Before having kids, I'd worked as an interdisciplinary artist for 15 years. I’d often attended artist residencies and I was inspired by the unfamiliarity of each new environment and used this as material to make my work with. When I became a parent traveling became tricky, money and time were tight, and the residencies I found couldn’t accommodate artists with families. I wondered how I might instead apply the framework of an artist residency to the wild new world that was unfolding at home, one that I usually felt entirely too tired to notice.

Studio scene, 2013

Studio scene, 2013


I imagined what the perfect residency at this time of my life would look like. It would have time and space to work, peers, mentors, accountability and exposure and would require no traveling. Most importantly it would give me a new, objective viewpoint on this most subjective of experiences. In 2012, when my first child was one and a half, I founded An Artist Residency in Motherhood and was a resident for three years. 

The structure of my residency was simple. It had a manifesto, business cards, a site to explore (motherhood), a website to share my work, mentors, improvements to my studio, materials, and three mornings a week childcare for my son. 

It is important to note that this all sounds much clearer in hindsight than it did at the time as I tried to work out what I was doing and why I was doing it while a baby screamed in my ear, but here is the main sequence of events; 


1. I wrote a manifesto


2. I made a list of everything my perfect residency would have


3. I applied for and was lucky to receive a Creative Development Grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation/Heinz Endowments and the Sustainable Arts Foundation


4. I created physical things that caused the residency to exist, to remind myself, my family & others

Artist Residency in Motherhood Business Cards (clockwise left to right) oldest child, youngest child, my business card / printed by Jasdeep Khaira

Artist Residency in Motherhood Business Cards (L to R) oldest child, youngest child, me / letterpress by Jasdeep Khaira

A vinyl sign I made for my attic studio window, reversed so that it can be read from outside

Vinyl sign for my studio window, reversed so it can be read from outside


5. I made a custom website as a public face and structure for the project. It included a studio diary and a portfolio where I uploaded works as I made them


6. I created accountability and support by appointing mentors: artist Jon Rubin, academic & artist Natalie Loveless, curator Dan Byers, and my mother Jane Clayton


Clockwise; Jane Clayton, Lenka Clayton, Ben Clayton / 1979


7. I started getting up earlier and arranged three hours of childcare, three times a week for my son. Then I began to work.


Two-Year Old's To Do List / Otto Clayton / found (stolen) paper & ink / 2013

My mentor Jon Rubin's class visiting my Artist Residency in Motherhood, in my attic studio / 2012

My mentor Jon Rubin's Carnegie Mellon class visiting An Artist Residency in Motherhood, in my attic studio / 2012



As an Artist-in-Residence-in-Motherhood the most important thing for me was understanding that I was not making work about motherhood, but out of it. The residency was simply a framework around things that were happening anyway. 

I kept a studio diary where I described things that were not-just mothering, and not-yet art for example my son nibbling a Graham Cracker into the letter “P” or the objects I took in a frenzied panic out of his mouth. This process helped me identify the obstacles I was facing, and in naming them they became material to work with. Many projects sprang out of passing curiosities voiced in these notes. 

I worked every moment I could and posted the work I made to the website. Over the two year course of the residency I made thirty-two works from a proposal to obstructively childproof an art museum to a video that attempted to measure the exact distance I could be from my son before I was compelled to run after him.


Examples of work made while artist-in-residence-in-motherhood:

63 Objects Taken From My Son's Mouth,  2012 / sculpture / in permanent collection of Crystal Bridges Museum, AK

63 Objects Taken From My Son's Mouth / 2012 / permanent collection of Crystal Bridges Museum, AK


The Distance I Can be From my Son / 2013 / Series of three looped videos / approx. 1 min each


Moons from Next Door / balls once belonging to dogs, rephotographed as planets / 2012

63 Objects Taken From My Son's Mouth , 2012 / limited edition artists book / designed by Brett Yasko

63 Objects Taken From My Son's Mouth / 2012 / limited edition artists book / designed by Brett Yasko

Dangerous Objects Made Safer  / 2012 - 2014 / One of One Hundred Felt-Covered Dangerous Household Items / Tin Snips, Wool Roving / 23" x 23" x 2"

Dangerous Objects Made Safer / 2012 - 2014 / 1 of 100 felt-covered household items / Tin snips, wool roving / 23" x 23" x 2"

Mother's Days  (click to read more, highly recommended) / 1 of 62 journals of a day as a mother sent to me from women around the world / 2012 - 2014

Mother's Days (click to read more, highly recommended) / 1 of 62 journals of a day in a life of a mother, submitted by women from around the world / 2012 - 2014


Typewriter Drawings / typewriter ink on typewriter paper / 2012 - ongoing


Over the three year course of my residency I received correspondence from hundreds of women in similar situations who wanted to begin their own residencies. I would like to invite anyone who is an artist/parent to interpret An Artist Residency in Motherhood and adapt it to suit their own situation. A free Residency set-up kit is available to download here

Lenka Clayton, 2016