Affirm Press editor Coco McGrath teamed up with award-winning illustrator Sarah Firth to create Badass Mums: 30 Boundary Breaking Women Getting Sh*t Done. From the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova to the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, this vibrant book celebrates just some of the sassy, inspiring mothers who dared to be different. Illustrator Sarah Firth shares why her own mum, Dianne Firth OAM, is the definition of badass.
My mum Dianne is an inspiration for me, and for a lot of other people. I got my love of learning, ideas and curiosity from her. Mum has so much energy and joie de vivre, it’s no wonder she’s had such a successful career as a landscape architect, professor of arts and design, and textile artist. She is really indomitable, energetic, hard-working and knowledgeable. Seeing Mum receive an Order of Australia Medal in 2017 for her contribution to landscape design, education, the arts and history was such a privilege.
Mum has role modelled many important things for me. Firstly, she showed me how fulfilling it can be to have a profession with some degree of financial stability while also having a career as an artist. The idea of not tying art-making to money-making can be liberating. So many artists I know profoundly struggle with the narrow idea that you are only successful if you make a living off your art. It can be very destabilising and demoralising, and that doesn’t have to be the case. I have followed in my mum’s footsteps with my two-pronged approach of running a creative services business AND having a career as an artist and writer.
Mum also demonstrated how your profession and your art can complement and inform each other. Her work as a landscape architect is clearly a wellspring for her textile work, and her eye as an artist brings fresh ideas into her design work and pedagogy. I know that Mum’s proud of me and my work; she has always supported my art-making and it has been a pleasure for her to see me find my creative voice.
Secondly, Mum demonstrated that you don’t have to stick to the beaten track: you can follow your interests and transition in your career. She was originally trained in maths and chemistry, then retrained to become a landscape architect in her mid-thirties, around the time I was born. That led to her doing a PhD, becoming an adjunct professor and the Head of Landscape Architecture in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, and becoming a global authority on landscape heritage. This set up the expectation for me that I wouldn’t have just one job for life, and that I needed to try things to figure out what I wanted to do, what I was good at and what value I can deliver to help people.
And thirdly, Mum demonstrated that when it comes to life matters it’s not a zero sum game. It’s not have a career, or have kids, or work a stable job, or have an arts practice. She showed me that you need to play the long game – it’s always going to be a juggle. There will be seasons for different things, and your focus and priorities change weekly, monthly, yearly, but over the long term you can achieve many things with persistence and commitment.
All these reasons and more are why I dedicated Badass Mums to Dianne. It was such a pleasure to illustrate all the incredible women celebrated in the book, which supports a progressive, diverse and inclusive conception of motherhood. I used a bold and dynamic colour palette to capture the brilliance, diversity and power of the mothers we profiled.
All illustrations by Sarah Firth.