Megan Olivia Ebel is not only a Houston-based mixed media artist, she is also a mother and an arts educator. Here she discusses how she manages these different roles, how her experiences have shaped her art for the better, and how she finds time for her own personal growth.
Q: First, tell us a little bit about your work.
Megan: I am a mixed media, autobiographical artist. Just as some people write their thoughts in a diary, I make a visual product documenting my day-to-day experiences. I see my work as an outlet to process and compartmentalize all of my emotions, so it’s heavily thematic and very often reliant on storytelling via symbols. I grapple with my role as a single mother, as an educator, as a daughter, a victim of sexual assault, a woman, etc. I work with a large range of mediums, but currently am in a love affair with crochet, glitter, and gold leaf in no particular order.
You're the mother to an adorable three-year old. How has your work been affected or inspired by motherhood and vice versa?
At this point, I’m confident to say I would not be an artist if I wasn’t a mother. I found out I was having Lorin in my senior year of college, and it was the catalyst and theme of my thesis body of work, and now, even years later, my art and motherhood remain intertwined. I look back on work that I made previous to becoming a mom and it feels empty. It even felt empty to create. Now, it feels like a catharsis when I make art, and the product feels filled to the brim with purpose and direction and intention. This is not to say that motherhood has completed me. That’s far from the truth. Instead, it is the most challenging role I have ever played, and thanks to that challenge, it is a narrative on which to base my work. I make art to know myself, deal with trauma head on, learn to communicate, seek resilience, process pain, celebrate; my art is a therapy session and a half, but without synergy between my motherhood and my art, I couldn’t go through all those things with the same power and self-awareness.
Could you share with us your experiences in the Artist Residency in Motherhood (ARIM)?
I was introduced to ARIM by one of my professors at my alma mater, Sewanee: The University of the South. She had recently become a mother, Lorin was a one year old, and I was having a pity party about how, since Lorin’s birth, I hadn’t made any work. She immediately brought up the residency. The residency requires you to make a list of needs and goals and action items, and I think, for me, just putting those things on paper made them so much more important to achieve. The role of “mom” is a person that is constantly expected to do things for others, and the role of “artist” often calls for us to be selfish and hole up in a studio. Until I made peace with those things living in harmony, it was a dichotomy. Now the crux of my work focuses on that dichotomy. ARIM has encouraged me to turn challenge into art.
And on top of being a mother, you're also an arts teacher. What are some of the challenges you face in that role? And what are the gifts?
I think, and this is certainly more of a systemic challenge than a personal one, arts education should have higher funding and should be revered with much more respect than it is now. It’s incredible how art is seen as nonessential in our school system. In truth, when schools provide a robust and inclusive arts curriculum to their students, it bears great fruit! Art class builds divergent thinkers, and encourages problem solving and resilience. It is the cornerstone of literally every culture on earth, and not a single “core” course, such as STEM classes, could exist without it. It is certainly not 50 minutes of coloring pages. It is 50 minutes of learning the most important things about our existence in the world. Obviously, I’m a little biased, and most certainly passionate about what I teach, but I wish more people knew of and believed in the importance of exposing children to art. As far as the gifts of teaching art? Well, I could write for days and days about that! It is the best job (even on the days that people say your class is easy to teach). I get to share what I’m passionate about with little hungry minds! How cool is that?!
You spend much of your time caring for others and fostering their growth. How do you make time for yourself to recharge?
This is something I have considered amending my ARIM manifesto for, because recharging is just as important as making artwork. I am a caretaker 24/7, and it is so exhausting at times. To recharge, I need to go outside. It never has to be for a long time (although, I will very gladly chill in a hammock all day), and it doesn’t even need to be nice weather. I just find it very meditative to hear leaves swishing on the trees, take a breath of fresh air, and be under a huge, open sky.
And finally, what advice would you give to young artists today?
Do the damn thing! No matter who you are, where you come from, what you have or don’t have, you better be creating!
Thanks for chatting with us, Megan! Your work both on the page and IRL inspire us! ◆