SPECTRUM: Anne Saint-Louis

SPECTRUM is an interview series by Lilian Darmono with members of the motion design and animation communities who have interesting and unusual perspectives to offer.


Guest name: Anne Saint-Louis
Describes herself as: An illustrator and animator honing her craft in Vancouver, Canada
Born/raised: Montreal, Canada
Current Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Age: 45

For this issue, I spoke to Anne Saint-Louis, a designer, wife and mother to a 12-year old boy. Based in Vancouver, Canada, she is also an assistant teacher at School of Motion’s Character Animation Bootcamp.

Anne shared her insight and experience, including a few myth-busting truths about how motherhood influences a person’s creative career.

Motion mums

I reached out to people like Anne, because I want to learn how women have managed to balance motherhood with a rewarding professional existence in this field.

This segment of the community is one of the least visible and least talked about. ‘Motion mums’ are out there, but finding them takes some time and extra effort. (That in itself is an interesting topic to investigate.)

I’m acutely aware of the popular perception that motherhood creates more negative impact than positive, at least as far as careers are concerned. To my surprise, Anne expressed that she became a better designer and artist after becoming a mum. She doesn’t equate motherhood with professional “sacrifice.”

From industry life to parenthood

Anne spent two decades in the creative industry after finishing art school in Montreal. Those years were filled with tough moments. Personal projects abandoned halfway through, paralyzed by her own fear of imperfection. Being someone else’s “helping hand,” translating their ideas — instead of her own — into finalized pieces. Taking jobs in uninspiring environments.

Even one awkward moment of being asked on a date by the creative director who interviewed her at a game design studio. (She refused and couldn’t help feeling that this played a part in her not getting the position.)

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Still from “I love Plants” for the Native Canadian show “Coyote Science”

When her son was born, Anne took four years off to become a full-time mother. She slowly transitioned into work again with a variety of creative gigs, but it took another four years for her to finally discover her love for motion graphics.

Discovering motion design

This revelation happened when she took a job with a documentary production company, doing web design and animation show packages. Since then, it’s been a steep learning curve of self improvement, trying to master software packages so she could make what she wanted in the medium of motion design. Now she’s trying to shift her freelance work from graphic and web design into a more predominantly motion-based clientele.

She reflected how tough it was to juggle motherhood with learning and working. The constant switching between left and right brain thinking (the former for household duties, the latter for designing), is exhausting.

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Still from ‘Exquisite Ant’ Project (Week 01)

She’s lost track of time being lost in her work, only to realize that it’s dinner hour and there’s no food in the house. To make sure stuff gets done, they have to be scheduled down to the last detail –  and we know how creative impulses can be resistant to a timetable.

So yes, she admitted, it’s tough. But this is where the determination and resilience she learned through rearing a child kicks in to her advantage.

“Motherhood is an intense and grounding experience, but I feel I’m a better designer thanks to it,” she said.

How so? I asked.

She explained that now she has better time and client management skills — and most importantly — persistence and patience, which she uses to stop perfectionism from getting in the way of being creative.

“Motherhood is an intense and grounding experience, but I feel I’m a better designer thanks to it,” she said.

To illustrate that point, she talked about making meals that turn out badly for her family. In that situation, walking out is not an option. The only thing left to do is to start again and try to improve each time.

“When you’re a mother, you can’t just give up. Your child needs looking after. You have to keep it alive!”

Moving past perfectionism

So now when things don’t turn out right with work, she simply moves on and starts again. She expresses a sense of freedom now that she’s no longer restricted by perfectionism and fear of failure, which allows her to experience lightness and fun in her work — something that’s very important to her as an artist.

“I used to give up easily when I was young. Now I know how not to,” she said.

Patience and better people skills are also important things she’s acquired from motherhood. When difficulty arose with clients, she used to blame herself, anxiously examining where she’d gone wrong.

But now? “I reach out and say, okay, what’s wrong? Let’s talk about this.”

Discussing the future, based on her journey so far, Anne’s fine art background comes into her desire of making motion pieces that are tactile, rich, and layered. She observes that the best pieces out there done in this aesthetic are the result of hard work from a team of people.

So now, collaborating with the right people is high on her wish list. Interestingly, she has always thought of herself as someone who prefers to work alone from home, but now she reflects that it may simply be that she hasn’t found the right people yet.

