November’s ‘That Mama’ is artist Louise Hill!
Not only does this month’s That Mama, Louise Hill have one of the most beautiful homes we’ve ever seen, but the artist and mama to twin boys (12-year-old Ezra and Jude) also produces gorgeous, colourful artwork evocative of the various places she’s lived around Asia, including Shanghai, Hong Kong and now Singapore. Here, Louise recounts her adventures as a “trailing spouse” and shares her refreshingly candid wisdom on finding work-life balance. Read on for her wonderful interview and to see one of the most stunning “That Mama” photo shoots we’ve ever produced!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I am a born and bred Londoner and come from an artistic family. My father is an accomplished graphic designer and my mother is a knitwear designer so I grew up in a house filled with interesting vintage and ethnic textiles, artworks and music! When I was a child we lived in Paris for 6 years whilst my father ran a design agency and my mother started the beginnings of her own expat Mum business. She would take me to the flea markets where she would buy 1940’s tea dresses, we would go the ballet, the opera, museums, street theatre, and exhibitions – my parents exposed my brother and me to as much culture and the arts as possible.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I spent 4 years at art & design school followed by a 15 year career in London working in a handful of design agencies as a high-end packaging designer for clients such as United Distillers, Fortnum & Mason’s and Crabtree & Evelyn – half of my career was all ‘pre-computer’ so everything we produced back then was hand-drawn!
Then, after taking a year’s break to backpack across Asia with my then-boyfriend (now husband), I also lived and freelanced in the arty area of Fitzroy, Melbourne for 3 years with a spot of guest lecturing at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. After falling pregnant with twins, I moved back to Brighton in the UK to be near my family — the next 3 years with two babies to look after, another house move to Hastings, and mountains of laundry is all a bit of a blur! We then moved to Shanghai for my husband’s job with energetic 3-year-old twins in tow and an exciting new adventure began! Four years later we moved to Sai Kung, Hong Kong and a further four years later to Singapore.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
Having twins and living in the UK, it was definitely a case of ‘all hands on deck’ and I had to put my career down. Also, as I don’t drive, I did most of my shopping online and walked everywhere with my ‘4 wheel drive’ Mountain Buggy. Thankfully we always try to move to locations within walking distance or good transport links to amenities. With the practical and emotional support of my fellow ‘Twin Mamas’, along with my husband Ryan and my Mum who would come down on the train from London for a few days to help with the 4am feeds, we just got through each day, kept each other sane and as long as we were all happy and fed we were ok!
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
I’ll admit, the first few years were tough and as my focus was entirely centred around the boys, I didn’t really have time to think about myself much and I don’t think it really bothered me at the time. But as we moved to Asia and the boys have grown older, I have been able to find more time for myself and with the support of my husband, have been able to kickstart my career again.
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
It may sound a little cliche but finding that ‘work-life balance’ between us all as a family has been very challenging. As my husband often has to travel for work, I decided I had to create a web-based ‘portable’ business for myself that allowed me to work from home and create my own deadlines around my boys — a new ‘Mama friendly’ take on my previous career, using the skills that I had already refined over the years.
Rather than trying to climb mountains to learn a whole new skill set, it was a business that I could continue to grow as we moved around Asia. I managed to find a way to pick up my pre-kids experience and use those skills for a new venture – post-kids – that I am enjoying immensely.
As a ‘trailing spouse’ and as a Mum, I have definitely found that aside from my boys’ needs, I wanted my own little bit of independence in the form of my business to satisfy a creative need in myself. I think that most artistic people have a ‘need’ as well as a ‘want’ for a creative outlet of some form or another!
I try to make sure that I’m around after school as much as possible and when work invariably spills over into that time then we at least have a screen-free ‘sit down dinner’ together most nights to talk about our day, followed by cuddles on the sofa before bedtime. The ‘mum guilt’ has affected me at times; it certainly is a juggling act for working mums, but I have found that my work has naturally increased as the boys have grown older and now spend more time in after school activities.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Lists, lists and more lists! And moodboards! I have also now acquired a fantastic secret weapon in the form of my friend Natasha Shuttleworth! As creatives we share the same synergy and our days together are productive, positive and fun! Having Natasha around to help with the running of my business leaves me with more time to focus purely on the design side of things.
I wish I had more time for…
Holidays! Now that I have a few retailers and my newly revamped website, I am always open for orders and can be busy through the holidays too.
I always feel saner after….
I schedule in some ‘me time’. I love power walking along the beach, exploring my new city with my camera, and really cherish having a catch up lunch with my girlfriends. I work full time and find it hard to put my work down, but am trying to give myself a little more down time once or twice a week. I tend to fit it in organically around my workflow.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I live on Sentosa. After the gritty quirkiness of Shanghai laneways and feral cows roaming around the old fishing village of Sai Kung, I was a little put off by its ‘perfectness’ at first, but it ticks a lot of boxes for us as a family. We love the safe, laid-back pace of life and freedom it offers the kids, being a 10-minute walk to the beach where my husband has a Surf Ski, but best of all it’s only a short hop in a taxi to Chinatown and Duxton Hill which are my favourite areas. It’s much more central than people realise!
