Kim Abercrombie describes painting as a freeing experience, and her artwork reflects that. She uses art to create something honest and intuitive, which is a lot like Abercrombie herself — always authentic. With two children in college, Abercrombie decided to pursue her bachelor of fine arts at Baylor University. She’s also an art teacher at Woodway Elementary School and stays busy with two children still at home. Abercrombie defines balance as having grace amid interruptions, stress and deadlines.
WACOAN: When do you complete the art program at Baylor?
Abercrombie: I will graduate in the spring. I had a dream of pursuing my degree once my three older children were in school and settled, not knowing that I would be blessed with Peyton later in life. I didn’t want to give up on the dream knowing that I wasn’t getting any younger. I also didn’t want to put her in day care full time either. So I have been taking it slow for six years, only putting Peyton in day care while I’m in class and completing my homework or artwork.
When Peyton was in first grade, I accepted a position as an art teacher at Woodway Elementary School. That was an incredible opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.
WACOAN: Did you struggle with the decision to go back to school?
Abercrombie: I struggled with the decision of pursuing my dream. I knew it was going to take a tremendous amount of work. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a selfish decision. After a lot of thought and many conversations with my husband, Walter, I decided that I would be a happier, healthier mom, wife and person if I went back to school.
At first, school was more about learning how to make good fine art and expressing myself by reacting honestly to marks, lines and shapes than seeking a degree. Although I knew having a degree would be a good example to my children, it wasn’t my priority at the time. But as I saw Peyton learning to create, build confidence, problem solve, use judgment and express herself through her art, I realized that I wanted to mentor other children inside and outside of school to have these same qualities, especially because many children aren’t getting enough art in school. Thankfully, Midway ISD and Aaron Peña [principal at Woodway Elementary School] find value in art. They get it!
WACOAN: How did you get the teaching position at Woodway Elementary School?
Abercrombie: A friend of mine [Jennifer Seo], who is also an artist, was asked to do the job. She asked if I would share the position with her because we both wanted a part-time [position]. Now we’re in our second year of co-teaching together.
WACOAN: What does your position entail?
Abercrombie: It’s a lot of planning. I have to be on the same page with my work partner. I also try to make sure that 27 kids are getting something out of art. I believe that everyone enjoys creating, but you have to discover what they like. Kids can find art frustrating because they’re driven by other things, like electronics and social media.
WACOAN: Why did you choose to attend Baylor?
Abercrombie: I respect Baylor’s art program. A lot of art schools are becoming more contemporary, meaning they don’t focus on traditional methods or drawing skills. Baylor is turning that direction, but it’s still a traditional fine arts program.
Also my husband, [Walter Abercrombie,] works in the Baylor athletic department and serves as an associate athletic director. I can go to Baylor tuition-free — not free, but tuition-free. I wanted to finish my degree before having four kids, but I put my degree on hold while raising my children and my husband pursued his master’s degree at Baylor University. I started my degree at Otis College of Arts and Design in [Los Angeles], California. It worked out fantastically that I could finish my degree while he was working at Baylor.
WACOAN: How did you meet your husband, Walter?
Abercrombie: His sports agent was dating my close friend. I was working in the garment industry at that time and visiting Dallas for work. Walter was in Dallas with his sports agent during the off-season. That was when he was playing with the Philadelphia Eagles. [Editor’s note: Walter Abercrombie played football for Baylor from 1978-‘81, for the Pittsburg Steelers from 1982-‘87 and for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1988-‘89.] He was one of the most humble people I’d ever met.
WACOAN: What led you both to Waco?
Abercrombie: Walter had a place here during the off-season. We moved here so he could get his master’s degree. We weren’t planning to stay in Waco, but we did. He got a job at Baylor and realized Waco is a great place to live and raise kids.
WACOAN: Have you always identified as an artist?
Abercrombie: Yes. I had a decorative painting business with another local artist, Doreen Ravenscroft. She and I worked on [Jim and Nell] Hawkins’ house for two years. Our business began in the early 2000s and lasted until about nine years ago.
WACOAN: What do you hope to do with your art after graduation?
