Best Bets: Art in the time of COVID-19

A look at Marcia Reed’s studio in Milford shows works she has produced during the time set aside for the stay-at-home order imposed by Delaware Gov. John Carney due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Ms. Reed, like other local artists, says this has been a very productive time for her.

Being an artist is sometimes thought of as being a solitary endeavor. That’s never been truer since the outbreak of COVID-19 across the state and world

Artists have been finding this time an especially fruitful one and, in some cases, a therapeutic time to ply their trade while they quarantine in place.

“I have been kind of self motivated in a sense, because I’m just doing whatever I feel like doing, but I’m doing it every day.” said Rosemary Connelly, a Milford artist who runs the Live Cheap and Make Art Studios in town.

“It’s getting me through this time where otherwise my days might be pretty long. So my art sustains me.”

One of the things she’s been doing is a different self portrait every day.

“It’s hilarious because it’s the same face but it’s a strange time. So there were one or two, one in particular, where I have this expression on my face where my mouth is wide open. And I’m saying, ‘This is how I look when I’m watching the news,’ she said.

“Drawing people is not something that I have done a lot. And so it’s sort of challenging myself to kind of learn and get better at that particular skill, but I didn’t feel like I had a lot of confidence. And so that’s been, a learning experience as well. So I know a lot of artists are using this time to do that as well. You know, just kind of brush up on your skills and just keep doing it every day.”

Ms. Connelly is the co-founder of Urban Sketchers Delaware, an all-volunteer group of artists who go on location once a month, sketching and journaling throughout the state.

Milford artist Rosemary Connelly has done a series of self-portraits every day during the coronavirus crisis. The work above is her reaction to the latest news reports.

“It’s an international organization. People love to sketch on location and it’s kind of a really cool thing because it’s something you do with your pen and a sketchbook and maybe watercolors or whatever art supplies are sort of portable, and we go out together and sketch and then the next thing we do is we post on our Facebook page, so we share all over the world what we’re doing and it’s really a great way to meet other artists, to interact with other artists, to see what’s being done, just not in your own area, but all around the world,” she said.

Members hail from up and down the state so locations change on the second Sunday of every month. Although with Delaware shut down, these gatherings have been put on hold. But members still have been busy. They were given an assignment this month to just sketch whatever they saw around the house.

“I draw all the time anyway. I’m always doing that but being stuck at home, I’m drawing everything around me. I’ve done quite a few drawings. You know, a different part of my house and plants and furniture and piles of stuff on a desk just whatever,” Ms. Connelly said.

Jane Dean, an Urban Sketcher from Lincoln, is doing the same thing.

“You’re really doing it with pictures and words. So I’m sort of recording how my life has changed. And in my journal, for instance, on Easter, I do have a little picture of a cup of tea and a muffin
and a face mask,” she said.

Although limited, travels have made a nice subject for her as well.

“A couple of weeks ago I could not get my dog to take his pain medication. He kept
outsmarting me. And so I took him to the veterinarian to do that and they came out to the car and just opened the car window and popped the pill in his mouth,” Ms. Dean said.

A painting by Rosemary Connolly of her living room.

“So I did a picture of the vet tech leaving the animal hospital and then another of her making friends with Winston after he had his pill through the car window

“With another picture of my husband. I wrote, ‘Sheltering at home pretty much the same as every other day. Sports reruns on television for Bob’” And I did a picture of him in his comfortable chair with a computer on his lap, the dog sleeping and he’s watching a Penn State classic game. And the thing is, you don’t draw these things out of your head. You’re trying to record what you’re doing.”

She also did a sketch commenting on the fact that she was supposed to be in Dublin during the time of the pandemic and writing “We are all doing our share and making the best of it.

Ms. Dean looks upon this time and her efforts as creating a time capsule of sorts.

“I’m trying to make something so that when my grandchildren and great-great grandchildren look back on this piece of history, they can see it firsthand,” she said.

Vivienne Cameron, of Old New Castle, another member of the Urban Sketchers club, is a teacher who now finds herself with a great deal of free time and has turned to the organization for motivation.

“Usually through the school year. I’m incredibly busy. I’m going seven days a week and I keep track of a thousand things and all of that has changed because there are no dates on the calendar and there are no deadlines. So it’s all very strange,” she said.

“When they first closed everything down, I thought, ‘This will be great. I’ll make art all the time. I’ll have days and days and days to make art and the hard part I think is getting and staying motivated. So you get up in the morning and you think to yourself ‘OK today I’m going to paint or today I’m going to try a new medium and every day you’ve got this great plan and the next thing you know, it’s dinner time and you accomplish nothing.”

So in order to motivate herself, she has joined with other women from Urban Sketchers who live in New Castle County to keep tabs on each other.

Jane Dean, of Lincoln, created a work on March 18 that expressed her disappointment at having to cancel a trip to Dublin, Ireland.

“We would be getting together for our scheduled event and of course we can’t do that. So, what we started doing is choosing a day of the week, and getting together to paint and we’re doing it virtually. But instead of eating up time on the internet or trying to make that work, how we’ve gotten it to work for us is that we’ll agree on a date and the starting time and we’ll agree on a subject. And then we’ll each paint in our separate locations and check in with each other about every half hour,” she said.

