The first months of the Pandemic/Lockdown/Quarantine/End of the World were something that took a great deal of adjusting to. No more willy-nilly fancy-free hanging out with my friends at Improv class/practice/shows. No more creative time on stage. No more going anywhere without a mask. No more ease.
Even though the opportunities to get together with some of my Improv friends inside buildings came to a halt, most of us kept in touch. We continued to talk about ways we could keep trying to do what we had been doing. We started doing some Improv over Zoom. Not great. Tried a few times. Tried it in a friend’s backyard. It was ok but not the same. My Improv group, named Tested on Animals, kind of fell apart. Though most of the group stopped getting together to practice Improv, three of us (myself, Nathan and Jennifer) continued to get together on a regular basis. One day we decided that maybe Improv was not going to be our activity, but maybe we could get together to make art instead.
We started meeting in Nathan’s backyard. We would all bring supplies. Someone would provide small canvases, another would bring brushes, paint, dry media, etc. The table in his backyard is so large we could sit 6 feet apart and just have a communal set-up in the middle of the table. We worked on a painting for 10-20 minutes and then pass it to the next person. We each had a canvas to work on, and the art would be passed along until we all felt it was complete. We averaged 6 or so paintings during a 3-4 hour weekend afternoon session. And so, our Improv on Paper - Socially Distanced Art Club began.
We worked through the hottest part of the Summer under misters with periodic dips in the pool to cool off. We would work in any weather. We sat in some light rain, intense heat and sun, and then just before winter I had to step out. I made the decision that with Covid 19 cases rising so much in the area, I just couldn’t continue. Even with the socially distant seating, it felt like a risk that I couldn’t take. I knew we were getting close to seeing a vaccine and would be getting it in a matter of months. We had been so careful over the previous 6-7 months that I didn’t want to take any chances.
During our art making we put together quite a portfolio of paintings. We created something like 100 pieces. We even had 3 pieces hanging in a juried exhibition in Fort Worth.
Making these works was good for our mental health. It was like we had a group therapy session every weekend. While painting we would discuss our experiences with quarantine and what we had been up to that week. We talked about how we were dealing with new sets of limitations. We discussed what we were learning, how we were growing and talked about things we were not doing so well with. We came together to take a break from what we all felt we should be doing and got into what we wanted to do: taking a break and feeling some creative freedom. By the end of our sessions I would feel light and open again.
Sharing from our hearts and minds while sharing our creativity with one another is an experience unlike any other. The days of the backyard painting sessions are on hold for me now, but I will be back to it soon. Once the vaccine has made its way into each of us, we will continue some of those sessions indoors, either in my home or in my studio.
Scott Dykema is a fine artist, muralist and illustrator based in Texas. His highly energetic and jubilant works range from the abstract to studies of such diverse subjects as animals, Native Americans, geishas and angels.