Still from ‘Exquisite Ant’ Project (Week 02)

Still from ‘Exquisite Ant’ Project (Week 02)

Like many women I have spoken to, Anne paints a very well-rounded picture of what success means to her: great family and lifestyle — and the freedom to keep learning, making and exploring.

“I used to give up easily when I was young. Now I know how not to,” she said.

Awards, money and prestige don’t figure into her list of ambitions, and it made me think perhaps this is another way of looking at achievement as a creative professional. Anne admitted that she’s lucky to not have to worry about putting food on the table, as her husband willingly shouldered that responsibility.

Working from home means she’s free to call her own shots, not having to succumb to peer pressure or adhere to a rigid work schedule that doesn’t allow much room for family responsibilities. During our conversation, Anne kept mentioning her love of making art, using words like “fun” and “lightness.”

“To me, motion and animation are pretty magical. Every time I do something animated, I’m all excited. I’m like a little kid! To have a little animation with an actual storyline, that’s really new to me, and I find it very exciting.

I want to keep that excitement alive. That means doing something (creative) everyday. Keeping a sketchbook and always sketching something, or at least taking photos.”

That’s exactly what she did in those first four years of being a full-time mother, when taking care of her son was an all-consuming task, to “let off creative steam.”

Parting advice

Asked what was the one piece of advice she would give to young designers, Anne replied that they should maintain persistence, focus and not settling for less. She illustrated this point by telling me that she secured herself a mentor by taking an initiative to persuade her graphic design teacher to take her on as an employee. Through a combination of persuasion, persistence and courage, she succeeded. She ended up learning a great deal about being a creative professional through that job.

Anne said, “Know what your goal is, don’t get stuck in something that you’re not happy with.”

For now, she concentrates on building her skills, as well as putting herself and her work out there, to ultimately land the right project. She may not be ‘there’ yet, but I am confident it’s only a matter of time. After all, in her words, ‘’Once you’ve raised a child, you can do anything!’’

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About the author

Lilian Darmono

/ www.liliandarmono.com
Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lilian moved to Singapore and eventually Australia for her studies, eventually graduating from Swinburne NID in Prahran, Melbourne. She then worked in print design before deciding to switch to the field of Motion Design in late 2003. Her obsessions include travelling, illustrating, and cats. She is currently in the London leg of her 'Mograph Tour Around The World', and calls Melbourne home.

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  • VFX Stephanie

    Thank you, Lilian and thank you, Anne! It’s so nice to know that someone else has experienced the same feelings and challenges you have and still perseveres. Thank you so much for doing the story. Like you said, motion mums is something that isn’t talked about enough. When you don’t hear about similar experiences you start to feel like you are alone, which can be very uninspiring. Thank you for inspiring me today!

  • My life is not that different from Anne, although I am italian and I live in London. I work as a freelance motion graphic designer but I can’t work that much because I have to look after my daughter as well, so I have the luck and pain – tough combination – to work mainly from home because our society, unless you have got gran parents to help, does not help freelance mothers. I too am very lucky to have a husband that mainly provides for the family and the luxury to choose only the projects I’m interested in, but, as Anne correctly said, working on your own is not that challenging and you don’t learn or create as well as working in a good team. And working in a team, with all the effort and working hours that means, for a mother is impossible, which is really a shame. I live constantly with this feeling that I could do more and create something great if only I could work normal hours and throw myself in there with all the others, but I can’t afford that and so I can’t prove myself right or, what scares me even more, wrong. Being a mother has really pushed my creativity and allowed me to approach creativity as I did when I was a child, which is amazing! I discovered parts of me I didn’t remember and that made me a stronger artist. I found out what I really like to do and what define me as an artist. Accepting my style and my ideas as unique, without trying to compare myself and trying to achieve the look and style of the best in this field, who are great but are not me. It’s a constant battle between what you would like to be and who you really are. And that’s the same battle I live as a parent, between the child you think or wish to have and the child you really have. You have to learn who she/he really is so you can find the right education method for her/him and help her/him to find and develop is true self. So yes, definitely being a mother as helped me out to be a better artist. I only wish someone else there will notice it and that I have the chance, someday, to prove it to myself in a team project.

  • great stuff.
    thank you ladies, you are awesome!