Joy Sunyoung Fitzgerald 

For the first Edit post of the New Year, we spoke to Joy Sunyoung Fitzgerald (known as @madebysohn on Instagram) who is the co-author of a stunning photo art book and mother of two in Portland. Read on to find out how she balances cultivating her own creativity while nurturing her children’s, what it takes to create a photo art book, and what makes Portland a special place to be a mother.

Tell us about the little ones who made you a mom!

I have two littles - my son, James (4 years old) and my daughter, Lucie (7 months old). James is an incredibly intelligent, curious + thoughtful boy who has a genuine love of learning. I honestly don’t think there is anything he’s NOT interested in (except eating all his vegetables). It requires much of my energy to keep up with his insatiable curiosity, but he is such a joy to teach. He is also a wonderful helper and the sweetest big brother. 

Lucie is my bright-eyed and content sweet girl. She is so quick to smile and has the most cheerful + excitable laugh. I can’t wait to see how her personality continues to develop, but for now, I am doing my best to savor this stage of her life. I know it will pass quickly.

You started a blog over 8 years ago to share your own sketches. Now that you're a mom of 2, how do you slip in time to be creative? Do you nurture your children's creativity? How?

There is so much to say in response to these questions, so I’ll do my best to condense my thoughts.

I have to start out by saying that my definition of “creativity” since becoming a Mother four years ago has changed dramatically. Before children, I thought creativity only meant sitting down and creating a tangible piece of art with a tool and canvas. But now I see how narrow-minded of a view that was. I would argue motherhood requires more creativity than any other job in the world — creativity of time, finances, relationship dynamics, problem resolution, making meals, activity planning, adjusting to constant change etc! Creativity is no longer something I make time for. Instead, it’s simply the way I navigate through life.

But to answer your question — in the “generic” sense of creativity, I do get time to sit down and practice my calligraphy and illustration once in a while. Most of it is done out of necessity for something involving the children (like creating chore charts or my own educational material). But to be honest, I enjoy cultivating their creativity much more than my own. I am too critical of my own work, but genuinely love everything my son makes. 

I do nurture my children’s creativity, but not as intentionally as you might think. I tend to be overly structured as a person and parent, so it’s freeing to have an area where I let go more and allow the children’s interests to lead. I see my role in the creative realm as an encourager and tool + method provider. The most recent example of this is when my son starting playing a xylophone last week. I let him explore banging on it for a while, but I knew he would really love it if he had a goal to achieve along with it (he’s just that kind of kid). So I found beginner sheet music and showed him how to read it and play the notes to his favorite songs. He requested different songs to look up all throughout the day. We sang songs together, I played a little guitar alongside him, and he also practiced alone for over an hour on his own initiative. We celebrated in his progress and in the enjoyment of making music together. 

You’ve recently released August to August, a photobook. Tell us about why you decided to create this book. Can you share any suggestions for parents who are thinking of creating a book of their own?

My husband is the co-founder of a creative agency called Ransom Limited. Ransom dabbled in publishing and wanted another book to make. In the year we published August to August, my husband (who is also a film photographer) had taken a massive amount of photos from our daily lives, as well as our world travels. The beginnings of parenthood were incredibly difficult for us, but we would always end the day looking back at pictures to remind ourselves of the goodness we were too sleep-deprived or busy to notice in the moment. This book was a celebration of the beauty and growth in our family, captured in the form of photos, words and art (that was made by my then 1.5 year old son).

Suggestions for parents wanting to make their own book — have the expectation that it will take a lot of time. Making a book like this (even simply for memories and not for publishing) is a ton of work, but something you will never regret having put time into. 

What’s your favorite part about being a mother in Portland? Are there any beloved secret spots that only local families know about?

I have no experience of being a mother outside of Portland, but one of the things I cherish most is the community of mothers I have here. They are near and dear to me! Portland is also amazing in that it offers city creature comforts as well as beauty of the outdoors. I love having access to both, especially in wanting to provide a wide range of experiences for my children. 

Local spots — Mt. Tabor Park/Reservoir for picnics, child-friendly walks/hikes, playground, views of the city, nature. Our favorite summer family date is eating a meal at Guero (my husband and I get their mezcal margaritas and our son has their delicious horchata) followed by a delicious matcha powdered soft serve cone at Cheese + Crack (in walking distance from Guero). 

How do you embrace the chaos of being a parent? 

Funny question for me — I don’t think I’ve embraced chaos (as much as I wish I was a more relaxed parent). However, I’m committed to doing my best to cultivate order and pursue peace amidst the chaos that is naturally part of parenthood. I will also add that I do a lot of praying to get me through!

Follow Joy on instagram @madebysohn

Photography credit: James Fitzgerald III and Parker Fitzgerald