Life’s Soundtrack got a chance to interview an incredible duo of artists that also happen to be married, with children. Maria Gigante is a filmmaker, writer and producer. Jason Frederick is an illustrator, designer, print maker and musician. They have two beautiful sons, and recently relocated from Chicago to Cleveland.
Filmmaker Maria Gigante received her MFA from Columbia College, School of Cinema + Design and earned her undergraduate degree from Ohio University. Her short film Girls Room was runner up for 2007’s MTV Music Award (Best Film on Campus). Maria has directed music videos for Shilpa Ray and Langhorne Slim and is currently working freelance, and also teaching screenwriting and video production at Cleveland State University. I admire Maria’s outlook on her current place in both her career and parenting.
I have to reconcile that these first few years with wee ones are kind of accounted for. At least for me. I know people who do it all, manage their time extremely well, parent AND create. With my youngest just breaking 1 year, I’m starting to feel out the balance and I’m ready to get back in the game, though know it might take a little longer than I’d like. And that’s okay.
Jason Frederick’s illustrations and drawings are edgy pen and inks, with a heavy rock and roll vibe. Also an Ohio University grad, Jason’s work can be found many places, including hit shows on TLC, feature covers of the Chicago Reader, and hand run posters pinned up at your favorite local dive. As an accomplished musician, Jason has been a part of many musical projects: The Spiveys, Love Story in Blood Red and he released a solo album in 2014 titled As Is. His humor and drive to create art in many forms surely spills over into his parenting, as he pleads to other artist parents:
Open your heart to Laurie Berkner. Don’t fight it. You won’t win. Just let ‘em listen to it, and then… subtlety start workin’ in Roger Miller, Rock Steady comps, Queen (greatest hits or sheer heart attack) and Battles.
Being creative with childcare is a complete necessity for all working parents these days. As somewhat of a side note, I am thrilled that the US (via President Obama) is FINALLY seriously working on some legislation regarding early childhood education and more specifically, child care & maternity leave. Hopefully by making these important issues both a national priority and more affordable to all, it will allow parents a fighting chance if they choose to go back to work after having children. Ok, off of my soap box (and back to the interview). On the topic, Maria & Jason shared a great visual of how they make their schedule work in a two artist household, with two children under the age of four.
Within this interview they tell us their reasoning behind their relocation from Chicago to Cleveland, new adaptations to their creative process and what it’s really like being married to another artist.
For more information, check out Maria’s Reel and Jason’s website:
Life’s Soundtrack: Has the transition into parenthood affected your identity as an artist?
Maria Gigante: It’s totally affected it. In lots of different ways, too. Where to start? First of all, subject matter. I’m finding a lot of stories in this new lifestyle of “parent.” A lot of new characters I’m meeting, both in other parents, and in kids. So there is that. But there is also the conflict of “who am I now?” I am a parent, “mommy,” 24/7. I’m not producing as much art, so sometimes I wonder “Am I still a filmmaker? Still a writer?” But I know I am… and I have to reconcile that these first few years with wee ones are kind of accounted for. At least for me. I know people who do it all, manage their time extremely well and parent AND create. With my youngest just breaking 1 year, I’m starting to feel out the balance and I’m ready to get back in the game, though know it might take a little longer than I’d like. And that’s okay.
Jason Frederick: Well… keeping something alive that isn’t myself or a plant is a great motivator! I found myself really motivated and not in a put-upon sort of way. It was a shot of confidence, too. Like: I can do this. Shit, I GOTTA do this.
LS: Has having children changed your creative process at all?
MG: The way I see it now, if I want to make things, I am going to have to carve out time and use that time to do it—no matter if I’m inspired in the moment or not! So having kids has forced time management into my creative process. Pre-kids, all of my time was mine. I could just wait for inspiration to hit, and then go. But, that’s not how it works now. In a way, it’s just another set of limits that I have to work with… and frankly, I work better with limitations. So, I’m embracing it.
JF: I find that a focusing “warm up” is absolutely necessary to erase, or at least distance yourself from Thomas the Tank Engine, or Wonder Pets – so you can zero in and work on what ever it is you are doing. That said, new exposure to children’s programming and literature, while it may not be INFORMING my work, definitely has softened my aversion to it. I enjoy G rated art – art that can be seen by any eyes – where once, maybe I found something with out a razor’s edge was, I don’t know…too “safe” or the artist wasn’t “pushing” enough. I’m really less interested in shock or the INTENSE so much… unless it’s really well done. I’ll always love Gregory Jacobsen, for instance.
LS: Maria you are a filmmaker, and Jason you are an illustrator, designer, print maker and musician. Do you both work from home full time on your perspective art, or do you have “day jobs”?
MG: For money, I work freelance in a few different capacities, which works really well for me right now. I work part-time in at Cleveland State University teaching Screenwriting and Production. I also have a weekly “screenwriting” gig, and then I work with various clients doing various video production things for them. Most of it is pre-production/producing stuff (casting real people for web videos, project management, overseeing the editing/final product). This is all stuff I can do from home: in between changing diapers, stacking blocks, driving to day care and going to swimming lessons. It’s a juggle, but I’m grateful I’ve been able to find work to patch it together while I get to be a mom, too. I usually either work from home when the kids nap, or duck out to a coffee shop while Jason takes his Dad shift. I’ve become very good at cramming in a lot of work into an hour or two! I can’t imagine having a 9-5 job that I have to commute to, and still manage to have the family life we have. I know most people do this, and hats off to them, but I don’t think I’d be happy doing it that way. Both Jason and I are extremely grateful and happy that we’ve been able to maintain our crazy, multi-tasking, unpredictable work lives.
