All that time to get through in lockdown. All those annoying appointments and obligations cancelled. All those artistic ideas and projects we had been meaning to get round to. There was plenty of time for art, wasn’t there. But no. Inspiration and even competence just evaporated. I phoned my friends and they said the same. They just couldn’t do it any more.

There were going to be far fewer opportunities to exhibit and sell our work but do we really paint for fame and fortune? Obviously, there was the loss of companionship. But were we having a bit of a chat so that we could paint, or just doing a bit of painting so could have a good natter?  A professional artist told me that, even when he was offered much needed work, he just couldn’t get his drawings to ‘come right’ in the lockdown.

A year later

A year into the pandemic, I am just about picking up on art and I see that many of my friends are now producing lots of good work too. I changed approach, spending less time on ‘proper’ pictures for exhibitions and more time on new techniques and exploratory ideas. I made a concertina book of ‘Bearded Reedlings in Marshlands’, including constructing the book itself. This was fun. I’m creating a ‘Sketchbook of Paris’ by filling an old, expandable photograph album with sketches done from photographs of previous trips to Paris. The immediacy of sketching is very important for extracting the essential out of a complex scene. I have embarked on filling a big bound book with charcoal drawings. Ok, this is not watercolour, but thinking about tonal value is vital if colour is going to work well.  I also gathered together all my pictures from the previous two years and published them as a Blurb Book ‘Observation’. This was encouraging and a nice thing to have. I included some quotations from a notebook I keep of funny remarks I have overheard in public places, little realising how rare and precious these words would soon become. “Come along dear. I don’t think they do Fairtrade in Poundland” comes to mind. Zoom meetings for painting sessions don’t really work for me and I have still not faced up to painting (as compared to sketching) en plein air, even though I could have painted big skies in a rural landscape while observing social distancing and respecting farmers crops and livestock. My ‘proper’ paintings aren’t quite back yet but I’ll get there soon.

So what went wrong? I think shock had a lot to do with it. We all knew a pandemic could happen, but none of us really believed it would happen to us. We were overwhelmed by confusion, fear, sadness and worry for people in exposed occupations or circumstances. We also lost our habits, our daily rhythms of work, our play and appointments. So much for our romantic notions of artists starving in a garret in order to express their angst. And isn’t habit the antithesis of creativity? So why was it so hard to fill all this time with art? I think what we are trying to do in our art is to be expansive – to enlarge our visual and emotional experience. Art celebrates the beautiful and exposes the tragic but it always enlarges its subject, whereas the lockdown made everything smaller. Our mental world shrank as we avoided other people, stayed at home and had few events to look forward to. If I am depressed my drawings shrink so that they fill only a small part of the page. If I am exuberant my drawings fill the page and sometimes paint splashes on the floor. We were all, at least a bit, depressed.

But this pandemic will end, largely because of the vaccines, and when it does we will all paint again and our art with be large and colourful.

Here are some of my pictures mainly done during the pandemic.

New Techniques – there is always something to learn.

Exploratory Ideas – dare to fail

Bearded Reedlings in Marshlands Concertina Book – craft as well as art is important

Virtual Sketchbook of Paris Old Photograph Album – quick sketching catches the essence

Bound Book of charcoals – tonal value always needs attention

Observation blurb book – a nice way to look back at your own work

Getting Ready for Recovery