The Union: #26 Sarah Soward


Seven hundred eighty eight square feet. I don’t think that includes the balcony, but I could be wrong. It could also be seven hundred seventy three square feet; but that sounds worse, and I don’t want worse. So, I’m going with my first number. 

My husband and I usually spend a lot of time with either one or both of us out and about. I’m at the art studio quietly working away with my headphones blocking out as much of the rest of the world as possible while he’s holding down the fort in our seven hundred eight eight square feet. Or maybe I’m at home while he’s off in the wilderness of a corporate Southern California office building doing his thing. Or perhaps we’re walking, eating out, staring at animals, finding friends, or generally doing whatever together. I don’t know. I’m beginning to not remember. We aren’t done sheltering in place. 

You’d think that a bit of an agoraphobe would handle a pandemic well. I mean, I think I sort of am handling it well… now. It’s somehow easier to go outside with a mask on than not. It’s definitely easier to go outside when everyone, theoretically, knows they’re supposed to stay six feet away. I’m a woman in America and I finally have personal space. All it took was a preventable, uncontrolled pandemic that’s stolen the lives of over 170,000 people. No, I do not think it was worth the cost. Those lives are worth so much more than six feet of comfort. 

That sentiment—that people’s lives are worth more than my fun or comfort or whims or recreation—is what helps keep me behaving ethically during Coronapocalypse 2020. It hasn’t been a smooth ride over here. It’s been hard in my shared seven hundred eighty eight square feet. As excited as I am about not having to conform to the old social norms of close physical human interaction, like handshakes, I still miss people, my routines, and spontaneous shenanigans. I miss having time to myself. I miss unlimited studio time and my usual means of making art. 

I realized I would need to find a way to keep making art at home if I was going to weather this well. It seemed like a logical time to focus harder on the digital side of my work since painting with oils is not feasible in our small home, traveling to photograph animals in their habitats won’t be happening for some time, being an artist is not considered essential work, and I’m higher risk and so have to take greater precautions. My solution was to start a drawing journal of sorts. Without much of a plan or any end goal, I started making a digital drawing a day with an accompanying blog post. I didn’t figure out how many days I would do it until I realized that I was exhausted from all the introspection, research, writing, and daily drawing. Days off are important. In 100 days, I gave myself one day off. It was necessary for my mental health to keep drawing, trying, writing, reaching out, and having a voice in this. It was necessary for my physical health that I take breaks and choose a point to stop. I figured 100 was a good number.

Day 1 through Day 100 of Sheltering-in-Place were a necessary, if somewhat grueling, change to accommodate the needs of the times, my neighbors, friends, family, and my own health. My images and posts moved from introspection to outrage about the state of race relations and lack of equality in this country to indignation about the politicization of ethical behavior around COVID-19. Topics shifted. Research increased and decreased. Dungeons & Dragons came up a few times. (I love a good story!) And I wrote a lot about finding strength in how I choose to adorn myself.

Eventually, this wildlife artist with Surrealist/Impressionistic/expressive whims got back to incorporating animals. It felt good to finally feel like I could make art using the imagery I love most. Nearly 100 days of self-portraits was hard for me, but it served as an excellent focus away from the hardships and horrors of ICU beds, actual quarantine, permanently reduced lung capacity, and more that so many others were and are facing daily.

I used the drawings as a way to reach out to my on line communities. They reached back. My peeps encouraged me to keep drawing and writing, to take breaks, to turn the blog posts into a book (It’s in process!), to make individual prints available, and to keep standing my artistic and intellectual ground—whatever that may end up looking like. 

More recently, I’m now able to get back into the studio in the wee hours of the morning before anyone else arrives. I can paint with my beloved oils again without feeling like I’m risking my health. Digital art is still happening, and I’m starting work in other mediums again as well. I remind myself that life is ever changing, and change is not the same as loss.

“Devil By My Side”, oil on canvas, 24 x 24

TOC of Sheltering-in-Place blog posts:

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