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Every morning, I get up early, just after sunrise, and go downstairs to the kitchen to make coffee. While I wait for the water to boil, I make a drawing on a piece of scrap paper. I add the date and a short caption, and then leave it on the counter.

March 21, 2020 Morning sketch: bananas in a bowl. “Last two bananas.”

My best friends live in a suburb about an hour north of Manhattan. On March 13, we planned a nice weekend—I would come up for a day or two, as I often do to get out of the city. On March 14, COVID-19 accelerated its embrace of New York City, so Paul and Susan, worried about my being on the subway and the Metro-North train, drove to my apartment in Brooklyn and brought me back to their home.

Today is June 5, and I’m still here.

All the usual materials and equipment for my work, which is sculpture, are in my studio in Brooklyn. During the first weeks of being away, my creative energy was flat. But the need to make something (anything!) began to nag, and I turned to the loyal foundation of drawing. Like most artists, I learned to draw early, and even though I stray from a regular practice, every few years something calls me back. Now, the contrasting emotions of gratitude and anxiety, along with the lack of tools other than pencils and my iPad, challenge me to draw again.

Now, the contrasting emotions of gratitude and anxiety, along with the lack of tools other than pencils and my iPad, challenge me to draw again.”

March 30, 2020 Morning sketch: kitchen windows, with a view of trees. “So much light in this house!”

Before long, I’m a fixture in our three-person household. Much of our time is spent in separate rooms, immersed in our respective work and Zoom meetings. On rainy afternoons, we gather in the living room and read or listen to the news. Then I get my iPad and draw.

Paul is an easy subject. He doesn’t move much. He slouches. His positions are fun to illustrate. Susan, on the other hand, is difficult. She is lying on the couch, wrapped in a knitted blanket, three pillows behind her head, reading on her phone. At first, she is still. But as I attempt to capture a three-quarter view of her profile—especially the bump at the top of her nose—she tilts her head. All the relationships of her face change, and I have to start over. A few minutes later, just as I’m getting the position of her bent knees, she stretches out. I start again.

After fifteen minutes, I stop. I’ve been focusing so much on her face that I’ve lost sight of the whole composition, and the drawing is inconsistent: tightly rendered details here; loose, flowing lines there. I hate it. I force myself to do another.

April 4, 2020 Morning sketch: table, cup and saucer. “I hope to come out of this as a better draftsperson.”

I remind myself that drawings need warm-ups. Like an athlete or a musician, I have to ready the instrument. When I settle into a rhythm, I’m looser, and the faster my hand moves, the better. All marks are integral—the best lines sweep across the surface, representing nothing but the pencil sliding from, say, an elbow to a cheekbone. As a dancer friend taught me, it’s not the perfect, static position that’s important—it’s how you get from one position to another.

May 18, 2020 Morning sketch: mask with fruit-pattern fabric. “I can sew more of these.”

After a while, I start making detailed drawings of the house’s appliances, in particular the ones that I’ve developed a relationship with. The dishwasher, the washer and dryer, the microwave. When I use them, life feels normal. I draw them straight on and open, as though they are beckoning me to perform routine tasks.

I remind myself that drawings need warm-ups. Like an athlete or a musician, I have to ready the instrument.”

June 2, 2020 Morning sketch: a police car in flames; under that, a glass of wilted flowers. “Turbulent there. Quiet here.”

While I draw, my thoughts are nonstop. “The perspective of the top shelf in the refrigerator is off. Is the bottle of milk too big? Did I leave milk in my fridge at home? When will I go home? What is my home?” I erase the bottle and draw it again.

June 3, 2020 Morning sketch: grid of black rectangles. “#blackouttuesday.”

I keep the morning sketches in a drawer. Flipping through them now, along with the drawings on my iPad, I see that what began as a quest to improve my creative skills has become a visual diary of moments ranging from mundane to soul wrenching. Perhaps drawing is my way of confronting—and also escaping—my apprehension about a wildly uncertain future.

June 4, 2020 Morning sketch: mailbox on a wooden post. “Still waiting for absentee ballot.” ca

© 2020 W. Richmond

Wendy Richmond (wendyrichmond.com) is a visual artist, writer and educator whose work explores public privacy, personal technology and creativity. Richmond has taught at Harvard University, the International Center of Photography and the Rhode Island School of Design, and she serves on the BRIC Artists Advisory Council and the MacDowell Fellows Executive Committee. Her latest book is Art Without Compromise*. Richmond’s column began in 1984.

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