Rachel Burke
Tinsel queen Rachel Burke manages to balance the demands of a skyrocketing creative career with the extremes of parenting a newborn.

“It was really funny because I was mid contraction, in a whirlwind of pain and I was shouting, “I got my blue tick on Instagram!”

Experiencing a full-body contraction on the long walk to the birth suite isn’t a moment many women would remember fondly. But for Rachel Burke, the multidisciplinary artist whose latest collection of iconic tinsel coats have been snapped on the likes of Ke$ha and Mindy Kaling, that was also the moment she received the notification from Instagram that her account (@imakestagram) finally hit 100,000 followers. “It was really funny because I was mid contraction, in a whirlwind of pain and I was shouting, “I got my blue tick on Instagram,” she shares.

When her artistic profile expanded as rapidly as her pregnancy, Rachel found herself at a common crossroads for female creatives. “I’ve worked so hard for 10 years to get to this point,” she says, cradling her seven-week-old son Hugo with his feet snug inside her trademark pom-pom socks. “And I wonder if I can still feed this beast that I’ve created?”

Crushing the myth

Women encounter strong societal pressure to choose between motherhood and achieving their career goals. But even from deep within the newborn haze, millennial artists like Rachel are already proving society wrong. In the past two months, she has not only scaled up her family, but is scaling up her business, too. With the right mindset, the creative dreams of mothers can still come true.

To the uninitiated, Rachel’s reality feels like a creative dreamscape. Like her newly verified Instagram, the entry room to her home is a shimmering tinsel cave with every corner overflowing with vibrantly coloured pom-poms, garlands of toile and a glittering collection of miscellanea.

An entire wall in her home explodes with metallic, coral-hued garments – one half of her new Disney collaboration. With a shining tinsel costume to represent each of The Little Mermaid’s iconic characters, the room sparkles like an underwater gay club on drag night. Rachel surveys the aesthetic and smiles: “It’s all cooked, but I don’t have to compromise.”

With baby Hugo not yet two months old and the Disney collaboration on track for delivery within the week, Rachel is crushing the myth that motherhood hits the pause button on female creativity. She maintains that project deadlines help her keep momentum. “If I didn’t have this big project, I probably wouldn’t be producing so much.” She pauses to lift her chestnut-brown sausage dog, Daisy, onto her lap, going on to add: “But, oh my god, this is The Little Mermaid – it has to be amazing!”

With constant repetition a key part of her process, Rachel has always been highly productive in her artistic practice. She has produced her iconic style through replication, modification and a “make it until you make it” philosophy, taking faith that inspiration will come through creation and not the other way around.

For a woman who made 100 dresses in 100 days, Rachel was overwhelmed by the total shift in mindset she experienced after giving birth. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll never make anything again because now all that matters is keeping him alive.’ This thought was shocking to me,” she reveals.

The same thoughts were still with her two weeks later, as she sat down in her studio to work on her first post-baby commission: A Logies gown for TV presenter Jan Fran. As Australia watched the gorgeous tinsel frock sail down the red carpet, no one would have dreamed that behind the scenes Rachel was struggling with her biggest creative challenge to date. “The idea of doing work was so overwhelming. All I could think about was him. It’s crazy because making is something I do every day – and I was suddenly frightened,” the designer shares.

Permission to create

Rachel Burke
Rachel Burke

According to artist, mother and author of Motherhood & Creativity, Rachel Power explains that this experience of losing confidence is a common one. “I think the number-one issue that I’ve found for female creatives is that they struggle to give themselves permission to create art because they feel it takes their focus away from their family,” she says.

Burke credits support from her husband Tom in getting her first project out the door. “Tom said, ‘I’ll take over and hold the fort.’ There’s a huge encouragement that comes from knowing I have him on my side,” she says, glancing at Tom who is slowly crumpling at the other end of the couch after handling last night’s feed.

The support of her online community along with visits from her own mum have also been vital in finding the motivation and additional pockets of time to work. A good breast pump has also given her more flexibility. “In some ways, it’s allowed me to focus on my wellbeing as well,” Burke says. “I’m going to be a better mum to him with the ability to create.”

For Burke, it’s become a little easier each week to find space for creativity. “I’m calling it a lifting of the fog,” she says, although in the next breath, she acknowledges that her practice may never be the same as it once was. “It’s like I have a different brain in my head. It’s going to take time to learn how to use that brain.”

Burke also found she needs to be more selective with her time. “In the past, I’d spend time making these dumb headbands that don’t mean anything aside from being visually pleasing. I’ve realised now that I need to prioritise,” she says.

Power sees this reshaping of priorities as the biggest upside for creative mothers. “It’s a wonderful chance to refocus your life,” she says. “Mums become more intensive, more focused and able to work much faster than they could when they felt they had all the time in the world.”

However, Burke’s changing priorities also mean missed opportunities. For the first time in her creative career, Burke has had to say no, turning down the chance to collaborate with retail giants ASOS and Urban Outfitters and an invitation to appear in a reality TV series, which was filmed in LA the month Hugo was born.

Motherhood has forced her to refocus and be more selective with her battles but even though she knew it would be tough going, she never considered turning down The Little Mermaid. As a child who grew up singing, Burke says, “Disney is something I’m willing to not sleep for.”

But while The Little Mermaid’s unfinished tinsel gown calls her attention to the workroom, baby Hugo loses no sleep. Today, he snoozes comfortably in his father’s arms, completely unaware of the way his mother is redefining society’s expectations of female creativity – or that he shares his birthday with one very important blue tick.

Rachel’s tips for keeping your creativity alive:

  1. Set yourself some deadlines. Give yourself a goal, even if it’s just to make one thing a week, then take time to reflect on how creating it made you feel.
  2. Make it until you make it. Just pottering away or repeating an action can lead to inspiration. Skill and creativity come from what you discover in the moment of making, rather than thinking about it.
  3. Keep an inspiration diary. If it’s all you can do, assemble a collection of inspiring (either physical or digital) images. That way, when you’re ready, inspiration will be waiting.
  4. Step out into the world. A walk or run can source inspiration and remind you of why you do what you do.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Creativity is all about finding joy and expanding on it. Acknowledge that it’s going to take time to get back to where you were and that’s okay.
  6. Use your support network. Use whoever you can to help you find pockets of time to create. Whether it’s your mum sitting with the baby while you work, or leaning on a friend, call in favours to find time to focus.

WORDS by Jessamy Ross

Jessamy Ross is a writer, advertising creative, aerobics instructor, ex-cruise-ship entertainer and mum to two boys under three. She is passionate about championing the stories of strong women, long lunches, drinking untrendy lager beer and sneaking out to see live music whenever she can.