Grocery shopping during the pandemic requires a mask in New Jersey. Store shelves are often empty and some things are almost impossible to find. But this week, I found a bag of dried peas and the prize: a roll of toilet paper! I tried to draw this still life with a dramatic, raking light and very dark and light values.
In the first month of staying at home, I read that people were putting teddy bears in their windows so that parents could take their kids on scavenger hunts to search for teddy bears. I don’t know if anyone was doing that or not in my neighborhood, but it kept me busy. I posed the bears and drew pictures of them in my sketchbook. It quickly became apparent that keeping busy and distracted, to find a hobby or any way at all to cope is pretty important. For young parents trying to work at home and educate and take care of their kids, it’s a big job.
I started sketching scenes from my daily walks during the stay at home mandate. I spotted people taking work calls as they walked. Lots of dogs happily being walked many times a day. People waved and were friendly, while keeping at a six foot distance. Towards the end of the first week, I spotted police wrapping playground equipment in orange snow fencing and putting up yellow police tape to keep kids off the equipment. The mayor sent out an announcement that parks would stay open if people kept their distance, but playground equipment could carry some risk of transmitting the virus, so we were advised not to allow children to use them. That scene and the cawing crows in the trees made this a sobering moment as the virus began to spread from New York to New Jersey.
I started staying at home (social isolating, self-quarantine) on March 13, 2020, which was the day the schools closed in my town in New Jersey, USA. I also started a sketchbook to record my experiences of this pandemic around that time. My first drawing shows the disposable gloves and shop mask from my art studio. I wear them when I use pastels or spray fixatives, but now they take on a new meaning. I bought extra liquid soap in early March because we were being told to wash our hands often and well at that point. My drawing was meant to be funny, but it also seems to me in retrospect to be a bit menacing. At that point, we had no idea that the New York metropolitan area would become a world hotspot for the coronavirus. When I went to the drugstore for soap, there was no hand sanitizer in stock, which was a harbinger of shortages to come. A rumor was circulating on social media that hand sanitizer could be made from vodka and aloe. That was just the beginning of many unhelpful suggestions on social media. I drew the still life and posted it on social media with the suggestion that it would be better to just drink the vodka and admire the plant. Gallows humor is a way to deal with adversity and can be helpful or disrespectful depending on the viewer’s mood.
A half hour drive west on the interstate last week took me through beautiful monochromatic landscapes shrouded in fog. When I returned home, I painted the scenes from memory. First I divided a 9×12 sheet of watercolor paper in fourths to practice with small vignettes. I used a limited palette of Payne’s grey, lamp black, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre and burnt sienna (it might be Indian red, not sure because I filled my watercolor pans a while ago.) I added Chinese white details with a rigger brush at the end.
I started two slightly larger practice pieces next, including a color chart at the bottom of the paper. I was trying to really think through the process, but also trying to keep the nice transparent, loose quality of the medium. I hoped to somehow get the foggy effect of the day by leaving white paper to suggest the fog curling around the trees and foothills. The sketch below seemed like a good start, but then …
…I struggled, and worked, and belabored the whole thing and lost the fresh beginning, see below. I think I’m finished with this and maybe I’ll try a full-sheet painting next.
What did I learn from my practice pieces? What I really missed in these exercises is a source photograph to work from, and my teacher! When I work at home, I hear my teacher’s voice in my head, but I don’t have her experienced eye on my work. Next week, back to class.