As you know, the March 31, 2020, PSA meeting and panel discussion was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. To initiate a virtual discussion, we asked some of our professional artists to share any tips, advice, or other musings about art or life, with us. Marc Chatov, Carol Baxter Kirby, Nancy Honea, and Ernest Varner are featured in this four part series.
Part One: Marc Chatov
Currently, I am copying a painting of Saint Francis by Francisco de Zurbarán. One learns a great deal from copying the masters. I highly recommend it to my students.
Funny story: A student from one of my workshops told me about a new painting she was going to start, and that she had gessoed over an old canvas and leaned it against the wall in her studio. That afternoon she had a lunch party and one of the ladies looked at the canvas and said, “Oh I love that painting.” The artist told her, “Oh that’s just gesso.” And the lady responded, “Oh I love Gesso’s work, he’s so great.”
Kind regards, Marc Chatov
Part Two: Carol Baxter Kirby
Discoveries during the days of quarantine. For 30 plus years I have been acclimated to solitude for the most part when painting. Since my husband and I are quarantined together in a small space, it became apparent that I needed to create separation in order for both of us to work from home. We pulled a folding table out of storage and set up an “office” in the bedroom. It has helped tremendously! Sometimes I paint in silence, but I enjoy periods of listening to books, podcasts, and music. Most public libraries have access to a huge selection of audio books for free. When laying in large passages of a painting or making a lot of decisions—I stick to silence or music. When I am working in a smaller area and slow down—it is nice to listen to a book or podcast. My last delivery was filled with rows of lace, and listening to the miles of “Jubilee Trail” by Gwen Bristow helped the hours go by.
I’ve discovered “zoom” and “marco polo” for video chats. Who knew we could facebook or zoom lunches with grandchildren and children, zoom Bible study, zoom community groups, zoom prayer meetings, zoom dinner gatherings with girlfriends, and zoom lessons with “Nene” (my other name). We should schedule some artist zoom meetings.
My last “in person” delivery was made during the early days of quarantine. We kept our distances and washed our hands. I made a point of not touching my face for the two hour drive, and couldn’t believe how much I wanted to adjust my glasses, scratch, or push hair out of the way. Real Life. The children were hilarious!
I’ve discovered by force (or necessity) that cooking isn’t as frustrating as I remembered it to be. I’m actually enjoying it. I’ve discovered new neighbors when we go out on our balconies at 8 p.m. every night to bang on pots, scream, and cheer for the health care workers and first responders. Horns blow, music is played on loud speakers, bells are rung and sometimes fireworks shoot up in the air. It is a reminder that we are all in this together. I’ve chosen to squeeze all the sweetness I can find during these strange and disturbing days. I’m relishing the slower pace of life. I don’t look at my calendar app anymore. I’m getting more painting done than I have in years. I’m thankful to be well at the moment. I take the time to ponder people from far and near that I haven’t kept up with during typical days, so I am working on strengthening relationships and cherishing them. I realize that I don’t need so much stuff. I’m thinking about what to let go, and what to pick up when these days are done.
The first week of quarantine I had a fear of separation which made it harder to sleep. My husband was recently in Critical Care on two different occasions. I knew if one of us became sick we would not be able to be together. If my mother becomes ill, I can’t be with her in the nursing home. Thankfully, I am at peace now. My faith has been strengthened and I know that whatever comes my way, I will never be alone. God is with me and He is Sovereign. I know that not all of you reading this will be people of faith—but I am sharing my experience. My prayer has always been that God would be glorified in my work—this has not changed.
Carol also shared this: One thing I’ve pondered on, multiple times during this quarantine, is the life of Anne Frank. She spent a total of two years and 35 days in hiding, and during that time she was unable to see the sky, could not feel the rain or sun, walk on grass, or even walk for any length of time. Anne focused on studying and reading books on European history and literature. She also spent time on her appearance: curling her dark hair and manicuring her nails. With no friends to confide in, Anne used the diary to express her fear, boredom, and the struggles she faced growing up. On 16 March 1944, she wrote, “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.” In addition to her diary, Anne wrote short stories and collated her favorite sentences by other writers in a notebook.
Part Three: Ernest Varner
I have two art classes to teach, so I spend some time preparing for them and then teaching them on the Internet. Speaking in general terms, I guess this is one of those glass is half empty/glass is half full kind of question. I’m not going to address the empty part because I am a glass is half full kind of person.
This “sheltering in place” can give each of us an opportunity to work on that book we haven’t finished, start a painting that we haven’t gotten around to, or finish one that we started some time ago. I caution you however not to fill up this time with nonsense, long meaningless chats on the phone, rereading all of your old magazines, or engaging in TV marathons, one after the other.
