When Amy Constable first met her Adana printing press, it was love at first sight. From applying the thick ink to the plate, to using all the strength of her upper body to make her mark on the page, the lost art of letterpress was reinvigorated within her. Saying goodbye to a career in advertising, Amy founded Saint Gertrude Letterpress and is now one of few who have mastered the letterpress and regularly teaches the craft and collaborates with local artists – including the cheeky Sex Habits of Strangers art project we did last year!
Amy tells us how she overcame her resistance in having a routine and now structures her day similar to a school timetable to juggle running a creative business alongside being a mum.
For a long time, I rejected the idea of a routine as being at odds with a creative life. I tried living a free-for-all day with no structure, but I found I wasn't productive, and not being productive actually stifled my creativity. So I tried something new and I found that, for me, being intensely structured turned out to be more conducive to creativity.
I wake up at 6.30am when one or both of my children tear down the hallway. Most mornings, my husband wakes up before me and is out the door by 7am so we have half an hour of co-parenting mayhem; breakfast, packing lunches, getting them dressed, making the beds, checking the school reader. I put on a pot of coffee first thing, but I like to have the kids taken care of before I start doing things for myself.
Once the kids are sorted and watching some Giggle and Hoot, I take a ‘spin' around the garden with my cup of coffee and secateurs.
Checking on my roses is a ritual that's become my morning meditation. I do it every day including weekends, unless it's pouring with rain. Sometimes I'm a real loser and take out a little notebook to make notes on things that need attention in the garden.
I come inside and sit down in the kitchen to a boiled egg and toast and another cup of coffee. This is probably my favourite part of the day. There is no food I enjoy more than a perfectly boiled egg.
Once the kids are dropped at day care and school, I go to work. I’ve started the habit of cycling from Balwyn to Brunswick. It’s 14km of hills, so I’m not doing it every day just yet but I hope by the end of this year I’ll be a cycling machine.
I arrive at my studio between 9.30 and 10am. I work in Little Gold Studios - a shared studio space in Brunswick - and usually I'm the first one in. Under my old regime, I was the kind of person who would put my head down and work all day, often without eating lunch or taking a break. My studio buddy Carla Hackett would have to remind me to have lunch. Working that way, I felt like ‘a real artist', but it wasn't very productive.
I was a disciplined high-achiever in high school but out in the real world, work expectations and structure were a lot harder to predict, so I decided to create the same structure in my day as I had in school and it has helped me enormously.
I start with a quick 15 minutes of 'Home Room' - where I get a coffee and check my emails for anything new, and write my to-do list for the day. I use an app called Todoist to help me with this and separate my day into six ‘Periods'. For each period, I work solidly for 45-minutes on one task with no digital interruption – Instagram is the enemy of work! – then I take a 15-minute break to stretch or snack before going onto the next period. My Fitbit buzzes when I need to stop work, then start again. Like a school bell.
When I do a print job, I usually need a Double Period, even for a simple job. Letterpress is a time-consuming practice and can be unpredictable. Sometimes, all 6 Periods of my day are taken up by a single print job, but I've worked out it's really important to break at the 45-minute mark, however tempted I am to keep going.
I'm not perfect, and my artist brain can go back to its obsessive ways. That's where working in a shared space is important – when I see others stopping for lunch, it reminds me to do the same.
I go for a walk out on Sydney Road at lunch, which helps to break things up and get the body moving. Sometimes, my studio mates and I grab a Bibimbap from Gu-E and sit down for a communal lunch.
Once I've finished 6th period, I do Home Room again - check my emails and clean up. Then I get back on my bike and cycle (or drive) home for the school pick up.
I hate cooking so that part of my day sucks. Unfortunately, I married the one person on earth who is a worse cook than me but luckily neither of us have a particularly sophisticated palette so there are no complaints when I reheat leftovers, or cook whatever is in the fridge served with steamed vegetables – because being a parent means vegetables.
We all sit down to dinner together and John tells me in his best Daryl Kerrigan voice that the meal is 'Restaurant Quality'.
Then we all do our Three Great Things, going around the table and saying the things we did today that were great. It's become second nature the minute we sit down to eat that we start our Three Great Things. Since Hazel started school this year, this has become a really interesting part of the day!
John and I toss a coin for what we call The Kitchen or The Snitchin. The Kitchen is fairly self-explanatory – dishes and kitchen duty. The Snitchin' is doing the kids bath and bed. Before the kids were old enough to understand us, we called it The Bitchin’ because rounding up a pair of naked kids and trying to get them into bed – let’s just say there's a lot of bitchin' from all parties.
I have my shower in the evening, and try to be in bed by 10.30pm so that I get my full eight hours because I am totally useless with any less sleep.
For me, what it means to live an extraordinary life probably means different things at different times. But I think truly knowing yourself – body, mind and soul – and behaving accordingly, is an extraordinary act of defiance. Being constantly bombarded by external messages that range from insidious suggestion to blatant instruction, having the confidence to do your own thing in your own way, and take full responsibility, is extraordinary.