Tif McDonald — artist mama extraordinaire

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Once an accountant, my friend Tif is a mama who left that world to be
home with her daughter (now she has two), went back to school to study art, found
her medium (encaustics), made time and space for her art, and now, has her
first, beautiful show
up at an art gallery. I find her story—as well as her energy and
dedication (and, of course, her art)—incredibly inspiring and think you will
too. I asked her a few questions about her journey and wanted to share the
answers here.

Artful parent blossoms
***Note: Readers will have a chance to win this encaustic painting by Tif at the end of this interview.***

JEAN:  When I
first met you, you were pregnant with your second daughter and going back to
school for your art degree. Now you have your first gallery show of a beautiful
group of encaustic paintings. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?

TIF: The four years since have been
very full!  Balancing art classes, studio time, and motherhood has been
challenging and rewarding.  When Sadie was born I didn't have much time
for classes or my art.  I stayed connected to art through art projects
with my kids and helping in my older daughter's class.  A couple years ago
I signed up to sell some work at an art/craft sale.  Committing to that
and preparing the work was an important step for me.  And, selling my work
felt fantastic! 

The past couple years I've taken summer courses at Penland School of Crafts.  When I'm there I am completely surrounded by and
immersed in art.  I absolutely love it. 


I think the Penland experience, more than anything, inspired
me to put my work out there and try to make a career out of it.  I've had
work in other sales and art auctions since that first sale.  These led to
commissions and opportunities to show my work, including the current show at
Studio 103
in Black Mountain. 

It was (and is) so hard to put my work out there!  I am
very critical of my work—I  always know
that it can be better, and that I have more work to do or ideas to
develop.  But, I think that first step of putting the work out there leads
to other work and experiences that are all part of my continuing development as
an artist.


JEAN: How did you
find (make!) the time to make this happen with two young girls at home?

TIF: That has been, and continues to
be, a constant struggle.  My youngest daughter is in preschool 4
hours/day.  I try to reserve that small block of time to be in the
studio.  I've really had to be disciplined about protecting that
time.  My studio is in the garage, so it is easy to be distracted with all
the home responsibilities.  It is also so convenient to use that time for appointments,
exercise, etc…  Approaching deadlines definitely help me stay
disciplined.  As I spend more time working I have less time available for
things like volunteering at school and free time to play/create with the


I am trying to fit it all in.  Sometimes it seems that
the busier I am, the more I accomplish.  Other times I am aware that I'm
not being the mom I want to be, and that I need to adjust things. Finding that
balance is a constant struggle, but I hope that I'm teaching my children the
importance of assessing and adjusting things in life to achieve a healthy,
happy balance.


JEAN: Can you tell us how you found
your medium? Or how it found you?

TIF: I had seen some work using
beeswax and loved the dreamy quality of the wax. While I was at Penland I found
a fantastic book in their store.  The book is The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax by Joanne Mattera.  It has all the info you
need to start working with encaustics.  I found a workshop taught by a
local encaustic artist, Celia Gray.  I love her work and she is a great
teacher.  I was immediately hooked—it  is such a seductive medium! 

The following summer I took a mixed media class at Penland
taught by another local artist, Leslie Noell with Celia Gray as the assistant. 
I love that I can incorporate drawings, collage, paint, printmaking, etc. into
the encaustic process.  I'd like to get back to some figure
painting.  I have some new tools to try that will allow me to
"play" with the idea of painting the figure with wax. I think I'll
continue working in this medium for a long time.


JEAN: Any tips for
other mamas who would like to make their art a priority?

TIF: I think just taking that first
step to showing people your work and making some commitments to have a body of
work will lead to other opportunities.  I have been reading a book that
has been very helpful to me called:  The Artist's Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love by Jackie Battenfield. 
I occasionally meet with another artist mom to discuss the book and our efforts
to make a living as artists.  I think connections with other artist moms
have provided me with inspiration, direction, and support (Moms are so good at
doing this for each other!).

Artful parent blossoms

Readers who leave a comment by Friday, May 28th
at 12midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for this 6"x6" encaustic
painting of spring blossoms by Tif.

The random number generator picked #72 so Kate wins Tif’s

Her work is so beautiful. It reminds me a bit of
Amy Ruppell, but this is more dream-like. Just lovely. Love your website, by
the way.

P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy my weekly ARTletter. Sign up here for creativity delivered straight to your inbox.

