Pink and orange abstract painting created during COVID-19 lockdown

Finding Hope in a Frightening Pandemic by Making Art

This pandemic is an odd combination of boredom and terror. It’s frightening, and we are all looking to find some hope in the middle of all this bad news. Thankfully I’m finding hope by making art.

If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, you’re frantically working on your laptop all day during the workweek, keeping one eye on the news. Weekends are depressing because you can’t go anywhere. You’re confined to your house. No going to the movies, no meeting friends for dinner or drinks. You don’t have the energy to read a book, and you’ve watched everything on Netflix. You finally found the mythical end of Instagram, and you just spent five hours watching crazy TikTok dances.

So you scroll Facebook, bored.

Pink and orange abstract painting created during COVID-19 lockdown

In that boredom amidst the memes and political arguments is an artist trying to calm himself down by putting paint on canvas.

I am that artist. Like you, I’m bored and scared, too.

That’s why I’m trying to brighten things up by inviting you into the studio for a while. Not to forget our cares, but to honor them, and to come to a sense of peace about what’s going on in the world.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was sad, anxious, and scared.

Like a lot of people, I initially made a mental list of projects to work on, books to read, and so forth. My wife and I figured if we were going to be at home for two weeks (ha – it’ll be 6 weeks tomorrow!) we might as well tackle some of those projects we’ve been putting off for ages (nope, still haven’t done them), so we went to the hardware store to stock up on supplies.

The week before the lockdown was Spring Break, and since we didn’t have vacation plans, we had already stocked up on books for the kids to read. And the week before that, Nashville was hit by a severe tornado.

So everything was upside-down.

But after a few days of trying to adjust to the “new normal” of all five of us being at home 24/7, we got into a rhythm. We had our workspaces set up. We ordered new Kindles for the kids. We exercised every morning. We tried to deal with the weirdness of the whole experience by quickly setting some normal patterns.

Then my part-time graphic design job had to let me go since the economy tanked in a matter of weeks.

I was not prepared for the trauma that would come with all this.

I allowed myself to grieve.

But I numbed myself a bit by staying up too late watching Netflix and then sleeping in. My sleep cycle got messed up. (It is still messed up.)

I found my anxiety growing. When I get anxious, I work myself in to a frenzy and do lots of things without getting anything finished. Lots of puttering around and wondering what I actually did that day. I found myself getting depressed.

Finally, I got in the studio. I had been making a little bit of an effort to paint more, but I’ve now fallen into a rhythm of getting in the studio at least once a week. Saturday night seems to be when most people are online. They are bored, sad, and anxious.

Making art regularly helps me slow down and breathe.

When I paint, I tend to be frenetic, but I get the best results when I slow down. There’s a certain effect I like to achieve when I use the palette knife (or painting knife – I use the terms interchangeably) but it doesn’t work unless I slow down.

So when I drag paint onto the canvas with the knife, I stop and take a deep breath. As I exhale, I slowly drag the knife across the canvas. The paint rewards me by going on exactly how I want it to.

My audience calms down, too.

I suppose my mood is contagious. It makes sense: if I appear on screen all jacked up, it will spread to my audience and I’ll stress them out. If I’m calm, and bring a message of hope, whether through my words or my painting, it’ll calm down my audience, too.

I’m not Bob Ross, but as I paint live, I find myself coming around to some of the same hopeful themes he expressed on his show.

Nine times out of ten, the things I say are the things I need to hear, myself:

  • “You can’t appreciate the bright spots without the dark spots. The dark areas make the bright areas stand out more. Paint the bright areas on top of the dark areas and it’s more dramatic, more rewarding.”
  • “Slow down and breathe. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
  • “Colors don’t exist in isolation. Every color is affected by the colors around it. Everything is affected by everything else.”
  • “I have to work all the way around the canvas, instead of only on one thing. I can’t get too focused on one spot and overdevelop it.”

In the process, I find hope.

Sometimes that hope gets buried. But it’s been in me all along. Often, I can’t see it, but it’s there. I just have to look for it. Sometimes I’ll go after it directly, or I take a lateral drift approach to find it. Hope always shows up. It’s there. Hope may be loud, or it may be quiet. But when I find it, it’s my job to share it. A sacred duty, as it were.