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
There are so many to choose from! We love picnics at the beach, the parks, the boys get around on their BMX bikes and skateboards and when it’s raining we pop down the road to Vivo to treat ourselves to the cinema and dinner. They also love Universal Studios, Adventure Cove or going for hikes with their Dad.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Singapore?
My kids grew up in China on Din Tai Fung so we know the menu back to front. The boys’ other favourite is the sushi train at Genki Sushi Orchard Central; they can pretty much eat their own body weight in sushi. We also love meeting up with friends at Tanjong Beach Club for brunch. It’s great for when you have a big table of friends and the kids can bring their skateboards and scooters or play in the club pool or on the beach.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
We are quite adventurous so like to go exploring. One of our favourite holidays has been taking the boys to Sri Lanka and taking the train up though the mountains to Ella to the tea plantations and then down south to the beaches. We have also taken our kids trekking in Nepal and to visit a friend of ours who runs a residential childcare home for children. We also spent a relaxed month in Sanur, Bali one summer and ‘worked from home’ in the beautiful house of a fellow artist found on AirBnB.
For a totally toddler-friendly luxury hotel kind of holiday, and as an alternative from the usual suspects of Thailand and Bali, I also recommend the Sheraton Sanya Resort on Hainan Island. The kids’ pool was fantastic and right next to the sand play area with sunbeds in between the two, perfect for being able to base yourself somewhere to keep an eye on the little ones and very relaxing.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
I’m not sure this is easy for any couple juggling the hours that come with expat postings, but I try and schedule in a date and then find a new restaurant to try or simply a walk around our new city. It’s fun to book something and not tell your partner where you are going.
My Mum also gave me some great advice when I was young, she said ‘Make sure you have separate interests and friendships so that when you do get together for that date night you have lots to talk about and catch up on together’.
Favourite date night restaurants?
As a lover of detailed artwork, our favourite restaurant has to be Tippling Club. Watching Chef Ryan Clift work is like watching an ‘artist in residence’ at work in his own gastronomic atelier full of artisanal assistants. His passion for his craft shines through on every little perfect plate as incredibly detailed edible works of art! And the cocktails there mixed by Kamil Foltan have a matching level of attention to detail through the layers of delicately perfumed flavours and presentation! I love it!
Alternatively, a romantic date night for us can also be a stumbled upon ‘hole in the wall’ treat whilst discovering a new part of town. Romantic foodie date nights come in all shapes and experiences!
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
If you are starting your own business from the ground up, I would suggest that you initially brainstorm your ideas with a handful of trusted close friends. Good, honest feedback and constructive criticism are key in the early stages to create a solid concept that you can build on. Think of your market, your branding and don’t skimp on getting a good logo designed! Your image is representing everything you have to offer, no matter how little your business may be.
Be brave and get the ball rolling, stay true to yourself, try to be original and trust your instincts — follow your initial vision and the rest will follow.
Listen to and ask for advice. I am lucky enough to have a handful of close girlfriends who are my trusted fellow Mum-‘mentors’ — we continually try our best to encourage, help and support each other with our businesses. Women need to support each other as much as possible, after all, we are all looking for fulfilment and a sense purpose.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
The best advice has been from friends who tell you to relax and follow your heart; there are no hard and fast rules to parenting and there are no medals. As families who move around so much and may not have our immediate family around us as much as we would like, it is important to surround your children with as much love, security and recognisable routines as possible to help them feel grounded and secure.
If you have just moved to a new country, help them to nurture new friendships by offering to organise playdates when they move to new neighbourhoods and schools. They need to feel a sense of belonging as soon as possible.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
I’m not sure that I would have any new advice but my advice to new twin mums would be to be organised and get prepared beforehand for the road ahead. I felt much more confident once armed with some knowledge on how to feed and care for two new babies. Sticking to routines with feeding and sleeping to get Ezra and Jude in sync with each other was so important. I think if you feed on demand, you will never sleep because as one baby falls asleep the other will wake up and then you will get no rest at all!
Funnily enough, in the hospital in Melbourne where I had my initial check ups they were selling a book called Twins: A Practical Guide to Parenting Multiples and one of the author’s names is LOUISE RYAN! Definitely the most honestly written and useful book on twins and multiples that I ever read.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Making time for myself!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
We are all so busy that I love a simple weekend ‘bits and bobs’ coffee table dinner at home, great movie on TV, snuggled up together under blankets until all 3 (or 4!) of us fall asleep on the sofa!
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
My next design – always! I have to keep a notebook by my bed so that I can brain dump an idea in order to get back to sleep.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Sitting in bed in the morning with a cup of Earl Grey tea, listening to the birds chirping whilst I gather my thoughts for the day ahead.
Thank you to Louise and her boys, and a big shoutout to Gunilla of Sugarlight Photography for the absolutely gorgeous snaps!