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  1. Megha Sood says

    Awesome work. I am such a huge fan of everything on this blog and so are my twin girls who are 4.5yrs. We have copied so much artwork from here at home.

  2. Esther says

    I love her work: so ethereal. Thank you for this giveaway–on top of the great interview!

  3. says

    Beautiful work! I was just at Black Mountain for the LEAF Festival…I’m going to need to leave room to visit this gallery next festival!

  4. says

    Wow, this is such incredible and gorgeous work! I know that everyone is critical of their own work, but I am completely blown away by it – she should be so proud!

  5. says

    I am unusually attracted to Tif’s artwork -so soft, beautiful and romantic. I want to step in and lie down… Thanks so much for sharing!!

  6. annette standrod says

    This is so freakin’ awesome. I majored in art and have a master’s in art therapy and I have never heard of this medium. It is very beautiful. I am intrigued and inspired! I am a mother of a 2 and 3 yr old and am struggling how to make more time for my art. I do art with the kids all the time but it doesn’t quite fill the need for my art. The spring painting is absolutely beautiful and I would love to own it!
    [email protected]

  7. says

    Wow, Tif’s work is so beautiful and dreamy. It always makes me happy to see something lovely, and to read a nice interview as well. Thanks to both of you!

  8. says

    I’m loving the photos of her artwork and may even check out the book she’s recommended. I’m hoping to one day find a way to incorporate my love of photography into something profitable!

  9. Jamie says

    She is really talented. The painting is really pretty, I love the simplicity of it. Congratulations to your friend on her first gallery showing! Very exciting.

  10. Viva says

    Beautiful work! It’s great to hear about someone following their passion and succeeding. Thanks.

  11. says

    Wow, fantastic. Fantastic story, so inspiring, and fantastic work. I like so much how she makes simple, everyday objects look so magic.

  12. Rachel R. says

    So inspiring. Thanks for taking the time to share.
    rachelspreschool at yahoo dot com

  13. Sara McClelland says

    The work is LOVELY and so soft. Thanks for posting such interesting info on other artist mums! :)

  14. amanda says

    wow! i’ve never even heard of encaustic, but find it incredibly beautiful! thanks for such an inspiring interview!

  15. says

    Beautiful art, inspiring story – that’s why I love The Artful Parent ;)
    Would *really* love to win this!

  16. candice says

    so beautiful! mmmmm… beeswax… something else i haven’t tried yet… ;)
    thanks for a beautiful article, a beautiful blog & inspiring ideas!
    i’m off to make the playclay now, it’s a rainy day here in melbourne!

  17. Kristy says

    I am very inspired by her work! This past December I graduated from Purdue with my BA in Art Education…and have yet to land a full time job. However, while attending college I fell in love with encaustic painting! Since graduation I have been struggling with finding the motivation to create my own artwork…but after reading this interview and viewing her work, I hope to find some time this summer for me to begin focusing on my art again. Thanks, Tiff & Jean!

  18. Heather says

    I had to catch my breath when I saw her art.
    So beautiful. Thank you for another great
    interview. I make this blog a part of my day
    every day. Thank you also for the giveaway.

  19. annalucia says

    As a Kindergarten teacher, mama and now grandmama with my 1st degreee in art (BFA/studio art) I am always on the lookout for ideas for lil ones and yours are always a “hit”!
    Plua due to the above…I am always on the lookout for more beautiful creations to add to our home…this delightful ‘giveaway” chance fits the bill!
    Pure simplicity and ever so beautiful!

  20. Tracy says

    Congratulations to Tif on her first show. I absolutely love her work, and am delighted to see her succeed in what she loves.

  21. says

    Tif’s art is beautiful and inspiring! Thank you for sharing her story with us. I wish her luck with her show!

  22. Tamrah T. says

    Oh my! Her work is such a delight to set eyes on! She is so full of inspiration. Thank you for sharing this interview with us!

  23. Andrea says

    All of those pieces are really beautiful-I admit I know little about encaustics but these are so immediately inspiring I am off to research it some more. Thank you Tif and Jean!

  24. Lulu says

    Beautiful. I’ve never heard of encaustic before but am thrilled to learn more. Thanks for the inspiration, mamas!

  25. says

    Beautiful work!
    As a writer I’m trying to figure out the balance between pursuing my writing goals and being a mom as well.

  26. says

    Thanks so much for the inspiring interview and giveaway, Jean! Tif’s artwork is gorgeous, the kind you can get lost in. It’s wonderful when people find their passion and bring such beauty into the world for others to enjoy.