“This can be a gift wherein you create that painting that you were born to create. Taking all the time that you need to put meaning into every brushstroke until that glass is not only full, but is running over.”
Part Four: Nancy Honea
I missed seeing everyone at our March meeting, and will miss all the other PSA activities that have been cancelled. We will have a lot of catching up to do when we emerge from this crisis.
I have been sheltering at home since March 17, and in this time of great upheaval, have gone through several phases, or stages, of coping. From the beginning, my instinct was that I would have to stay home for two to three months, and that was hard to grasp. Artists are familiar with being isolated—but I found this particular isolation to be quite different. Creeping around the edges there was a fear of the unknown, and a sense of impending doom. The news was more urgent with each passing day, and the world grew smaller as we came to realize our interconnectedness.
Phase One: Fear and Uncertainty. I spent the early days caught up in fear and uncertainty—a fear of being alone and powerless, of not having enough to survive. Slowly, I began to accept the inevitable, and stay inside, alone, without even a pet. Eventually, I came to understand that this was a choice I had made to protect others and myself, and this gave me a sense of personal control. I couldn’t do much to help in this catastrophe, but I could do this one thing—physically quarantine. I had to look at my entire life in the now, and develop a system to manage it.
Phase Two: Loss and Anger. The growing numbers of the sick, suffering, and dying began to get to me. We just do not have a place in our brain and heart to process this. The speed and magnitude of this viral outbreak has challenged our collective soul. We saw our health workers put in danger due to the lack of protective gear. We saw them try to save patients without enough beds and equipment. As quarantine appeared to be our only tool for containment, we saw people and businesses shutter down. Then, we saw the full economic impact as over ten million in the U.S. quickly lost their source of income. Our sense of self-worth is often tied up in our work, and our ability to provide for our selves, our family, and others. So many people are suffering physically and financially. (Hopefully the recent CARE Act will provide enough financial aid.)
During this time, I found it difficult to appreciate beauty, to be inspired to paint, and such disturbing loss led me into another phase—acceptance.
Phase Three: Acceptance. In order to survive this, I had to practice my faith, cultivate optimism, and reach out to others for mutual support. To find ways to persevere and cope, I allotted myself a time everyday to cry, to grieve, to try to think of some way to help. When that time was up, I had to stop, and resort to things I knew to be true in order to endure: trusting in God, doing something physical, eating and sleeping well, and accomplishing some small, good thing each hour. I realized I had to manage my mental and spiritual health persistently and with purpose. I found it helpful to set small attainable goals each day, actually record these in writing, and check them off when done. Muting the TV helped to lower the addictive quality, yet allowed me to keep up with the news. I reached out to my community of family, friends, students and artists that now could only support me by phone, text, email, and social media.
Phase Four: Embracing Reality and Seeking Balance. By now (at this point in time—day 25) I have managed to adopt new patterns of living. I know that I can make wonderful use of this time. I can grow spiritually through prayer, meditation, drawing or painting, listening to music, and going out into nature. I can grow mentally through contemplation, writing, reading, doing puzzles and mind games. I can grow physically by watching what I eat, sleeping seven hours, doing regular small bouts of exercise, walking outside in the park and woods, and even finding gratitude for pollen. I can practice “Niksen,” the Dutch trend of doing nothing, carving out time to just “be”, thus stimulate my creative thoughts and allow them to surface.
The internet is a lifeline. Many people are sharing their art and creations. Patients can have medical consultations, physical therapy sessions, or psychological counseling online. There are online groups for exercise, business, worship, and families. The human spirit is amazingly resilient, and seeks opportunity to connect and foster cooperation with one another, even in the most trying times.
Phase Five: Hope and Faith. Looking back, I have found that glimmers of hope and faith have always managed to sparkle through. There are a variety of ways to make statements of hope. So many people have already done incredible things. By far the greatest gift has been the dedication and perseverance of healthcare and emergency workers in the face of unimaginable conditions.
I appreciate the value of this period. As a professional artist and teacher I am using it as a season of incubation, allowing time for my creative process to evolve.
When contemplating, I remember that each year I am called by the blossoms, harbingers of spring, and whispers of more beauty to come. I always yearned to do paintings of the blossom, but they are very temporary, and I was always busy in the spring. NOW is my opportunity to initiate this dream! I am happily painting, trying to capture the nature of the delicate, transitory blossom. It is bringing me quiet joy. I have regained my sense of wonder, and have developed tools to help maintain my balance. I seek solace and endeavor to stay strong and hopeful.
Each day, I purposefully practice viewing this period of our lives in a positive light. It is a time when we can seek the best in ourselves, evolve, and develop new ways to live, love and create.
I hope sharing my thoughts in this writing will inspire you, and contribute to your healing. I hope it empowers you to seek balance and a sense of peace as you consciously weave the fabric of your life.