Teach passion by modeling passion

Erin Wetzel is an illustrator and portrait artist. She lives in Washington state with her young family. Connect with her on Instagram where she documents everyday motherhood.

You can tell when we’re broke, because that’s when I run my art sales. Last week, we needed gas and groceries. I set a discount for art prints and made what we needed in six hours. One time I slashed prices on commissions and made enough to pay the mortgage.

I didn’t go to art school. My goal was never to have my work hang in the Guggenheim. I make art for more immediate reasons: to pay the bills. But, also, because it’s what I’m good at and what I love.

Most people say their children take them away from their art. That’s not my experience. If I never became a mother, I would have never become an artist. Many of my struggles in adulthood were exasperated by a lack of self knowledge and independence. When I chose to homeschool, I wanted to give my kids a chance to take risks early on when the stakes are low and I’m here to support them. I don’t want my girls growing up with a broken sense of how the world works. I want them to pursue truth and passion. But how could I do that if I wasn’t, on some level, pursuing the same?

Phoebe is five now, “school age.” Even though I believe in unschooling, I feel like it’s cheating because it is easier for me. So we bought a curriculum set, but never opened it. Phoebe has stopped playing the educational games on her iPad and keeps asking me to download fashion games and birth games. I stopped buying books about unschooling because I stopped reading them, but I still have them on my Amazon wish list. It’s hard to let go of the notion that I should be doing more to teach her.

Meanwhile, our friend lost the battle to cancer, leaving behind his wife and two young kids. When we talked about the death in front of Phoebe, she broke down crying and clung to her sister. “I don’t want you to die, Clemmy!” Matt doesn’t want Phoebe at the memorial service. He’s worried she’ll freak out. But funerals don’t scar young kids; being shielded from the grieving process is what causes psychological harm.

All of life is a learning experience.

People ask me, “How do you paint with young kids?” What they mean is, “I could never do that!”

But I’m not special—I’m just not afraid of being a mess. I can’t stop creating, so I hold my baby or set Phoebe up with paints, and I sit with them, and we paint. I don’t need time apart from my kids so I can paint. I carry them through with me.

One of the reasons we keep our kids home is because we’re rebelling against this notion of having perfect, segmented areas of life: she is teacher, she is mother, she is artist. Instead, we become all things, imperfectly, all mixed up together, and each role informs and shapes the others.

15 replies
  1. Liat
    Liat says:

    If she’s only five I wouldn’t worry! Kids don’t formally school in Finland till 7 and studies have shown kids starting at 9 doing better and catching up in reading and math. I think you can totally relax for a bit!! That said unless a child is dyslexic I think you can read books she’s interested in and get a book with letters and words. And since you’re so artistic work on letter number art projects. She’s a youngin. Don’t worry. Awesome post!!

  2. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I love how motherhood unlocked your creativity and you decided not to compartmentalise your life. Inspiring post, thank you

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Nice post Erin.

    “All of life is a learning experience.”

    Amen to that. And thankfully the learning experience is lifelong.

  4. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Oh my gosh yes!

    So much yes!

    The thing about being willing to be a mess is that you find that people dislike it because what they’re afraid of is right in front of them. But you also find fantastic people that are so real and get so good at the struggle and being messy and being so good and interesting.

    I take my kids everywhere I go.

    I felt anxious at first. I knew they’d be like kids. They are not those super nice kids that keep quiet and don’t touch things. They run and call “mommy!” a thousand times. But I just kept repeating to myself that they are a part of society and therefore they have a place just because.

    So people around us were forced to make room for US and they learned to go at the speed of the people around them. We haven’t reached perfect symbiosis but kinda. I mean, whatever, it works.

    Many dream of going away to a quiet place to write or meditate or make art of have a marriage or whatever. But I think it is in the struggle that the good stuff is born.

    And I totally ADORE your openness about slashing prices to make the mortgage and things like that. Why not? All the things that break with your loud vulnerability. All those things that we didn’t need to have anyway.

  5. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi Erin! I’m amazed at how you pursue your passion. My passion is reading, and I already read a lot for work and leisure. If I could, I would just read all day. But sometimes I get in trouble at home for not planning ahead. How do you balance pursuing your passion with doing necessary tasks for the day? Thank you!

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        LOL, we have had much worse breakfast options. :)

        I love the cute food dishes you make for your kids. That is it’s own art.

  6. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    What a great post.

    Clem is so adorable.

    Another passion anecdote; my sis choreographs for her kids dance, for sure her kids pushed her creatively. I was just watching a video my niece posted of dance practice, which includes dogs strolling through the studio. All aspects of life being lived together.

    I am trying not to compartmentalize either, be me at work, be me at home. Just fuzzing up that line is a struggle.


  7. Leonie
    Leonie says:

    Beautiful post Erin.

    Is that a portrait of Penelope’s family that you’re working on in the photo? The colors and outline remind me of the picture she used for her Christmas card post.

  8. The Study of Humans
    The Study of Humans says:

    Do you need to concentrate when you paint or is it second nature? I would love to be able to write well with my 3yo along for the ride. Maybe with practice I’ll get there.


  9. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    I do have to admit, that sometimes I feel more excited about our learning and forecast inquiry directions than my kindergarten learners do. At times, I get so passionate and enthusiastic about a question or a topic, that I just want activities, trials, errors, research, play to all start rolling quicker than ever

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