Abercrombie: Teach and make art. Or make art and teach. I’m not sure which will come first.
WACOAN: What’s your favorite medium?
Abercrombie: Mixed media and primarily oil, acrylics and charcoal. Some of my pieces are at the student lounge in Baylor’s art building [in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.]
WACOAN: Do you create abstract art?
Abercrombie: It’s abstract expressive. My art has developed during my time at Baylor.
WACOAN: Do you do artwork on commission?
Abercrombie: I do when I can. I teach private lessons on Saturdays. My students are ages 5-16. While teaching kids, I learned an honest approach to art.
WACOAN: Where do you find inspiration for your art?
Abercrombie: Anything can be an inspiration. A rock can be inspiration. The sunsets here [in Woodway] inspire me. Right now, I am inspired by my personal life and what I see on a daily basis — that’s raising my children and seeing the challenges we all go through. I’m also inspired by the beauty around us, and I try to capture that.
WACOAN: How do you balance motherhood and art projects?
Abercrombie: That’s a challenge. When you’re passionate about something, you always want to do it. You can’t be interrupted. That’s another challenge. When you’re doing art, it’s hard to have constant interruptions.
WACOAN: How do you avoid interruptions when doing artwork?
Abercrombie: If I’m with Peyton and I have to get work done, she will do art with me. She’s in her own little world as well.
WACOAN: How do you cope with mental blocks when doing art?
Abercrombie: I need structure. I have to show up at my art studio at a certain time.
WACOAN: How do you stay structured when immersing yourself in a creative process like art?
Abercrombie: That may be why my art is so free. I have structure everywhere else. It’s a time for me to be free and have a release. My art may change when I don’t have kids and as much structure in my life.
There are so many misconceptions with art. It’s not always a free experience because art involves problem-solving skills. For me, art starts out as a freeing process. I’d say that the structured part is the time aspect, while the artwork is creative.
WACOAN: Does motherhood inform your art?
Abercrombie: Yes, because that’s so personal to me. My children are the most personal to me, and my art is very personal.
WACOAN: Tell me more about your children.
Abercrombie: I have a 21-year-old, Wesley, who is a junior at Baylor. I have an 18-year-old, Warren, going to McLennan Community College and then transferring to Baylor. I have a 16-year-old, Ryann, who is a junior at Midway High School. And my 7-year-old, Peyton, is in second grade at South Bosque Elementary. I have two boys and two girls.
WACOAN: Do you get to see Wesley at Baylor?
Abercrombie: I do! We try to have lunch once a week.
WACOAN: What activities are your kids involved in?
Abercrombie: Wesley is in the [Hankamer School of Business] at Baylor. He’s involved in his fraternity, and he’s a waiter at George’s. He also wants to go to law school, so he’s trying to keep a good GPA while doing all of this.
Warren wants to be an actor. He is starting at MCC because they have a fabulous theater program. He wants to study film and digital media once he gets to Baylor. He works at Red Lobster.
Ryann lives and breathes volleyball. She’s a student and an athlete at Midway High School. Peyton is an artist too. She loves doing art right by me. She goes to art shows with me. Peyton also does soccer, gymnastics and dance.
WACOAN: What do you strive to teach your children?
Abercrombie: To be honest, confident hardworkers. I hope they value people and themselves.
WACOAN: What do your children teach you?
Abercrombie: About myself every single day. I’ve learned the most about myself from my children.
WACOAN: With your busy schedule and kids’ activities, how do you plan meals for your family?
Abercrombie: That’s a challenge. I cook in crockpots a lot. We have a set mealtime, and it’s important to me that my children eat well.
I get up at 3 a.m. to make sure that I can prepare the meals. In the early hours between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., I’m preparing meals, planning my day, exercising, studying or making art. I have to wake up that early to get it all done. I try to keep my evenings free so I can spend time with my family.
For me, I try to get pre-prepared meals from Secret Chef. I’ll come home from Woodway Elementary School, change clothes, heat up my meal and eat it on the way to my class at Baylor. When I come home, I’m starving, so I’ll eat a pre-prepared meal while cooking my family’s dinner. It’s important that I eat nutritious meals because I don’t sleep a lot. I have to eat well to keep going. I don’t have time to prepare and freeze meals, so that’s what works for me.
