How Artist Kayla Gale Represents the Intimacy of Motherhood
Quick, name a few figure artists. Egon Schiele, Käthe Kollwitz and Frédéric Forest are a few of my favorites. Add in Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt, of course.
Then there’s Kayla Gale, a self-taught artist quietly sketching and painting from her attic studio in a small farming town in Saskatchewan, the sweeping Canadian prairies outside her window, toddler daughter Ella at her feet and baby boy Emmett on her hip.
Kayla – you may know her as Slow Season on Instagram – is a mother, an artist and an artist for mothers, who creates figure line drawings and paintings representing pregnancy, breastfeeding and the no-words-for-it connection between mother and child. It’s beautiful, it’s intimate and it’s shocking how seldom we see imagery like hers. (Perhaps less shocking when you consider most of the leading artists listed above are men.)
Her motto? She “believes in the connectedness of women, the importance of being present, the beauty of quiet, and mothering with great love.” So do we, Kayla. Here, we chat with her on the importance of eliminating distractions, the grace in the struggle and how all of that is expressed in her art.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did your interest in art – and in figure drawing, in particular – start?
When I was in high school I worked through a self-portrait study and I loved it. I felt so self-aware and disconnected at the same time. It was a really good experience for me, and I spent a lot of time after that and into my early 20s just playing with art. I first started exploring art more seriously after my daughter was born about ten years later, and I was particularly interested in figure drawing and the female form due to the changes my own body was going through postpartum. Again, I strongly believe it was a way to understand myself better while also subjectively stand back and see myself through new eyes.
Much of your work highlights the closeness between mother and child during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s soft, it’s intimate and, alternatively, it’s jarring to realize how little we see these types of images in our day-to-day. How did this become a staple of your style?
It happened very organically. My daughter and I had a truly special breastfeeding relationship, and it stirred in me a desire to really want to create art that had a deeper meaning, but at that time I wasn’t sure how. After my son was born a few years later, I felt like I finally knew what I wanted to say about the breastfeeding relationship and the depth of a mother’s love. I want to explore how deep it goes, and how beautifully we, as women, were designed and created for it.
“I felt like I finally knew what I wanted to say about the breastfeeding relationship and the depth of a mother’s love. I want to explore how deep it goes, and how beautifully we, as women, were designed and created for it.”
Speaking of motherhood, you have two lovely little ones. Tell us about them!
Oh! This is the best question. I have a daughter who is three, and my son is nine months. Ella seems to be everything I am not; she is a free spirit, my tough girl, a doer, a mover, an action word with long lanky legs. She loves to giggle and make everyone laugh, she adores a good scare and she is as stubborn as the day is long. She has just enough sweetness to remind me that I am raising a strong, beautiful, self-made woman.
Emmett is a baby, but I already feel so connected to him and so much in common. He feels all of the emotions, even the complicated ones, so intensely. When he smiles, his whole body smiles, right from his little belly. He takes things a little slower, but is constantly torn with his own pace and the pace of his busy big sister. (Me too, little buddy.) He enjoys his food very passionately. He loves being kissed and tickled – I’m happy to oblige – is very social, and has the biggest dimples in his cheeks.
Sometimes I feel like I live in a small zoo or a traveling circus. We leave food crumbs everywhere we go. My husband and I roll our eyes a lot. But in general, they are my happy little sunshines.
How has your relationship with art evolved as you became a mother?
I have become more forgiving with myself. I don’t take my art too seriously. I allow myself to make messes, make mistakes and make something I know I will dislike, just for the process of learning and growing and enjoyment. It’s play, but transformative play. I have also really learned to use my time wisely and prioritize what I want to be doing and where my aptitudes are.
What feelings do you hope to evoke with your work?
I want more than anything to portray that raw, fierce love between a mother and child. Being a mother is so hard at times, but I want to evoke the beauty within that struggle. I want my viewer to feel that sensitive, delicate natures can be what make a woman strong, because those qualities are so needed to be a mother.
“I want more than anything to portray that raw, fierce love between a mother and child. Being a mother is so hard at times, but I want to evoke the beauty within that struggle.”
Considering your career, we imagine it’s important to allow space for your children to be creative. How do you and will you encourage your children to be creative, and how were you allowed to be creative as a child?
Growing up, my mother allowed us to make messes and get dirty. She also praised us highly, not for the things we accomplished but for the things we tried, even if we failed. Right now my children are both still very young, and while I am so excited about the possibility of my daughter embracing art, I try to encourage her to be creative by just allowing her own imagination to lead her.
We do draw and paint together but her passion right now is more for taking things apart and rebuilding them, visual puzzles and learning how things work. My husband and I praise her for trying and for all of her hard work whether it is artistic in nature or creative in a different way. I allow both of our kids to make messes, to stir things up and to pretend a lot. And I also make it a point to get down on the floor and make messes with them.
