Every Day Something New: Doodles by a New Mom
Have you ever dreamt of publishing a book? Well, my dear friend Caren King Choi did, and she made her dream a reality! After having her beautiful daughter who she adorably nicknamed Bean, Caren decided to document her journey as a mom in the form of hilariously drawn and captioned doodles. One thing led to another, and last month she published her first book, Every Day Something New: Doodles by a New Mom.
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The book covers everything from lopsided breastfeeding to unsettling baby sounds to the struggles of parenthood. The raw depictions of the first 100 days of parenthood will have you bursting with laughter. I can relate to every one of her doodles and I wish I had this book when I was a new mom to help me laugh through the difficult days. Here are some of my favorites:
Knowing Caren since college through fun yet competitive games of volleyball (she kicked my behind, by the way), I love seeing her pursue her passion for art throughout the years. How many people do you know who actually do what they love? Then after having Bean, she dove into motherhood head first and never turned back. You can definitely see her dedication to art and motherhood in Every Day Something New. It’s so inspiring to see a new mom being able to balance taking care of a newborn and writing a book. How does she do it? I asked her a few questions about her book, her journey, and how she manages to do it all!
1. Tell us about you and your background.
I’m 34 years old, an artist and a writer and a nonstop doodler. I was born here in the states but my parents came from Taiwan in the late ’70s. My dad was a software engineer-turned-pastor (now retired) and my mom handled all the duties of a pastor’s wife while raising me and my siblings. You might think that growing up in a super religious, immigrant household would be oppressive, but it didn’t feel that way at all. Both of my parents are creative people. Both are a little wacky in their own way. They know how to enjoy life and have fun. It wasn’t perfect but we laughed a lot. I’m very grateful for that.
In college, I studied art and writing but had no idea what I was going to do to make money. After graduation, I worked a few different jobs, desk jobs and retail, just kind of wandering and working to pay the bills while making art and writing on my own. Eventually, I was hired as an attendant at an art gallery and stayed there for ten years. By the end of the ten years, I was Associate Director of Programs. I loved it. Last year my husband James and I had our daughter, who we call Bean, and at the beginning of 2019 I made the leap and quit my job. So now I’m also a stay-at-home mom.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist/writer?
I’ve always liked making things and I didn’t have very high expectations about who would see it. I figured I’d have a job like everybody else and keep making stuff on the side, which I’d give away or stash in the closet. I can be a little risk-averse and passive. Anyway, to kind of slantwise answer your question, I’ve always wanted to write and make art, but I don’t think I felt justified in calling myself an artist or a writer until pretty recently. Being around artists all the time at work finally made me realize that it’s not a mythical title and you don’t have to adhere to some level of eccentricity or whatever. Artists come in all shapes and sizes. As long as I keep making art, I’m an artist. A few friends and colleagues were also instrumental in urging me to put my stuff out there: Anonda, Adrienne, and Sandy most of all, but many others as well. If it weren’t for them, I’d still be stashing stuff in my closet and coming up with excuses to not try that hard.
3. Where do you get your ideas for your drawings?
Everyday life! Having and caring for a baby is unlike anything I’ve ever done. The whole process is weird, so it’s not too hard to distill that weirdness into a doodle. I try to take an outsider-insider-anthropological explorer perspective and notice every tiny detail. It helps that I only have one kid and I’m staring at her all day. As long as I keep paying attention and being surprised and fascinated, I can probably keep doodling about it. So we’re good for a while. I hear they don’t stop growing until they’re like, 18 or something.
4. What does your family think of your book?
My mom has been studying the book and taking notes to ask me questions about the English or cultural references. She’ll put on her reading glasses, consult her papers, open up to a page in the book, and ask me to explain a joke about engorgement. And take notes on my answer. I really enjoy that. My brother and his wife recently had their first kid and they’ve sent me photos of pages in the book that are resonating with them. My sister ordered 10 books so she can give them to all her friends. My husband has been so supportive and a great sport about me drawing him into a lot of the doodles. They’re all so happy and proud, it’s totally heartwarming. Bean couldn’t care less though.
5. How long does it take you to create a “doodle”?
Coming up with the idea is the most time consuming. You do a lot of thinking when you’re pacing the room with a baby in your arms, trying to get her to fall asleep, so that’s when most of the ideas take shape. Once I get pen to paper it can be very fast. Shortest, about two minutes. I think the doodles look more expressive when drawn quickly but sometimes it takes half a dozen tries before it looks right. They’re called doodles on purpose; I try not to get too precious with them. The complicated ones take longer, maybe an hour or more, because I’ll draw the elements separately and piece them together on Photoshop. You can spend way too much time fiddling on Photoshop.
6. How do you manage your work schedule with a new baby?
Bean sleeps through the night and has been doing that since probably about two months (I know, Hallelujah). I have to give credit where it’s due. Because of my sleep champion baby, I’m well rested enough during the day that I have energy and brain space to work when she’s napping. After she goes to bed I can sneak in some studio time too. Doodling is ideal when you have little chunks of time because it doesn’t set me back if I’m interrupted and it’s not hard to get into the flow of things. My husband also makes a point of giving me some uninterrupted studio time on weekends. He’s a good one.
I fully expect that this will get a lot harder and/or maybe be put on hold when she’s mobile and needs more energy and attention. Right now I have a reasonable amount of energy and time, but who knows what it’ll be like in the future. Like they
7. What else are you working on?
I have a series called “Red Portraits” I’ve been working on for a few years that is pretty much the exact opposite of the doodles. “Red Portraits” are large-scale photo-realistic portraits of family members made from overlapping stickers in varying shades of red. It’s very labor intensive and requires both time and concentration, so not very feasible right now. I have a portrait about a quarter of the way finished that’s hanging on my studio wall. I’ll get back to it eventually. You can see photos of the work on my website, carenkingchoi.com. I’m also trying to post a new doodle every day on my instagram @cawen_k_choi. There may be another parenting doodle book in there but I’m not sure yet. I have ideas for other books too: maybe a doodle book about the art world, which is another strange subculture. Maybe a book about my childhood or family history. We’ll see.