Being Married to an Artist

Lea Wait, here. And since I’m writing on this blog, I am, of course, a writer. What not everyone reading this may know is that my husband, Bob Thomas, is an artist.

Lea's husband, Bob Thomas, with recent work

Lea’s husband, Bob Thomas, with recent work

I was thinking the other night, as he and I were driving home from a gallery opening where his work was being shown, about what it was like to be married to an artist. I’ve read some blogs about what it’s like to be married to a writer.  I know, I know.  We’re distracted. We hear voices that aren’t audible to others. (I won’t say they aren’t there, for obvious reasons.) We tend to leave scraps of paper around with strange notes on them. “Lily of the Valley poison? Strangled?” “Naked man on beach – sun burned or tan?” “Check width of 19th century chimneys.”

Artists are different. In some ways. Since our home contains both (luckily for both our sanity, my study is on the second floor; Bob’s studio is on the first, in the ell,) I feel qualified to define some of the challenges (and advantages) to being married to an artist.  So — here goes.

1. We never have to worry about having too much wall space. In fact, we’ve found that paintings hung in front of bookcases add another layer of insulation to help with long Maine winters.

2. My husband never has a problem choosing what to wear. Everything he owns has dabs of paint on it. (The “good clothes” just have fewer dabs.) And, when he has to appear in public, he insists on wearing black. (I think he secretly believes that even white paint won’t show on black.) So – when in doubt – from underwear to outerwear – black is the color of choice for all attire. At least it all matches.

3. Although he will spend hours debating one line on a painting, the multicolored blobs of paint on the easel, floor, and table in his study are invisible to him, and even the dirt in his studio is sacrosanct. Somehow its displacement will disturb his muse. He needs his own space. I just close my eyes and repress.

4. He can instantly analyze why an outfit I’m wearing does or doesn’t work, or match colors when we’re decorating.  I just have to watch that he doesn’t recommend the black outfit all the time.

5. He likes to experiment. In all things. Usually in his studio, but, as I found when I opened the oven and found a painting baking in there last week, not always limited to the studio. And … not always limited to art. Use your imagination on this one.DSC00317

6. As with many writers, the creative urge can strike at any time. With my husband, it’s not unusual for him to get up and paint at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning. Some artists demand natural light. My husband has a wood stove and “natural light” lamps. And we have electric bills. (And great paintings!)

7.  Since my husband sees the world in colors and shapes, and I see them in words, we have constant discussions that go like this. Him: “How do like the new painting?” Me: “I like it. I like the faces in the trees beyond the river. Are they lions?” Him: “What faces?” Me: “Those tan circles. See – the eyes, and the mouth, and …” Him: “They’re not lions. They’re nothing.” Me: “”You should call it ‘Lions in the Fog.” Him: “It’s Altered Ground #137.  Me: “But that doesn’t mean anything!” “Him: “It means whatever I want it to mean. Why don’t you go have a cup of tea? I think I’m going to add some purple.” (I go make a cup of tea.)

8. Writers and artists create their work, and then (since they both want to eat) try to sell their work. But writers can keep their words, even if they share them with the world. Artists have to say good-bye forever. There’s a grieving process. An artist can’t go back and look to see how he did something before; he can’t admire or regret. If a painting is gone, it’s gone.  He can only begin again with an empty canvas or board. Selling a painting is a more emotional time than selling a book.

9.  Both writers and artists get discouraged; feel they will never be able to create again; feel everything they are doing is worthless; have dark times when the work is not going well at all. When an artist and a writer live together, they only hope the dark times don’t come for both of them at once.

10. And when the good times come … when the paint is flowing, and the paintings are selling, and the world is admiring … then the fear is that it won’t last. And that, too, is something another “creative” understands. So, frustrating though it is at times, being a writer married to an artist, means we both know.  We both appreciate the other’s pain. We both admire and respect each other’s space and work. And, best of all, we have each other to celebrate with when the world is going well. It’s a good life.

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5 Responses

  1. A wonderful blog, Lea. A while back I wrote a book about 30 Vermont craftpersons, and realized, as i interviewed quiltmakers, potters, weavers,et al, how similar the creative process is between artists and writers, like you and your husband. My late husband was a teacher-poet, so we were both in love with words. But now I’m wed to an engineer who reads only science fiction–although he likes theater and reads my books, offering practical solutions. And he makes pots and marionettes–his own kind of creativity. So I feel lucky, in my own way.

  2. He’s an editor sometimes too. Lea meant I am often in the studio at 2,3, or 4am. Other than that she nailed it. And I know how lucky I am.

  3. Thank you, Bob! For anyone confused — I fixed the typo he was referring to.). And he IS my first reader. And my special consultant when it comes to boys fighting, especially in my books for young folks!) And – Nancy – I think we’re both very lucky women!

  4. Not the wife of an artist, but the mother of two musicians and a painter (two guys, but one is both), I identify with the good clothes that have less paint on them than the other ones!

  5. I love this post! I have been married to an artist for 13 years Noe and write myself and hoping you both don’t go into a slump at the same time is so accurate. Most of the time we are good but we have been down at the same time and it is brutal. Luckily we respect each other quite a bit so we always come out of it well. Thanks for posting this.

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