WACOAN: How do you and Walter work together as parents?
Abercrombie: I don’t see my husband as much during football season. He goes to away games and helps plan the game day. He hosts all of the former athletes on game day. He leads the ‘B’ Association, which is for athletes that lettered at Baylor. He’s an associate athletic director.
He’ll watch the kids when I do my private lessons or personal work on Saturdays. During football season, my older kids will help a lot. They’ll cook, help clean or pick up Peyton.
WACOAN: So when you’re working on an art project, your older kids will help?
Abercrombie: I’m not the best at everything, but I’m good at time management. I have to plan everything out. Sometimes your artwork will go in a different direction, and that takes more time. That’s when my [older] kids will help.
WACOAN: What’s the biggest challenge of motherhood?
Abercrombie: Being a good example to my children. You can say whatever you want to your kids, but if you’re not doing it yourself, then it doesn’t mean anything.
WACOAN: How do you stay present for your children?
Abercrombie: That’s a huge priority for me. From the time I pick up my kids, I’m a mom.
WACOAN: How do you make time for your husband?
Abercrombie: That is a challenge with both of our busy schedules. We come together in the evenings after the kids go to bed. We watch the news together.
WACOAN: Where do you like to go for a date night?
Abercrombie: We like Outback Steakhouse, 135 Prime and George’s. We like to go to Austin on the weekends when we need to get away.
WACOAN: How do you know when it’s time for the two of you to get away or take a break?
Abercrombie: That’s a challenge. It took us a year to take a break because of what our lifestyle is like right now. We understand each other’s goals and know this is a temporary phase. I think that is the recipe for a good marriage: common goals. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. If Walter brings something up at night, I try to listen. I’m not always perfect at that. We’ve been married for 24 years, so I know when we need to reconnect.
WACOAN: What do you enjoy doing together as a family?
Abercrombie: We like to sit by our pool. We play a lot of games. We’ll go to my parents’ beach house in California.
WACOAN: How do you deal with day-to-day stress?
Abercrombie: I do yoga at Yoga8. That’s my stress relief. That’s been a lifesaver for me.
I appreciate all of the good things in my life. I don’t feel like I have bad stresses because I enjoy what I’m doing. French class almost killed me, but I went to a lot of yoga when I took that class. If that doesn’t work, I’ll grab Starbucks.
WACOAN: What does your exercise program look like?
Abercrombie: In the mornings I’ll go to spin classes at Gold’s Gym. I’ll do yoga in the evenings.
WACOAN: How do you stay energized to exercise and get everything done?
Abercrombie: Going to bed early, eating well and drinking a lot of water. I usually drink water with lemon or oranges in it. Yoga and exercise actually energize me. People ask me how I make time to exercise, and I have to do it. I couldn’t do everything I do if I didn’t exercise. Endorphins energize you.
WACOAN: How do you make time for yourself?
Abercrombie: My alone time is doing art, even it’s for a class. Art feeds my soul. You have to do what you love to get through the day.
WACOAN: Do you have a calendar system?
Abercrombie: I do, but I have to be flexible because things pop up all the time. I use a planner for my [Woodway Elementary School] schedule. I use my phone for my personal schedule and [Baylor] school schedule.
WACOAN: What’s your advice for staying organized?
Abercrombie: I’m not the most organized person, but I can manage my time. My tip for time management would be prioritizing and sticking to a plan. You have to be flexible when you have kids.
WACOAN: How do you define balance in your life?
Abercrombie: It means I’m able to get up at 3 a.m. and go until 10 p.m. and achieve my goals for that day. It also means that when I’m interrupted, I can handle it with grace.
When I said I would go back to school, I made a decision that I would put my children first every day. That doesn’t mean I cater to them every second because I don’t think that’s what’s best for kids. They shouldn’t get everything they want. It means being patient with them and teaching with grace instead of frustration.
WACOAN: If you had a mantra, as a mother, artist and person, what would it be?
Abercrombie: Walk the walk.