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Mother Artist – Ilona Nelson

Ilona Nelson is a new media artist working predominately with photography but also incorporating performance, film and installation. She is passionate about supporting and promoting Australian women artists and has created This Wild Song which is a series of portraits and interviews with artists who have a unique voice, and onefourfour which is a year long project featuring twelve different artists every year.

Bravery is Honesty

Imagination is Imperative

Generosity is Heart

As a Mother Artist i’m much more inspired with a lot less time.


From a commission for Orbital which is a community space run by Hobsons Bay Council (Melbourne).                                My eldest pressed the shutter for me.

When my first son was born I didn’t have any new ideas for about 6 months which was terrifying! But ever since that phase passed I’m feeling more inspired than ever with so many ideas. I have about 5 series worth of work written in my journal but then that brings a different pressure, that feeling of sitting on my hands. I have ideas that have been waiting for years and others just dissipate which I sometimes grieve for. Funnily enough I have a series about grief that I’ve been sitting on…..

I’ve definitely grown as an artist, I work more efficiently, and have a stronger belief in myself since becoming a mother.

My work is created on instinct and often my photographs pop into my head as finished pieces, and now I spend time nutting out the details in my head as I do domestics. If I’m making a costume I’ll get the kids involved or if I’m location scouting I’ll take the kids so we can explore together. By the time I’m ready to shoot I’m prepared as I have the costume, location, and know what time of day I want to shoot. Of course not everything always goes to plan, my work is a response to the environment I’m in so I may have a completely different idea on the day or maybe it’s just not coming together and I can’t create what I have in my head.


‘clutch’ is a piece for onefourfour and the eldest had to do the shutter as the tripod was too tall for my youngest.

I’m an introvert like a lot of artists and sometimes I need to not talk, go into my head for a while and recharge. Not being able to have that need met when I really need it can be very challenging.

My eldest has been saying he wants to be an artist/inventor for a long time so he’s always up for helping me with my work and going to exhibitions. Often he’ll help me shoot a self portrait then we’ll photograph his ideas. I’ve been meaning to ask him to paint on some of my photos so I better pop that on the list too… They both love to press the shutter for me which is great, especially since one of them accidentally threw my remote in a creek!


From a project called Book Film Painting

I take the kids with me when I go to the bush so they can play while I shoot but lately that really hasn’t been working out. I’m spending all my energy on negotiating their arguments. someone gets something in their eye, they need the toilet etc. It was much easier when I could pop them in the pram with some food and they’d be happy!

I think it’s seen as a luxury for a mother artist to get studio time for her practice even though she needs it to breathe and feel whole, even though having her needs met always has a positive impact on the child. It does feel like it would be easier for a father artist to retreat to the studio but perhaps that’s a traditional view or our mother guilt talking.

I often ask mothers whose children are older than mine if parenting gets easier and the answer always is that it’s just different. I think the same can be said for being an artist mother. I have a certain way of working now but that will change again when my youngest starts school next year. There’s no such thing as balance, it’s one life and you just do your best every day.

And I now ignore the chaotic mess of the house until the weekends.


Taken after I finished shooting a piece for my onefourfour project, my youngest pressed the timer and ran back quick enough to give the thumbs up!

on Sep 1, 2015