Nine years ago, Shea Proulx discovered the same thing many parents discover: having a baby often means setting aside your work and creative goals. She also discovered that the tiny, fragile piece of her soul that she’d just produced could shape her creativity into something new.
One of many pieces of advice tossed at new mothers is to “sleep when baby is sleeping,” which is, in theory, great advice, but often not one easily achieved for many, many reasons are unique to each parent. And when her baby Alice slept, Proulx discovered something magical, and shared it in book and audiovisual form.
Over 192 full-colour pages, Proulx shares illustrations of her sleeping baby girl. “I used to draw all the time,” writes the fine arts graduate at the beginning of the book, “but now just at naptime.” Proulx invites you to get “lost in a sea of Alice,” with a simple, black-lined image of her baby drifting in a wonderland of flowers, softly coloured blankets and clothes, and other paraphernalia. Alice is not my baby, but I can see my babies in those lines. Even now as my children enter their teenage years, I occasionally find myself peeking into their rooms to check on them as they sleep, envisioning the tiny bundles they used to be. I relished in those quiet moments when they dreamed, especially when a little smile would twinge the corner of their lips, erasing all the struggles of the day that had come before those moments of blissful peace. Alice at Naptime takes me back to those days of exhausted, nervous, joyful wonder.
“Before Alice was born I did a BFA, and then an MFA, in fine arts,” explains Proulx in an email interview, “so academic life is synchronous with the time-before-children. During that time I developed a very mindful, spontaneous drawing practice where created narratives and murals out of observations I made in real time, with no rough copies. It was usually very auto-biographical, though towards the end of my MFA I turned the style I’d developed towards a number of explorations into pornographic imagery seen through the lens of third-wave feminism. I didn’t expect to become pregnant right as I was finishing that work, but it is rather fitting that such sexy drawings immediately preceded the sketchbook that became, Alice in the Womb, my first self-published book.”
Alice in the Womb is actually an adult colouring book which, like Alice at Naptime, shapes ethereal imagery around the fetus growing and transforming in Proulx’s belly, from conception to birth. Though not a colouring book, Alice at Naptime offers a similar simplicity in its line work, giving the reader the sense that you could easily shape these images yourself around your own sleeping babe.
Originally crafted as a promotional tool by Alexander Finbow of Alice at Naptime’s publishing company, Renegade Arts Entertainment, the audiovisual version features editing and musical arrangement by Jesse Thom. Thom is one of several people who appears in the book, as well as Proulx’s brother, Kyle McCachen, whose production company, Stokeshow is presently working with Proulx on the animation or virtual reality potential of the story.
Now, Alice has a little sister and Proulx has figured out how to fit the pieces of motherhood and work together, shaping everything around Kindergarten, swimming lessons, and more. “Having already developed flexible work habits that allowed me to bring my work (my sketchbook) with me anywhere, likely made the transition to working as a mother much easier,” says Proulx. “Further, unlike my peers in school, I was never able to expound for hours at a time about artists that inspired me, but that changed when I started spending a few days of my week at the public library with my tiny daughter, falling in love with comics. In that way, motherhood actually brought me into the field of work that fulfills me.”
Proulx later clarifies she doesn’t necessarily consider the sketching part to be “work.” The girls are much older, which means they are independent enough for her to attend conventions and handle the administrative aspects of converting her drawings into a printable digital format. “My youngest starts full time school this year. She has been to quite a few bookstores with me this spring, and has spent a bit of time trying to learn how to draw on the computer with my tablet while I pack and repack for conventions. Both girls love art, so they are quite patient with me and my passions, though they don’t like openings or comic expos very much, I’ve discovered.”
Motherhood means many things to many people. Sharing the varied experiences, both good and bad, with other parents has helped me through with a lot of laughter and tears. Seeing moms like Proulx find a way to use sequential art to tell their stories reminds us that the trials and tribulations and beauty of parenting in general and motherhood in particular are universal.