From patience to humor to every feeling in between, there’s a lot to be learned from those little beings. They keep us on our best behavior, while sometimes simultaneously bringing out our worst. What have your children taught you?
My children have taught me so much about how to be adaptable. Things are constantly evolving with young children. I feel like at these ages, toddler and infant, you have to be prepared for shifts and changes every day. I learned quickly how important it is to just go with the flow, and I really enjoy living that way.
Humility is another big one, because there is nothing glamorous about being a mom! And they’ve really taught me how to stand up for myself and say no if I feel it is necessary. I am a huge people pleaser, but having children means taking on less outside the home and recognizing our limitations. I’m so thankful to them for that.
Not to bring up the dreaded “b” word – balance – but we imagine it’s a juggling act to work from home with two children. How do you decide when to devote your attention to your children versus work?
It is a juggling act, absolutely, and I think I’m only just learning how to balance work at home. Being able to go with the flow is the secret for us right now. Most days I plan to work after my babies are in bed, but sometimes we all stay up late being goofy and that doesn’t work. Some days my baby takes a longer nap and I sneak in an hour of emailing during the afternoon. I don’t try to multitask very often – my children get my full attention when they need me. When I know that they are happy, content and we have had a good day enjoying each other’s company, then I can focus in my studio.
My studio space is up in our finished attic, which is very convenient for keeping work life more organized and focused. Because it’s a smaller space, I intentionally keep my supplies and tools to a minimum. As an artist, a lot of my work comes from finding a surge of ideas and periods of ebb and flow, so my studio space is arranged with a few different work areas to let me spread out and work into the night if need be. I love listening to jazz music while I work, and a lot of the time my husband will bring up his laptop and we will “work” together. Right now, my studio is a living, breathing space for me and I love being there.
You live in what you call “the quiet prairies of Canada.” How do you connect with your surroundings and how do your surroundings affect the way you approach motherhood?
I live in a farming community in Saskatchewan and we are surrounded by beautiful open spaces. I really thrive on the wide horizons and the breathing room. I think our lifestyle here allows us to spend more time with our children and focus on simpler activities together.
You tout the importance of staying present. In our increasingly scatterbrained societies, how do you practice staying present with both your children and your art?
For me, staying present with my children means not allowing unimportant distractions to take me away from them physically, emotionally or mentally. Work and social media must be kept in their places. My first and most important job is being their mama. There are times when they don’t need me and they are happy to play on their own, but I make it my goal to be available for them when they do need me. I try to practice quality and quantity when it comes to my time.
Staying present with my art involves not comparing myself and my work to what others are doing artistically or with their careers, and allowing myself needed breaks occasionally.
When is it most chaotic in your home? And the most at peace?
It is definitely most chaotic here right before bedtime. My children turn into baboons after their bellies are full with dinner and they are warm and squishy from the bathtub. I think it’s just that end of the day giddiness. The most peaceful times of the day are in the mornings when everyone is still sleepy and calm.
It’s a tough world out there these days, but the next generations are so endlessly inspiring in their tenacity, empathy and understanding. What are you most intentional about instilling into your daughter? How do you do that?
I would really like my daughter to learn about how strong she really is and how to harness that strength for good. I think the best way to show her that is to lead by example.
It’s also a time to hold our boys to a new standard. What are you hoping to teach your little boy?
I want my son to learn to show inexhaustible love and compassion in what can be a very cold world.
Tell us your of-the-moment favorite:
Thing your children say… Ella says tomato with a British accent, to-mah-to. I get tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.
Part of your home… Oh, my bed, definitely. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
Instagram accounts to follow… I follow so many inspirational mama artists making it happen, too many to name here. I love them. One of my very faves is @sollybabywrap because I really love Elle’s story and her honesty about motherhood.
Time of day… Any time of day that is peaceful.
Art tools… My wide synthetic brushes.
What are you currently…
…tripping over? Wooden toy trains and train tracks
…struggling with? Words for my recent works
…listening to? Spotify’s Jazz Vibes
…snacking on? Avocado toast
…avoiding? Ordering new business cards
…browsing for inspiration? Lately some personal research into how different cultures approach the breastfeeding relationship, co-sleeping, baby-wearing and other aspects of motherhood.
What’s next for you and your family?
My family and I just returned from a vacation in Mexico, and my son just started walking, so that’s enough excitement for us right now! We are really hoping to have a quiet and peaceful spring and are going to start planting our garden really soon.
Megan McCarty is a writer, editor, etc.-er who has written about life, travel and – shh, don’t tell her mother – s-e-x for Garance Doré, Apartment 34, Rue and more. She’s a firm believer in the zipper merge. Follow along with her adventures (and, well, misadventures) on Instagram.