Successful Wom*n: Artist, Entrepreneur and Mother, Kirra Kimbrell

We (Rachel and Kirra) decided to include ourselves in this project in order for our readers to get to know us a little better and to define success for ourselves. I (Kirra Kimbrell) am a New Jersey based photographer and Momma, as well as co-founder of Mother Muse Co. I am primarily a photographer in terms of art-making, however, I also love to create large scale drawings. Currently, I am working on a series of self portraits as well as a series of drawings chronicling tandem movement from my pregnancy til the present with my daughter. 

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Can you tell us about your field/work and how you became involved in that field/career?

Ever since I was a child, I have been a creative person. I come from a family of very creative individuals, my mother first and foremost, as well as my grandfather, and in a much more practical way, my grandmother and great grandmother. I also had the good fortune to grow up traveling and living in a variety of places, which in many ways enhanced my curiosity about pretty much everything.  I am passionate about artmaking but also philosophy, physics, religion, permaculture, hiking, conversations – learning about the complex intricacies of the world truly fascinates me. Actually I really always wanted to go into a career in theoretical physics but despite having many opportunities to pursue that path when the time came to make a decision I did what many people thought was a complete 180 and pursued artmaking instead. At the time, I as much as anyone else didn’t understand this decision. I had never given much thought prior to a career as an artist and I was giving up multiple opportunities now to follow that path; it must have looked as confusing as it felt. That’s the thing about taking space from your experiences – acts that seemed random or impulsive sometimes show you what you were truly after. I became an artist because it afforded me the privilege to learn about all of my passions – find the nuances, intersections, and intimacies where my patterns of thought overlapped.

What I am doing now: co-running Mother Muse Co and primarily photographing came about more recently. After college I took a break from creative practice because I felt very disenchanted. I graduated with a wonderful job in art education that honestly just wasn’t for me but even after spending four years at a university studying art I still didn’t have a good grasp on a lot of the tools I needed to be a successful artist. Several years later, when I became pregnant with my daughter, I began really wanting to be involved in my creative practice again. So I started taking self portraits, something I had never ever done. Around that time Rachel (co-founder of Mother Muse) and I began discussing the lack to community we felt in our respective spaces, as well as, the lack of knowledge about making art outside of the university setting we had had. With that in mind we began reaching out and talking to others. Mother Muse Co is the end result of that long and ongoing conversation.

So photographing, running Mother Muse Co, and being a full-time Momma are what I’m doing right now. It keeps me busy but I love every second of it!

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How do you define success in your own life?

Finding balance. Success is cultivating a life, work, family balance that allows me to maintain my role as mother, while fulfilling my personal commitment to creating art. Just recently I really started showing my art, that is success in another way, although not as important to me, it does feel wonderful to share what I have been doing with others. Feeling successful, or really even thinking about success isn’t something that is usually on my mind. I don’t make art, write, mother, or really anything else with the end goal of traditional monetary success in mind. I think for me I spent a long time thinking about how to be monetarily successful and it wasn’t happening because in that process I lost myself. I lost the wild thoughts, time-space connections, instincts, and passion that made my work mine. Focusing on balance rather gives me time to be all of the people and do all of the things that I require to be whole and make work that is informed.

What is your success story? What brought you to this point in your career?

My daughter is my success story. Without her I never would have had the courage to pursue a career in artmaking and I am not sure when I would have re-commited to my creative practice. It was the most dramatic shift in my life I think, realizing that you now belonged to someone else as much as you belong to yourself.

What advice would you give another woman entering into your field?

On photography: tell the story you want to tell.

On motherhood: you can do it! And you’re doing a damn good job!

I think those are really two ways of saying that trusting yourself is critical. Whatever the endeavor, developing a sense of trust and love for yourself will allow you to take the right actions and directions in your creative practice. I have sat through many critiques where others have suggested different projects I could undertake or viewpoints for a story I am trying to tell. This advice is often invaluable and can lead to new insights, understanding, and views; however, it is also very easy to lose yourself and your story in that process so at the end of the day, having a sense of trust in your work can go a long way.

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What advice would you give to another woman who was seeking a life she deemed as successful?

Life is long and the possibilities for growth are endless. Holding yourself to someone else’s definition of success will do nothing but tear at your self confidence. You do not have to have a Master’s degree at 25, own your own business or fulfill a traditional role in order to be successful – you have the power to define that term for yourself. If you had told me when I graduated college three years ago that I would be a wife and a mother at 24, I would have laughed. If you had told me that those things would bring me the deepest feelings of success while pushing me to pursue the creative career I had always wanted I wouldn’t have believed you, but here I am. The beauty of long life is that we have time to change and grow. You are not bound to the dreams you had last year, last week, or even five minutes ago – there is power in adapting as the world around you shifts.

The second piece of advice I would offer would be to share your art. I know that my mind and the wild ways I think about the world set me apart, so for most of my life I kept my thoughts, stories, and art to myself. Oftentimes I still do, although I am working on being more open with what I create. If you don’t take the time to share what you are doing, even if it is only with close friends or family, you are doing a huge disservice both to yourself and to the creative community around you. Your creative practice, process, and works provide are valuable. Sharing your work with others makes space for conversation and frees you to continue to develop your practice.

Has being a woman affected your success? If so, in what way and how have you dealt with this?

Motherhood has been the single most defining role in my life and the first role that I have felt truly successful in, so in that way, being a woman has brought me all of the success I could have asked for. It has given me passion, drive, and courage to show up for my own dreams because I want my daughter to see the power that comes with believing in yourself and writing your own path. During my pregnancy was a time of great change for me and I was able to define and shift my personal goals to ones that would allow me to engage with a creative career. It was at that time that Rachel and I conceived Mother Muse Co in its earliest stage as well as completed our first collaborative project. Those two endeavors, along with dealing with my changing body in my farming job at the time, led me back to a creative practice involving photography. When I think about it like that, maybe my creative life has been redefined by my engaging with womanhood in a more intimate way.

Aside from motherhood being a woman has always been something to celebrate. I never felt held back or like I was unable to do something because of my gender, if anything, it was in and of itself a form of creativity and self expression.

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What is the most important lesson you have learned thus far?

It is never too late to start over. After graduating and wanting nothing to do with the career I had just spent four years working towards, I chose a different one – farming. However when I was ready to recommit to creative practice, I was not sure where to start. I felt that I had already lost valuable time working on my career and it often crossed my mind to maybe just stick with farming because it was fulfilling and satisfied many of the aspects that make me happy. When I finally did begin photographing and working creatively again, it was hard to remember the feelings of stress and anxiety I had had about restarting. This rolls back around to my feeling that life is long. There is time to explore a multitude of experiences throughout our lifetimes and changing your mind about a career is just another experience. I am a much fuller, happier, more productive individual when I am pursuing creative life but it takes much more work than a traditional career would. Starting over is a chance for new growth.

You can view Kirra Kimbrell’s work at kirrakimbrell.com and on Instagram @kirrakimbrell. You can also contact her at kirra.kimbrell@gmail.com for commissions and collaborations.

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All images © Rachel King, 2018

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