A follower of my blog recently wrote to wish me a Merry Christmas, which was very nice of them to do. But included was this question: “Have you been a victim of COVID?” The question was asked because they’d noticed that I hadn’t posted on the blog or on Instagram for quite a while.
My first answer was simply “no,” but suddenly I felt guilty for not thinking about what some might think if I stopped posting. And so, my second response idea was to explain that I just hadn’t been sketching much and thus had nothing to post.
Then it occurred to me to reflect on the question itself. I’ve considered myself one of the lucky ones during the COVID pandemic. I’m retired so staying home isn’t a heavy burden. My wife and daughter are home with me so I don’t even have the angst of not seeing my family through the holidays.
But upon reflection, like so many people, I am a victim of COVID, not as someone who got the virus but in other ways. For instance, I was supposed to have knee surgery back in September. It was cancelled as Quebec hospitals cancelled all “elective” surgeries to free up staff to deal with COVID victims. This has relegated me to the limp around the house crowd and limited my ability to go for long walks, something I was doing during the early phases of the pandemic.
But maybe the biggest impact COVID has had on me is my sketching, something I used to do every day and now do almost never. I tried drawing food, kitchen utensils, and sofas. I just don’t like it. For me, sketching is about going out, plunking myself down on a tripod stool, and drawing something. Take that away from me and I simply stopped sketching. I’m sure I’ll get back to it once I can go out again but until then, I’m really having a hard time being interested. In that sense, I am a COVID victim. I suspect most people have simliar “victim” stories.
That’s not to say that I’m not doing well or that I’m unhappy. I’ve taken to playing my guitar again. I bought a ukulele. I’m getting in touch with music again. It’s all good. I hope others are responding to these disruptions in their life in similar ways. I hope all of you have a happy holiday season in spite of circumstances. I apologize for not making a statement about why I wasn’t posting before. I know there are at least three of you who follow my stuff and I should have thought about the potential for misreading my lack of presence. We’ve all got to be like the two kids in my sketch. We’ve got to keep that ball rolling regardless of the ups and down of the terrain.
For many one result of COVID isolation has been housing reorganization and behavioral adjustment. Some households have seniors who have been moved home by the kids while others have adjusted their family situation by having kids move home with us seniors. Pro and con, adjustment is the best descriptor of what we all must do in such situations.
When the virus hit Quebec and we shut down our activities, the first thing we did was a rapid drive to Montreal to pick up of our daughter. Given that Montreal is the hot spot in Canada for COVID right now, we’re feeling pretty smug about our decision.
The result has been a social adjustment to having a 22-year old living with us. Truthfully, it’s mostly positive but it means spending more time talking, cooking, baking, and generally doing family stuff… and fewer alone activities like art.
My daughter wasn’t the only thing we brought back from Montreal though. We crammed the car full of her plants and together with our plants they turned our house into a jungle. Every flat surface is covered with plants and we rarely eat dinner at our dining table because it’s just too darn much trouble moving all the plants (grin).
I see this as a good thing because I have new sketching subjects. One of her plants was a sad little Fiddle Leaf Fig. It only had two leaves, hanging onto a single short stem. But, we’ve been in isolation now for nearly forever and so it’s grown. It now has four leaves and a fifth is beginning to sprout. I decided I should draw it. I probably did it too quickly but heck, it only has four leaves. Here she is, in all her youthful glory.
Aside from isolation, how has your family life changed? We don’t talk about that enough. Has it affected your art in any way?
Many of us have lamented that our urban sketching lifestyles have been disrupted by COVID-19. We sit in houses thinking of better days when we sat in public places drawing the scenes before us. And some of us have reported our “solutions” to this. Tina Koyama talks about standing in a street circle and drawing what’s around her. I’ve mentioned my 2-min sketches while on walks. Others have succumbed to looking out their windows for subjects.
I may have found a way to up my game as an isolated urban sketcher. Maybe you’ll think I’m not urban sketching at all, but it feels like urban sketching to me. Here’s what I did.
1) I went for my daily walk and found a scene worthy of sketching (are there any that aren’t)?
2) I stood, leaning against a tree, while I studied the scene, thinking about drawing it. I noted the relative locations of all the major objects and ‘saw’ the major angles and proportions that related the objects to one another. I thought about what I’d eliminate from the scene, where the center of focus would be. I even mentally traced around one of the cars and some of the major tree branches just to etch them into my mind a bit. I probably spent 5-min doing this, just as though I was actually going to sketch the scene.
3) Then I took a couple photos and rushed home.
4) I cropped a photo to reflect what I’d been thinking while on the street and drew some organizational lines and blobs to organize the paper and then started sketching from my laptop screen. This is what it looked like when I finished the ink.
Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black ink, gouache
5) I’m still experimenting with gouache and still stumbling over myself with it. Nevertheless, I decided to use gouache on this sketch and had some fun trying to move back and forth between transparent and opaque approaches. Very confusing but lots of promise. I got James Gurney’s new course yesterday and, shazaam, that’s exactly what he starts the course talking about. Can’t wait to try some of the things he talks about.
BUT, excepting that I was sitting at a table rather than on my stool, it felt like urban sketching because of the immediate translation of a scene I’d just looked at and the one I was putting on paper.
I won’t split hairs whether this is “real” urban sketching or not as I don’t much care. But if I can repeat this process during my isolation, I’m going to be a happy camper. The only thing I miss is meeting up with friends after the sketching session. I have to settle with bugging my wife and daughter with “Hey, look at this.” Give it a try. You just might like it.
As I’m prone to do these days, I was sitting around, listening to a podcast when a pen leaped into my hand and drew a rock. I thought, that’s ok, but it needs a friend. So I drew another rock. Pretty soon I had a pile of rocks so I put a bit of sand in front of the pile, a bit of ocean and sky behind it, and I had a landscape…well, sort of. In truth the rocks don’t go together as well as they would if I were drawing them on location but l’m ignoring that and sharing it with you.
I’m still walking, and still doing 2-min sketches. I’m finding that while these are sloppy and unsatisfying, they have gone a long way to remove the “couped up” feeling that isolation was causing me. Now I go out almost anticipating those couple minutes where I put pen to paper. How are you adjusting to your new situation? Any tricks?
As I’ve mentioned, we’re isolating right now, along with the rest of Quebec. It’s been that way since March 12th. But the ice is now off the sidewalks and while it’s still cool outside (2C when I went out this morning) it’s really nice to go out and walk around a bit. The streets are rather empty but there is an occasional fellow walker out and about. I’ve noticed that even though we’re all trying to distance ourselves from everyone (in Canada we have to be 2-meters apart rather than 6-feet as in the US 🙂 but we’re a lot friendlier than normal, saying hi and maybe saying “stay safe” or some other gesture to anyone within shouting distance.
I don’t feel comfortable hanging out in one place but I did stop today and scribbled a quick sketch (about 2 min). Though crude, it sure felt good to “urban sketch.” I think I will be doing more of these for the sake of my sanity. Then again, we’re supposed to get 15cm of snow tomorrow so maybe not (grin)