JF: I have a shop in my basement and, whilst I have yet to incorporate – I am solely employed by “self, inc.” ™.
LS: Since you both work from home, how do you manage your time and childcare?
MG: Our 3 year old, Gianni, goes to “school” 3 days a week, which lightens the load a bit for us and is great for his development (though he may argue with you about that). So, that just leaves us with our 1 year old, Simon, to juggle on those days. Then, on Thursday and Friday we’ve got ‘em both. Usually Mondays are Jason’s, Tuesdays are mine, Wednesday morning is mine, and Wednesday afternoon is Jason’s, Thursday’s is Jason’s and Friday is a wildcard day. This is a loose schedule because, since we’re both freelance, the week is really determined by who has more work that particular week. So, if Jason has a big job, I’ve got the kids more. And vice versa. If we both have gigs, we enlist my parents to help out, or we just don’t sleep much. We dream about hiring a live-in Au Pair, which in theory feels like it could work really well for us and our crazy schedule, but I’m also equally scared by that idea. Stranger in house!
LS: When do you each get the most work done?
MG: Mornings are best for me these days since I’m up usually at 6am, against my will of course. I want a nap by 1pm (which I never get) so afternoons are less productive for me, and then late night is also fairly good, though I’m always exhausted and have to fight against my strong desire to watch some delicious television. Do I work for an hour, or watch two episodes of Amy Schumer? Or, do I cash in on that hour of sleep (did I mention my 1 year old wakes up every hour??)
JF: It varies. But like the “warm up” thing I mentioned earlier, I have noticed that MOMENTUM is also a very real thing. I get more done in my 4th hour than I do in my first two hours combined. This is especially true for illustration, and if I don’t hit a rough patch, it is LAW for printing. Although, there is a physical barrier you will eventually hit at which you can’t really go fast and be accurate because you are spent.
LS: How do you market yourself and find freelance jobs?
MG: Currently, I’m not really doing any marketing these days. Most of the work that comes in is through former clients, word of mouth and friends. I firmly believe that people hire people they can get along with. One guy who hired me said, “Referrals are gold.” Saves him from going through a pile of resumes that really hardly tell you anything about the person, if they’re someone you want to spend time with and work with. Having been in the hiring seat, I couldn’t agree more. So it’s a reminder to me to keep up with friends, clients, and to go out and be social and “network”. Yes, NETWORK (bleachhhh!), but not in a “hand-me-your-business-card” kind of way.
JF: Referral. I do so little to no marketing. Though, I do weigh jobs for their budget vs. their visibility. The Reader cover is seen by like 100k people and has my name all over it, but is not a ‘problem solving’ check. On the other hand, I have worked on TV shows that pay really well, but none of the million people that see it will ever know it’s me. My name isn’t even in the credits.
LS: What is it like being married to an artist, and being one yourself?
MG: Oh, it’s a pain. Kidding! Well, it is a pain in that we’re both trying to balance work, parenthood and then spending personal time creating. But, that also means that we live in the same world. We understand each other, and Jason is very good at supporting and encouraging me (even hounding me) to keep creating. It’s pretty amazing to feel like your spouse is a fan of your work.
JF: Maria’s brain, her ideas and individuality make for the BEST conversation and have, without a doubt, been a central reason I have had any success as an independent artist. I do not live or work in a vacuum. She is ANYTHING but a yes-man. Yes, it stings when she’s not feeling something I’m working on, but ultimately her perspective is invaluable. It’s more than a second pair of eyes. She reads visuals and content well. She zigs where I zag.
LS: You recently moved from Chicago to Cleveland. Can you tell us a bit about the decision behind that move?
MG: Well, baby number 2 was on the way, and we both work freelance. We wanted to continue trying to make stuff and not be beholden to a 9-5 job we didn’t want. And we wanted a house. So, after a year of looking for a house in Chicago/Evanston, which were out of our price range and shitholes, we decided that paying HALF that amount for a glorious house and having a lower cost of living made a lot of good sense. Plus, having familial support (my folks) was becoming essential to allow us to continue living this flexible life that allows us to pick and choose our work, and be around for our kids. And we wanted our kids to know their grandparents, and it’s been such a gift for all of us.
JF: Life is short. Megabus trips are long. We have family in Cleveland. My grandparents lived in Hawaii and Boston while I was growing up in Athens (Ohio). I saw them MAYBE once a year. I thought, heck – we CAN (move) so let’s give it a whirl. And let’s do it NOW, not wait till someone’s sick or something.
LS: Do you have any words of wisdom for other artists who are parents?
MG: My midwife told me that the “person” the parent is kind of re-emerges after the 3rd birthday. Once your kids are 3, and they’re becoming a little more independent, you kind of poke your head out and say “Hello? It’s me again!” I think this is true, as I experienced this with my first child. Now that I have a 19 month old, I recognize that I’m still in the thick of it and I’m giving myself a break to mainly be MOM. And that’s okay. They’re only this age once and I know that I’ll get to re-emerge as ME, not just MOM, soon enough. So, I guess I would say not to constantly fight parenthood—embrace it while they need you, be there for them, and they’ll give you your space in time.
JF: Open your heart to Laurie Berkner. Don’t fight it. You won’t win. Just let ‘em listen to it, and then… subtlety start workin’ in Roger miller, rock steady comps, Queen (greatest hits or sheer heart attack) and battles.