Welcome to Week 32 of Motherhood by Design – the series where mothers who also run creative businesses share their inspirations and their experiences juggling the demands of raising children while growing a creative career.
"Motherhood doesn’t need to kill your dreams. Instead, you will find you have new ones."
Courtney Slazinik is a photographer with no clients other then her own kids. But she does something even better - Courtney is dedicated to teaching others to take better pictures. As a former school teacher, Courtney brings a warm, encouraging style to her photography course and her eBook, helping women master photography topics like gear, camera settings, lighting and more. Whether you shoot photos with a fancy DSLR or an iPhone, Courtney has plenty of great tips to help you take beautiful photos you will treasure.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Courtney - can you please describe your family?
I married the man I had a crush on in high school although we were not high school sweet hearts. We have three happy daughters - 8, 6 and 3. Don’t forget our two old dogs.
What is your business?
Click it Up a Notch is a website to help people improve their images one click at a time. I remember how challenging photography was when I started. It was like learning a foreign language. I love being able to help tens of thousands of women wanting to improve their images either to capture the their children, their life or even turn it into a business.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I spent most of my time playing school. I knew from an early age I was going to be an elementary school teacher. My parents bought us old desks and I remember making my brother and his friends sit down during the summer and play school with me.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Absolutely! My mother is probably the most creative person I know. She is extremely talented and has kindly taught all her children a thing or two about creativity and crafts. I learned to cross-stitch at a young age. Then as I got older she taught me how to make a skirt which I remember throwing on the floor in frustration because it didn’t come naturally to me. My mom continued to encourage us to use our creative side and I have been blessed with watching her use her own creativity to grow a successful appliqué quilt pattern design business.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a mother? Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
Like I mentioned earlier, I knew I wanted to be an elementary school teacher but I also knew that I wanted to get married and be a stay at home mom like my own mother. My husband knew before we got married that as soon as we had kids, I would quit working and stay home to raise the kids.
In your early years of motherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the latter, when did you pick it back up?
I think you do the best you can when your kids are little. When we had our first daughter, I made a photo quilt for my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. I decided maybe I could turn that into a business. I started to try and sell little “lovies” for kids with photos of their family members on them. I think maybe I sold one! But it did put the idea in my head that I could work from home if I wanted to. I also enjoyed scrapbooking but soon realized I wouldn’t have the time or space with two little ones at home. I found digital photo books to be the answer I was looking for, however, I’m still way behind on those.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
I started Click it Up a Notch after my second daughter was born. I had always had a love of photography and had been begging my husband to buy me a DSLR. I had a “fancy” point and shoot so he didn’t think we needed it. About 10 minutes before my second daughter was born, the nurse asked my husband to move a chair in our hospital room and a few seconds later we heard something heavy crash to the floor. Our “fancy” camera was broken. Luckily, my mom and sister were nearby with their own cameras to capture the birth, but you better believe I took advantage of my husband’s guilt. The very next day, I had called the camera store to get my new camera. Then the fun began.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
Shortly after I got my new DSLR, I noticed one of my friends, Megan Cieloha’s, pictures were much nicer than mine. I couldn’t understand why since we had almost the same camera. I convinced her to come over and teach me what I was doing wrong. She taught me manual mode but just like my mom teaching me to sew, I was quickly frustrated and I think I may have been her worst student to date.
However, I quickly got over my frustration and gained an insatiable appetite for everything photography-related. I tried to learn everything I could, and soon started a Project 365, taking and publishing a photo every day for a year. Since we were living in Japan at the time, many of my friends back in the States saw the growth of my images over that year and asked me to teach them how to take better pictures. That is when Click it Up a Notch was born.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
Balance, that is a funny word. I don’t believe that I do balance my work and motherhood. I realized that at times I’m going to be a really good businesswoman but not the best mom. But then on the weekends or when I’m away from the computer I focus to be the best mom and I know I’m not the best businesswoman at that moment. I love my business and want to work so much that I have to put limits on my time. I don’t let myself work in the evenings or on the weekends. But during the day, I work like crazy. My kids are awesome and, I joke, really great independent players. They get along really well which helps me to accomplish work during the day. If I find I have too much to do, then I wake up early before the kids get up to get as much done as I can.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I think it helps me to stay focused. I know I have a limited amount of time to work so instead of messing around I make a list and tackle it before it’s time to fold laundry or cook dinner.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
I honestly wouldn’t have my business if it weren’t for my kids. I improved my photography so I could take better pictures of them. I don’t take on clients and they are my only subject. I am able to learn and apply what I learn to images of them. I’m so blessed to then be able to take that knowledge and share it with other mothers out there who also want better images of their kids.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
My children are my constant subjects and muse. Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t photograph clients. I only photograph my kids. They are amazing and wonderful at letting me practice on them. I am always surprised at how eager they are to help me when I say I want to try something new or need help.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
That is tough. I have days where I question if I’m being selfish and if I should give up my business to focus 100% on my kids. But then I remember I love teaching and helping people and that makes me happy. A happy mom I believe leads to happy kids. Plus, as I’m writing this my daughter is at my mom's house sewing her first skirt, and might I add probably doing a much better job than I did as a kid, ha! I’m so excited to watch their creativity grow and be able to nurture it like my own mother nurtured mine.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
As a mother of three daughters I love being able to show them that I can be a stay at home mom and still have something for myself. I can create a business while nursing a newborn and playing with a 3 and 5 year old. Motherhood doesn’t need to kill your dreams. Instead, you will find you have new ones. I tell them all the time that if they want to create their own business when they grow up they can. Their response is typically “I want to be a zoo keeper.” But as long as they knew they have options.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Even if it is just 20 minutes a day, allow yourself the time and give yourself the grace you need to do something for your creative soul. It doesn’t have to be a massive project or even something that turns into a business. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing something for yourself each day. I remember my mom setting up a “sewing room” in every house we lived in. Sometimes that meant the basement. I loved watching my mom sew and seeing her do something she loved. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for time for yourself. Maybe that means getting a babysitter or having your spouse watch the kids so you can go to Starbucks and draw for two hours. Whatever it is you want to do, make time for yourself and do it. Your kids and your spouse will thank you!
Thank you so much, Courtney, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Courtney at Click It Up A Notch or even better, get her free ebook called 8 Ways to Improve Your Photography in a Week and you'll be on your way to better photos yourself!