A few months ago, I was spending my toddler’s nap time in the usual fashion: decompressing with my very best friend, The Internet. While browsing posts in a Facebook group for new mothers, I came across a drawing of a woman marveling at her new baby. It was cartoon-like, dare I say a little twee, and my first reaction to it was nothing short of primal: I MUST BUY THIS; LEAD ME TO THE ETSY SHOP NOW. I reached out to the mom who posted the drawing, and that’s how I met (virtually) Jiae Hwang.
Hwang is a working artist in Los Angeles, who’s shown her large-scale, conceptual art across the country. Almost a year ago, Hwang created a rather small-scale work that’s challenged her in big ways: a child. Like a lot of working/creative parents, Hwang has had to navigate the space between her life as an artist and her new role as a caregiver. Before parenthood, Hwang had long, uninterrupted stretches of studio time. In that time, she was afforded the mental space to “contemplate intangible concepts” and make work that was sometimes as large as a wall in scale. Baby, understandably, changed much of that. But Hwang is nothing if not adaptable. While some new parents (cough-cough … me) might put their creative work on the back burner, Hwang found ways to squeeze art into parenting.
“Since I became a mom,” Hwang told me by email, “I learned that there is no time too little for me to make art.” Hwang devotes stolen moments each day, during nap-time and after her daughter’s bedtime, to drawing. Her studio is now her kitchen, her bedroom floor, or whatever part of the house her pint-sized creation is occupying. During a difficult pregnancy and the dark days of new parenthood, Hwang found strength in the aforementioned Facebook moms’ group (which originated from the creators of the parenting podcast, The Longest Shortest Time.) “Finding support was a wonderful turning point in my new-parent life,” said Hwang. “Through the moms’ group, I found hives of wise and beautiful minds from all kinds of social/economic backgrounds, who were also struggling with the same questions.” The group gave Hwang the courage to embark on a new project: Mom is Drawing.
While Hwang’s pre-motherhood work explored notions of the artist’s expectation to perform, Mom is Drawing tackles — with honesty and sweetness — the expectations placed on mothers. “Whether my little one is attached to my side or not, there is a constant sense of urgency and responsibility to stay responsive at all times,” Hwang said. “The inescapable emotional narrative is what’s now reflected in my drawings.” Though Hwang’s drawings are sweet, they depict some of the most harried moments of being a new mother, like an exhausted-looking mom falling asleep during a date with her breast pump. Some of the images are drawn from suggestions from Hwang’s mom-friends (online and IRL), while others come directly from her experience as a new mother. For instance: Hwang’s posts in the Facebook moms' group about struggles with sleep training her child just happened to coincide with a number of images on Mom Is Drawing’s Instagram account of wide-eyed infants, Kewpie-cute and clearly not sleeping.
Hwang shared her drawings with her Facebook moms’ group, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, with some (me again) begging Hwang to set up an Etsy shop to sell prints (which is forthcoming), and a number of them voting her drawing as the group’s Facebook cover photo.
Hwang sees Mom is Drawing as a “love letter” to the mothers in her Facebook group — and mothers everywhere. It also connected her to her own child. “I remember meeting her for the first time, and feeling as if we were on a first date, rather than destined soul mates,” she said. This was a sentiment I related to immediately — it took weeks for me to feel connected to my newborn daughter. The kind of attention that Mom is Drawing required of Hwang allowed her to connect to her child on a deeper level. “It taught me to be present … to closely observe all her little signs and to be pertinent.”
“I sometimes reminisce about my previous lifestyle and the freedom to float,” Hwang told me, “but I feel more lucky to be a mom and to be inspired. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”