I developed an overwhelming sense of needing to create a new type of life, away from the break-neck pace and deadline culture of big-brand design, writes Nikki Heaton. So she returned to her own art practice and went on to launch a beautiful collection of her textile art…
Words: Nikki Heaton
On a dark and dreary late November afternoon, we hurriedly walked out of the 9th day-care visit of the month – clutching our then four-month-old bundle, Monty. And I cried. Again.
The end of my maternity leave wasn’t even looming, and I was already dreading the life I could see up ahead: return to work, send Monty to day-care for four days, apply lipstick, fight rush hour; try to be present with him on day five whilst sort of always being available for work calls; and then spend the weekends trying to enjoy family time whilst shopping, cleaning and washing – all before Monday.
Rinse. Repeat. Breakdown.
It wasn’t that I didn’t think that the day-care was good enough.
It also wasn’t because I didn’t completely love my career. I’ve been creative since as long as I can remember. Since the age of 13, all I have ever wanted to be is a designer. I’ve worked downright hard for over 20 years to achieve this and to gain responsibility, recognition and respect as a female designer in an industry sector (automotive design) that is still predominantly male.
But the tide (and my world) was changing.
Of course, as every mother knows, having a baby (especially during a pandemic) changed me in unimaginable ways. Regarding my career, it came at me from left field, but I developed an overwhelming sense of needing to create a new type of life, away from the break-neck pace and deadline culture of big-brand design. I needed and wanted to be there for my baby – especially in these fleeting early years. It was simultaneously the most crucifying yet simple decision I had ever made.
I never returned to work.
That was in 2021, and now I’m here with a new sense of purpose.
I’d like to say: “So! I sat down with an epic idea, wrote a business plan and followed it through with gusto (taa-dah!)”. But even after a whole year, I still felt deep in the zombie-trenches of early motherhood most days. Monty hadn’t slept for more than two hours in a row.
I adore motherhood and almost every moment it has brought me so far, but I was far from my cognitive best, and launching something felt truly and utterly impossible.
So I parked it.
It in fact took another year and a bit of a ‘false start’ for me to get to the point where I’m launching my business.
My art practice slowly picked up again as I consciously carved out more me time; it took me straight back to those flow-state feelings of my childhood and art college days – free from the reality and responsibility of ‘adulting’. It soon became apparent that this probably could be my new kind of life. So I dared to dream. I followed my gut (even when choices and decisions often felt insurmountable) and worked damn hard to make it happen.
I joined one of Annie Ridout’s coaching programmes with the idea that I really needed to focus. I needed a deadline so I decided to work on launching my debut art collection in just six weeks (the length of the programme).
I love creating – this goes without saying – but there are just so many other elements of a business and a business launch felt overwhelming and confusing to me. Added to the sleep deprivation of the past two years, my confidence had hit an all time low.
But Annie pulled me up – high above my own self-sabotaging thoughts – and hovering gently there, I could really ‘see’ it all. It was crystal clear. I believed it was all possible. And it was kind of magical.
My new collection Foremost Fragments (2021) is a small debut collection of fifteen bespoke tapestry artworks. An in-depth 12-month exploration into re-cycled textiles, composition, colour layering, texture and stitch. Presented are 15 visual stories exploring the chaos and emotional intricacies of our journeys as humans – the stories of our lives that make us, connect us and make us all vulnerable, amazing and human. Many of the stories I have taken from my own journey through early motherhood, but my stories, your stories, our stories – they are all there.
I still have massive fears; of change, of putting myself out there and I still have a regular nagging doubt about how the [design] industry might forget me. I worry that me baulking from the status quo means I’ll have some big professional regrets down the line; that I’ll somehow become overnight unemployable for following my mothering instincts. It’s a shame, but this stuff is still so real.
Nevertheless, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a precipice and it feels utterly exhilarating. I guess I will either fall, or fly. I’m usually an optimistic person – unless my anxiety has a full choke hold on me – so I hope to soar. I hope people will connect to me, my story and my work, because without connection and stories, art is just ‘stuff’ and I’m not interested in just making ‘stuff’ anymore.
And then I hope to create discussion and dialogue, to open hearts and minds and packets of biscuits with cups of tea. And of course I hope for there to be many more collections.
Photo credit: Justyna Kulam