“A half an hour in, we’ll text a basic sketch. And then when we get towards the end of it, we critique each other’s work and give each other constructive comments about it. … So that’s been really good because it’s like a sort of an accountability and you think to yourself, ‘You know I need to make that happen. Where if you don’t have another person that you can do this with, it makes it I think harder to just get started. Once you get started, you just get lost in it.”

She too has been chronicling what’s been going on inside her house or out the window.

“Coming down my street one day was the Easter Bunny on a fire truck. Ordinarily, we would have had an Easter parade in town. It’s been going on for decades and the kids parade around the circle. And so this year of course there was no parade and instead of that, the Easter Bunny came down the street on a fire truck and I was quite taken with that and so that’s what I drew that particular day,” Ms. Cameron said.

The world has suddenly stopped for Ms. Cameron and others like her.

“I was working in a studio with a group of Chinese watercolor painters and I was doing figure drawing down at the Newark Arts Alliance and I had signed up for all of these workshops and there was all of this art that was happening. I had work that I was submitting to a show. I had all of this stuff happening and then all of a sudden, everything just came to a halt.”

Vivienne Cameron, of Old New Castle, created these two works during the quarantine. Above, is her sketch of the Easter Bunny going down her street.

Although not a member of the Urban Sketchers, Marcia Reed, owner of Gallery 37 in Milford, has found this time to be very productive.

“I opened this gallery on December 8 of 2012 and I would always find time to paint either at night, I would paint on weekends. But this time of self isolation has been, and I feel guilty saying this, has been perfect for me,” said Ms. Reed, who has been a full-time painter since 1978.

“I love my schedule. I’m here all day and then go home and I eat and then I come back at night and I am really being productive. I am doing lots of paintings, I do a lot of collages. I’m working on and exploring all kinds of new things. It’s been amazing.”

An an expressionist painter who delves into abstract, Ms. Reed said this time has allowed her to get into areas that she may not have otherwise.

“When I had the business and I would be home at night, I’d look out my window and I loved all the shapes that I would see or not see — things in the night. So I’ve been doing this whole series of these ‘What’s out the window but you can’t see but can see’ against all my plant life that are there. And I’ve really explored this theme inside and out from canvases to work on paper. I’m still doing it. It’s endless subject matter for me,” she said.

She is also working with a metal cookbook produced in 1933 that she found in upstate New York.

“The paper is really old and interesting and there are all these little, teeny recipe cards, and I do collages that I love to incorporate type and font. So every day I do about three to five pages in this metal book. So I’m doing that, which I could never concentrate on and do before. So this is why this time has been really nice for me, and I’m really utilizing it,” she said.

A collage of pages from a 1933 cookbook that Marcia Reed has turned into a work of art.

She said many of her colleagues in the art world are feeling the same way.

“I’ve talked to other friends of mine who are artists up in New York and Wilmington and up in Massachusetts and they’re sort of on the same page. It’s like ‘Yes this is the time we need to work things out.’ I mean I’ve done some huge paintings. Some six-foot paintings, four-foot paintings, and they take time to develop. It’s not something that you do in three days, or a sketch. This is working day and night,” Ms. Reed said.

She is also finding the time to reacquaint herself with her inspirations.

“I’m finding the time to be able to listen to a lot of art podcasts of artists that I really love, and I have them coming out of the Getty Museum out in L.A. — artists that I really have a connection with and that have been inspirational to me on that level,” she said.

“And I’m taking the time to really look at my art history books and art books and really artists that I love and I’ll read about them and I thought I knew about them but I’m really almost studying them again.

“I was an art history minor, and so this has been really interesting. I haven’t had any time to do that running a business and to me this has been a real pleasure. At the same time, I am very aware of what’s going on around me and very cautious and I’m definitely self isolating.”

For Ms. Connelly, not only does this time allow her more hours to work on her art, she also has a chance to work in different mediums.

“Normally my medium is watercolor. So I’ve been exploring using colored inks, which is kind of a little bit different and just different ways of putting down your art and it’s just an exploration and because I have all day — I’m a widow, my husband died almost five years ago now, so I live alone — it fills my time and I can get lost in it. Hours go by and I’m not even aware. So it’s a great way to pass the time by doing something that you enjoy doing anyway, only in this case, all day.”

Schedule changes

Smyrna at Night, the free townwide music and beer festival originally set for June 13, has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5 due to concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A statement on its Facebook Thursday said all of the artists announced so far and those who hadn’t been announced yet, will be able to perform on that date in Smyrna.

Artists named so far include New Orleans’ Big Sam’s Funky Nation, The Ladybugs of Soul and local favorites Mike Hines and The Look.

Fortify Music Fest, which was scheduled for Aug. 8 at Fort DuPont, has been canceled. Tickets will be automatically refunded.

Also, the Holly’s Club 36th Annual Spring Fling, originally scheduled for May 9, will now be held June 26 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the Smyrna Opera House.

Tickets are $65 at www.eventbrite.com.

Now Showing

New on DVD and download starting Tuesday is Blake Lively and Jude Law in “The Rhythm Section” and “The Assistant.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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