  27. says

    Beautiful work and very inspiring interview. It is always so encouraging to see others following their passions, but also good to hear the reality of it,too…carving out dedicated time for working and creating while juggling motherhood. Congratulations on your show, Tif!

  28. says

    Geez – a lot of people read your blog Jean! Look at all those comments.Testament to its quality I say.
    This interview is utterly inspiring. Thank you. The bit about struggling to keep that four hour block just for art and about sometimes feeling like a not-too-great-mum (sorry! mom to you) resonated so much. There’s a great Australian book called The Divided Heart by Rachel Power. It’s a series of interviews with Artist mothers about how they juggle it – practically and in their hearts – and gives plenty of food for thought and inspiration.
    Might have to go and find me another Artist mum to touch base with regularly now.
    Exquisite artwork too!

  29. Jackie says

    Marvelous work, inspiring story. I was brought to this page through my sister who is best friends with Tif’s mother! Love these links.

  30. Ann says

    Very inspiring. Moms are good for each other and carving out time for our own art is important. I do not do that enough. Her work is lovely.

  31. Susan says

    So inspiring! As a Mother who left the corporate world behind only 3 weeks ago…it is lovely to read about creative individuals who have done the same and have embraced their inner soul and are now doing what they LOVE. Thank you for sharing!

  32. says

    It’s rare that I see art I would actually buy. This style is fascinating and lovely, and I want to see more! Of course I’m also looking at how the technique could be used with children, and I’m pretty sure I have an idea. Thank you for sharing Tif McDonald’s work and the interview is delightful!
    ~ MaryAnn, art author for kids

  33. [email protected] says

    Love your ideas. I teach art outside at the local park to a group of 5-8 year olds every week. The piece by Tif is simple and beautiful and would look great in my house!!

  34. Carrie says

    Lovely artwork and wonderful interview! I have never tried to paint or draw anything but this work makes me want to try. Thanks!

  35. says

    thanks for introducing me to this beautiful local artist! i love her smile and that dandelion picture! ;)

  36. says

    Great interview. It was good running into you at her show! You did a great job capturing Tif’s spirit andher art!

  37. Liisa says

    Thank you for all the ideas and beautiful artwork! My days are more fulfilling because of you and your blog, thank you!

  38. Katie says

    Tif, your art is really beautiful. Congrats on being able to make a living doing what you love.

  39. Kate says

    Her work is so beautiful. It reminds me a bit of Amy Ruppell, but this is more dream-like. Just lovely. Love your website, by the way.

  40. Kristin B says

    I have never heard of this kind of art – how beautiful! Thank you for the interview and giveaway.

  41. says

    I really like the use of mixed media and collage in Tif’s work. The compositions are also really interesting with a great use of white space.

  42. amy says

    it’s so nice to hear that while it’s hard it IS possible to find that balance between motherhood and art. Inspiring story.

  43. Kelly says

    Beautiful work. I am a mom of a young girl, an art teacher and a person who struggles to find time to make my art. This interview is a great reminder of the simple way to get work done – make a regular time to do the work.
    The Mattera book is superb. I also paint in encaustic and found Robbing the Bees (author????) to be an inspiration as well. It isn’t an art technique book but an interesting read.

  44. says

    sigh. I love encaustics and Tif’s work is beautiful. Thank you for this interview and thank you to Tif for sharing how she balances being a mom and an artist. I need to claim, and act on!, my desire to be an artist.

  45. says

    Beautiful, beautiful artwork! Please throw my name in the hat, too!
    Also, wanted to mention….
    - I graduated with a BFA in painting but never made it around to trying encaustic. It always seemed so mysterious and magical and perhaps complex… I really want to give it a try now.
    I love reading about moms as the artist and there work and process! Very inspiring, thank you.

  46. Molly says

    This work is so beautiful. My house needs more original artwork and I really love the look of the medium. I’m going to check out the encaustic book you mentioned!

  47. Molly says

    I really love your work! My home needs more original artwork and I love this medium. I’m going to check out the encaustic book you mentioned! (My email had a tyopo in the last post so I recent it!)

  48. says

    So I’ve never won anything from one of these and I rarely take the time to even try anymore, but this art is so beautiful and captivating. I am in love with the dandelion piece. Oh wow.

  49. nwnonna says

    Oh my goodness, these pieces are incredible! Dandelions! I am blown away by her creative achievements.