I studied Fine Art at university, but when I moved to London, got pulled into the world of fashion and magazines. After doing lots of work experience at women’s magazines, I managed to get an introduction at Conde Nast, and a job with GQ. I was Fashion Production Editor, which meant I was responsible for organising fashion shoots. It was a fairly glamorous and fast-paced job.  I went on all the trips, and did lots of jet-setting. Of course, I was also responsible for lugging suitcases and working around the clock! But it was very sociable: lots of parties, restaurant launches, and staying in 5-star hotels. I worked for GQ for a decade, and then in 2012, I had Freddie, my first child.

Before Freddie arrived, I hadn’t been entirely sure if I’d go back to work after maternity leave. After having a baby, though, it was clear that it wasn’t really financially realistic not to. Also, I found that it was important for me to find a way to channel my creative energy, rather than putting everything into my child. Looking back, I think the really tough labour started me off on a massive back-foot: for the first couple of weeks, I was shell-shocked. It’s SO difficult to figure out all the new dynamics in your life with sleep deprivation and everything changing. Having said that, I was of course totally smitten with little Freddie.

When he was around five months, I started thinking ahead to my return to work. I think I was used to a busy office and a lot going on, and suddenly it was all playgroups and mum talk. I wouldn’t call myself a domestic goddess by any means, but I’d always been organised and kept things ship-shape. All of a sudden I felt I’d lost control of daily life and the thought of being able to juggle work and motherhood felt quite overwhelming. I think my husband found it difficult too – I used to come back from my travels with all sorts of colourful stories and anecdotes and seemingly overnight my conversation had deteriorated somewhat…

My plan had been to return to work four days a week, but it very quickly became apparent that wasn’t going to be possible. The job was only available full-time. I was devastated, but around November 2013 decided to walk away. It was clear that it was time to do something for me instead. I had always hoped that I would be able to return to a more creative role, because I did miss the artistic side of me – so this became a chance. It’s funny how things work out.

I spent that Christmas trying to get my head around what I might do. That was when I realised the cost of having children in London… I decided Freddie would go to nursery two days a week so that I could pursue a career as an artist. We turned our spare room into a studio, and made it really homely and appealing. Initially however, I was overtaken by utter terror. It was terrible. I would drop Freddie at nursery at 8:30am, have breakfast, put on painting clothes – and have the worst version of creative block. It was so hard to take off my ‘mum hat’ and become ‘artist’. I would sit in front of a blank board at the easel I’d invested in, with the paints I’d bought. It would remain blank. Five hours would go by, and all I could think was how much money I’d spent on nursery fees, that I’d have to pick Freddie up in two hours, and I’d done nothing. It was so difficult to gain momentum.

Slowly but surely, though, it happened. I began to get more confidence, and find my feet. I established a routine and style, and following on from that, decided to move Freddie up to three days in nursery. That momentum made a huge difference. I had to be incredibly disciplined though: if a friend wanted to meet for coffee, I’d have to say no, even though I was at technically free and at home. I had to tell myself that this was work, this was my career.

Initially I was overtaken by terror. I would drop Freddie at nursery, have breakfast, put on painting clothes – and have the worst version of creative block. It was so hard to take off my ‘mum hat’ and become ‘artist’

Then, in August 2014, I found out I was pregnant. I was delighted, and it did a great job spurring me on. I realised I couldn’t go into another maternity period where I wasn’t earning. That’s what’s so tough about a creative job that doesn’t technically have a salary. I often thought it would be easier to have a 9-5 job, to find a good production role with a salary. But it didn’t feel right. It was really important for me to prove to myself that I could be a mother and still create.

The ticking time-bomb of a bump was great for making me commit to something solid. This felt like a now-or-never moment. I gave myself until last Christmas to finish the body of work – with painting, you can go on forever, so it helped to have a deadline. From January, I would find a gallery space, create a website, get the framing and photography organised – cover all the details that I didn’t know about before. It was a brilliant learning curve.

The opening of my first show last week was so gratifying. It went really well. It was very stressful in the build up – plus, I’m in my third trimester, so not sure I’m firing on all cylinders – but it was really worth it. I’ve sold two paintings so far, and am delighted with the website. It was also really nice to show my husband what I’ve been doing. It’s been quite tough for him: he’s very supportive, but up until now, all he’s been seeing are the bills for what we’ve had to invest in this process. I think sometimes he forgets that I’m working, because I’m at home.

I’m already excited about my next body of work. I keep thinking about my portfolio, and what to tweak. When the routine is established with my new baby, I’d really like to use the sleep periods to dip into my studio. Since having Freddie, I’ve found time in the day that I didn’t know existed before. You know, the two minutes when water is boiling – that kind of thing. Saying that, I really have to make sure that when I’m with Freddie, I’m disciplined about checking my phone or replying to emails, especially now that the show is on. I don’t like him to see me too distracted. I think parenting is a constant battle between achieving for yourself and being dedicated to your child.

If the unexpected close to my chapter in magazines hadn’t happened, I probably would have left being an artist until later in life. But it really pushed me forward, and this feels like the right time. I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason, and excited to see what comes next.

Seed to Surface is at the DMEM events space, 252 King St, W6 0SP, until 29th March; philippa-jeffrey.com

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