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train track painting in watercolor by Toronto Artist Rachael Grad
Watercolour painting with palette and train by Toronto artist Rachael Grad february 2021

Painting - Motherhood Hit Me Like a Train

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SOLD! “Motherhood hit me like a train,” watercolor on paper, 36" x 36," February 2021

Rolling a toy train across my artwork is a not so subtle metaphor for being a mother and artist. Motherhood derailed my art school plans and my art completely changed course when I became a mother. Toys have taken over my home and my artwork and they are always in mind and in my way. So for this artwork I tried to reverse the ubiquitous toy train and turn it into a paintbrush.

My children often join in on my painting and drawing, and other artwork. Usually I do not appreciate this overtaking or co-collaboration in my art. Over the years, I have tried to accept that children thrive on creative art projects, so I have started incorporating them into certain projects, both for family fun and for school (theirs and mine!). 

In this artwork, toy train tracks run across my art paper with no clear direction, movement or pattern. The disorienting web of colour and lines has a dizzying effect. I feel this is similar to the scattered, frantic, messy life as a mother of three young children.

Using a Toy Train as a Paintbrush

To express motherhood in body and gesture, I used a small toy train with six wheels to make fluid marks across a large 36” x 36” watercolour paper. I tested various brush strokes and differing marks with the toy train, including quick pushing of the train to letting it move on its own across the page. I decided on a sweeping arm motion as my one mark. I found the rolling motion to be a more satisfying way of using the train, as compared to dabbing it like a stamp.

This chosen rolling motion required loading up significant water and pigment for each mark run. In order for the paint colour to show up on the paper, I had to heavily press down on the toy train during the entire rolling mark movement. Though I heavily pressed into the train for the duration of the motion, I was usually unable to equally apply the paint throughout the same mark. I made the large arm movements both while standing over the paper and also while sitting or kneeling beside it.

The mark making proved to be unexpectedly tiring for my arm and back. Ironically, working in this way caused the same physical exhaustion, aches and pains as those I experienced after childbirth, as a mother to a newborn. I had to work in short bursts and take many breaks while creating this painting. Resting alone and respite from one’s own kids is also highly recommended when mothering.