It’s been over a year since the pandemic started.
I remember the fear creeping around the edges of my life as the case numbers started creeping up, and the conversations I was having with people at the time, at times almost begging them to stay at home when they were going to the pub, or going for a stroll around the city centre to have a look at some shops.
I’m neither a savant nor a clairvoyant but at the time I was filled with a very specific dread as I watched the situation on the continent disintegrate and Health Services the world over start to struggle with the increasing number of patients in their hospital beds. As the death toll ticked up, the splendid isolation of the United Kingdom, a defence against threats real and imagined for hundreds of years failed, and we started seeing cases rising across the country.
Part of me understood the complacency in those beginning stages of the pandemic spread in the UK.
Historically pandemics were things we heard about in the news as they were happening in other places. How many had we managed to avoid relatively unscathed? SARS, MERS, Ebola… We had avoided mass community transmission on so many occasions before I’m sure there were many who thought this time would be the same. It was something for everyone else to worry about, but we’d be fine. We’re an island after all.
I wasn’t convinced.
At the time, I was in the process of trying to get myself a studio space in our local WASPS studios, and was trying to get a time in the diary that suited everyone to pop in for a viewing. Then I got Shielded and had to cancel. I had been on the waiting list for a while and it was the closest I had gotten to getting a studio that was within my rather tight budget so I was understandably disappointed.
This situation repeated itself a couple of times over the pandemic, with spaces being advertised, but with them being just out of reach if I wanted to follow the advice of the government and stay home to keep me safe.
By then however, I had made changes, and moved as much of my work to digital as I feasibly could, so that I could still make things while I was grounded by the government.
For someone like me with a background in mostly traditional art, this pivot was not without its challenges, and while I was used to making traditional pieces at home (I made everything that was in The Things We Lost on my kitchen floor) I had very little digital art experience, so I had a lot to learn.
It’s not that I was abandoning traditional art, but instead it was borne out of necessity. Everyone I live with was staying in to keep one another safe, so getting quality time camped out on the kitchen floor with a sheet of glass to roll ink on was suddenly an incredibly valuable commodity.
I made my first tentative steps by making a brush (talk about learning to run before you could walk) because I wanted something that would help me mimic the texture of my monoprints, and I did some really quick text pieces to help me test it out.
After that, I dove straight in and tried it out with some drawing, and ended up doing my Quarantine Watchlist with the brush I had made.
There are benefits to working digitally; it takes up a lot less space for materials, I can work in more places as long as I have space for my laptop and my tablet, I can remove an incorrect stroke with a keyboard shortcut and there’s a lot less clearing up to do when I’m finished work for the day.
But even with these positives, there are things which I can’t quite throw my whole weight behind.
I feel like a lot of the time, when a digital piece is ‘finished’, it’s too easy to continue tweaking it ad nauseam, because in a digital drawing, where the Photoshop layers are still there, there’s no end to the tweaks and adjustments you can make. Compare this with a physical drawing where there’s much more of a sense of completion, whether the piece ends up working or not.
Sometimes though, having this more relaxed approach can be a benefit. When you just want to draw something for fun and it doesn’t really have to say a lot, it can be nice to just open a fresh document and draw something that’s been on your mind that you wanted to get out there. Take, for instance, my recent passing hyperfixation on Mystic Meg. I was able to just do a quick illustration of her and throw it out there on twitter and instagram without it having to mean anything. I did it purely for fun.
I do however miss having the physical piece when it’s finished. When you work digitally you either then have to arrange for the pieces to be professionally printed, or invest in a professional quality printer yourself. From someone who’s more used to making things from start to finish, offloading this important part of the process to someone else sometimes leaves me feeling a bit disjointed from what I’m making.
Recently, my work has settled into a strange hybrid of the two and I’ve been trying to find a balance between them. Using digital when it compliments what I’m doing, but trying to then bring the production of things back over into my traditional skillset. For example the recent charity print I made for Jog For Jugs where I did the original sketch digitally, then printed it for transfer to linocut.
I still don’t feel 100% confident when it comes to creating art digitally, but that mostly comes down to skill level. I struggle to mix the different digital effects to replicate an effect I would be able to produce traditionally without a second thought, but all that means is that I have a lot more learning to do.