked and honest. <3

  2. Caroline September 22, 2016 at 5:12 am #

    I love your house, I love all your colours and I love you art and your art with kids. You have got everything right as far as I can see …your home looks so inviting and cosy ..I wanna sit on that duvet cover after scribbling all day…it is so hard isn’t it some days and I know that feeling of intense loneliness while at the same time not getting a moment to yourself …my kids drive me potty, my house is an explosion of crap and yet I see so much beauty in your pictures …you are helping me to see the beauty in mine. Please keep sharing have something to say and to show..thank you.

    • ekwetzel September 25, 2016 at 7:00 am #


      Thank you so much. I truly believe that there is extraordinary beauty to be found in ordinary moments. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this space with me.


  3. Charlotte Wise September 22, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    I know its so hard when you are feeling down when people say you’re amazing, because you don’t feel it, and it all just feels like words and meaningless. But you, writing things like this, connect so much with people you don’t know. I needed to read something like this today to help me and save the crash being so hard. Am a week until baby 2 due, with little money, less time to be creative with my photography business and a general sense of foreboding that I and life are falling apart even though nothing is actually wrong. Apart from the money thing. Which it seems we all have. I had to empty the change bottle again to buy some milk! but, you show the way to keep on going x thank you x it is a beautiful thing xx

    • ekwetzel September 25, 2016 at 6:56 am #


      Your comment is like a gift. I keep coming back to it & wanting to say something equally touching back to you, but I don’t have the right words. The photos on your site are beautiful. Hold onto your kids & your camera & let the chaos change you into something complicated and beautiful.


  4. Tiff September 22, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    I’ve been following you on instagram but this is my first comment on your blog(i think). I just want you to know…this post spoke to me…i too am never alone but ever so lonely. Sometimes the lonely is physically painful and brings tears to my eyes. I have children who love me dearly but no true friends. My family is no where close to us(all well over a thousand miles away). It’s just an island of us. I am a stay at home and in my town that is a rarity…so i am even more isolated. I love being creative but my time for that is sparse. I feel like I’ve lost myself but i don’t know where I’ve gone. I really can’t describe my lonely…it just sucks. I know this won’t help your lonely…but i wanted youvto know you aren’t alone.


    • ekwetzel September 25, 2016 at 6:58 am #

      Hi Tiff,

      We’re in it together. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your lonely with me.


  5. Jeniffer Smith September 22, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    You have captured perfectly that struggle for creative mamas, the one between being present with our children and being present in our art. Often, one supersedes the other. It’s a rare and wonderful thing when they work together. <3

  6. Kelly September 25, 2016 at 6:17 am #

    Erin, you have got to get some meds or get your meds checked. And you have got to figure out how to not resent your life/mothering choices/stage of life before the little girls you write about resenting all the time are old enough to find it. Seriously. Stop wallowing and get help. Find a MOPS group, go to La Leche League, talk to your doctor. You can’t live like this – it isn’t fair to you and it isn’t fair to anyone else. Newsflash: shit gets a whole lot harder. Eventually those girls won’t be small enough to pick up and physically move when they act out. Eventually they will start screaming back. How long do you think you can go on like this before you snap? What does being a martyr help? If you aren’t willing to get help, you forfeit the right to complain. See. Your. Doctor. ~ A mom of grown kids who lived with PPD

  7. Sarah September 25, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

    I don’t know the last time I have really painted … Thank you for sharing. This is such a real pain. So often I wonder how I can feel so alone when I have 3 littles….