Quarantine Through the Eyes of an Artist

Posted on June 24, 2020

by Jen Fisher

As the word “pandemic” started to filter through my brain, the anxiety began to rush through my bones. I knew this next phase would be out of my control and it was very unsettling. I went into lock down mode much earlier than most as a result of corresponding daily with friends and family in Italy and listening to their stories (all of whom are OK, thankfully). The unfathomable number of deaths and the wildfire spreading of the virus in Italy and around the world worried and haunted me daily. I also knew it was only a matter of time until the virus came to the United States and we found ourselves in a similar situation. I needed to find a way to cope while staying focused and keeping my family safe and sane.

Watercolor painting of three teenagers sitting in the opened trunks of their cars
Trunk Party, 2020, Jen Fisher
6” x 9”, Watercolor

I reached out to some of my art students to see if they wanted to draw with me online, just for fun and to surround ourselves with other like-minded individuals. These video calls became my lifeline: 2 times a day with adults and children throughout the hardest weeks of the COVID-19 spread. Our meetings gave me a schedule, a purpose, and the opportunity to lock in some creative time. I enjoyed being able to help those who needed guidance and to sit down and draw myself. I began sketching friends and families’ views from around the world as a way to stay connected. We were all seeing similar scenes outside the windows of our safe homes: the quiet streets of our beautiful towns and cities camouflaged by an eerie calmness and a blanket of uncertainty.

Watercolor of overflowing laundry bins
"Why are there so many dirty clothes when we haven’t left the house?"
All Day Every Day, 2020, Jen Fisher
6” x 9”, Watercolor
Grocery store aisle filled with paper products.
“Oh Scott, how I’ve missed you so!”
Great Scott!, 2020, Jen Fisher
6” x 9”, Watercolor

As the weeks went on, I was grateful that my family and friends were safe and I managed to get some control back over my new life. The video art calls became less frequent as schedules became more demanding, but I continued to draw and my creative process began to shift.  As an artist, my main source of inspiration comes from travel and exploring as I love architecture and urban landscapes. My travel was now limited to the rooms in my home and exploring the objects that surrounded me.

Watercolor of an open oven with chocolate chip cookies, and baking ingredients scattered all over.
"My 12 year old has taken an interest in baking. Cookies, cakes, brownies: you name it and all from scratch. I saw on the news that calories don’t count during a pandemic. Can anyone verify?”
Cookie Dough, 2020, Jen Fisher
6” x 9”, Watercolor

I started to take notice of everything that was part of my day to day and began to appreciate their detail and beauty. Things that I had taken for granted before, not only in my home but in life, now became hot topics of conversation: toilet paper, dirty dishes and laundry to name a few. I began to document these images in my sketchbook and realized that the drawings related, in some way, to almost everyone who saw them. From the Amazon boxes at my front door to the excitement of a Scott toilet paper re-stock at the grocery store, I began to see beauty through a new lens.

I was thankful to all the essential workers including the delivery and mail carriers for providing us with what we needed and the few indulgences that kept us sane. I was thankful for the endless baking by my 12 year old, even though it came with quite a kitchen mess. I was thankful for the TV binge watching with my husband and the opportunity to put my feet up. As this new normal became more routine, my ideas for sketching seemed endless as I focused on the silver linings. The titles and captions of my drawings highlighted the severity of what we were all experiencing but added that much needed humor and hope. I felt these playful descriptions were important as I am a firm believer that laughter is one of the best medicines. Only after art, of course.

I am honored that my sketches will be included in the William and Mary University Archives as a pictorial essay and will give future generations a visual glimpse of our quarantine lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To view the full collection, visit Jen's Facebook or Instagram page.

If you keep a daily journal of your experience, consider donating it to Swem’s Special Collections when the crisis has passed.