We're so pleased to share Cassandra Ott's colorful work and tips on how creating boundaries and limits for yourself can help defeat the intimidation of the white sheet. I also love how she shares the importance of trusting your intuition in art and in parenting. Thank you so much Cassandra!
Tell us about yourself. How old are your children? Where can we find you?
I am an Artist, Designer and Mother located in Buffalo, NY. I have one son, Silas, who is almost 5.
When I was a kid, I loved playing around with colored markers and tile samples at my dad’s architectural firm, and the textile and pattern books my mom collected. Much of my artwork stems from my love of experimenting with different materials and processes, and a strong love of color, pattern, and contemporary art. I am the Creative Director for a glass dinnerware company based in Pittsburgh (Riverside Design Group), and I also do freelance design work. I spend much of my free time with my family, making art, cooking and eating.
- Website/shop: cassandraott.com
- Instagram: @cassiott
- Facebook: Cassandra Ott Artist
- Pinterest: Cassandra Ott
How has your approach to painting, your processes, medium, or your inspiration changed since having children?
My approach to artwork has definitely changed since having my son. I realized before he was born that I need to be able to have a studio space, however small, in my house. I tried a shared studio space with a friend and my husband for a bit, but it was always hard to get there, or when I was there I wasn’t inspired to work. At the time I was doing paintings and drawings with poured enamels that took forever to dry. The process and results were great at the time, but wasn’t a sustainable art practice for me… not the least of which because the materials were not safe for children to be around.
When Silas was about two (after a long hiatus from a regular art practice), I started The 5/52 Project to get back in a groove. I am a procrastinator by nature, so I gave myself the assignment of making five small pieces of artwork each week for a year (5 pieces / 52 weeks = 5/52 Project). After years away from art making, I was intimidated by a white sheet of paper, so I decided to use vintage photos as a base and bought myself a giant box of PrismaColor colored pencils (all the colors!) which I found inspiring and I could easily pick up and put down without consequence. Sometimes I would work for 15 minutes each night, or sometimes I would need my husband to watch Silas for a few hours on Sunday so I could crank out all 5 before starting the next week. The project made me accountable to myself and also showed me that a whole body of work can be made a little at a time… it all adds up to something if you just keep at it. It also forced me to sit down and do the work, even when I wasn’t inspired or in the mood. I work very well with boundaries and parameters, and I have figured out how to make that work for me.
I have continued to use materials that I can start and stop more easily (mainly gouache, colored pencil, ink, etc). I can work for 15 minutes, or four hours, and when I need to step away I can pick back up where I left off. I’m currently doing a lot of collage, and now that Silas is older, I can do some of the work with him… painting papers, cutting out shapes, gluing pieces…
Is it easy or difficult for you to find/make time to create? Did you have to give anything up? Do you have advice on what works for you?
It ebbs and flows. Sometimes when I’m on a creative roll, it is easy to make the time,.. sometimes it is a drag and feels like pulling teeth. I might watch less tv, not keep up with pop culture, or have one less night to relax with my husband after Silas goes to bed… but it always feels good to have made the time to be creative. It makes me a happier person, which makes me a better wife and mom.
I do best with projects, like the 5/52 Project, or I did a project creating 26 alphabet prints. The boundaries help me stay on track and make progress when I’m in a rut. My husband Aaron, who is a great cheerleader for my creative pursuits, got me the Creative Block (Danielle Krysa) book for Christmas the year it came out. Those creative exercises have helped me discover methods or materials that have spawned new projects for me.
How does being an artist make you a better parent to your children? What do you hope they take away from seeing you as an artist doing something that fulfills you?
Exercising my creativity is something I have been passionate about and done as long as I can remember. I love that each person has their own unique perspective and that 10 people can look at the same blue vase and see or interpret it in their own way. Since becoming a mother, it is nice to maintain something that is uniquely my own. Creating art makes me happy, and a happy mom is a big part of the happy family equation.
I find that a huge part of parenting and art creation is trusting your own intuition. So much changes when we become parents and have children who depend on us for all of their essential needs. It is hard to balance parenthood with our own creative pursuits, but it is so important to maintain a strong sense of self and keep making progress on our own goals. I want Silas to follow his dreams, whatever they may be. While I can help him, that also takes helping myself… sort of the airplane oxygen mask approach. I want to be a good example for him, showing him that to succeed at something takes work, drive, and self-discipline… and if you keep at it, you will be amazed at the things you can do.
Where do you paint or create? What are your favorite things about your workspace and what would you improve? Do you ever create art with your kids?
We bought a house over the summer, and I have the smallest room upstairs as my dedicated office and studio space. We bought this house because it has an awesome, raw, unfinished attic space that we will eventually turn into a larger studio and family room. I keep a dedicated desk for computer work (design/scanning/printing) and a dedicated desk for the messier artwork. When I need to spread out, I take over the dining room table, but that has to be cleaned up at night (or be subject to the cat’s artistic interpretations).
Silas is a super active little dude, and has only recently showed interest in making art, but he is old enough now that I can do parts of my artwork with him. I am doing a lot of collage, so he will get his own paper to cut up and glue so he can work along side of me when he is in the mood. I tend to be a home body, but being a mom of an active boy necessitates getting out a lot, so we will often go to the park or for a walk at the nature preserve… the fresh air and change of scenery are always inspiring.
Do you have any tips to streamline / delegate / outsource household and childcare activities so that you can focus more time on your art? Has your lifestyle changed in any major ways?
My husband and I are pretty good about sharing the household workload. We both try to make sure there is a good balance between personal time to pursue our own projects, family time and couple time. Moving to Buffalo, NY was also helpful because the cost of living is much more affordable than it was when we were in Chicago and we are closer to family (in Pittsburgh) who come up to help often. Silas is in preschool now, so that gives me time during the day to do client work and I try to set aside a small portion of that time for artwork.
Do you have any big goals or dreams for your art that you’d like to share? What would be your dream project?
So many dreams for my artwork! Make lots more of it, of course. I am slowly setting up a shop on my website to sell prints and a handful of products. I have always been puzzle and pattern obsessed, and would love to turn my artwork into a fabric line or wallpaper. I am also very interested in translating my artwork into larger installations or public works.