Art of Social Isolation

Palm in tonalist style. Acrylic. Sold.

It is hard to believe it has been 10 months of social isolation.

At the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns, I thought I should take the few weeks we might have and do a few meaningful things. Apparently, according to the New York Times article below, several people thought similarly.

“They had big plans for the lockdown. This is what happened.”

The story led me to consider what I have done with my time during the pandemic. 

I did start to grow avocado trees from avocado seeds and rooted a couple of vines to add to more greenery to other rooms. Learned to make delicious bone broth soup from turkey bones and have been growing my kombucha scoby to enormous proportions. Of course, drinking the kombucha along the way.

What has grown and flourished most has been my love of painting — specifically with oils and acrylics.

Early into the pandemic, I established my intention – to become a better artist.  The trick was knowing how, exactly, to keep moving to the next level.  What exactly did “better”look like? Would I know it when I saw it?

Before the pandemic, I’d been painting with acrylics in addition to the watercolors I’d been painting with for two years. I ratcheted up acrylic painting during the pandemic to paint three to five paintings every week.

Voracious reading about contemporary artists and their approaches to oil painting was eye opening. An online course on composition techniques and a book on perspective.

Pan Con Tomate. Still life. Oil.

I watched many many noon and afternoon painting sessions with Eric Rhoads and attended “Plein Air Live”, a four-day online convention in August

The design of the convention and the range of dozens of sessions really gave a good base to help me design my ongoing art education. I learned more about what I didn’t know. The timing of the convention couldn’t  have been better.

A day of the convention ran from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. I watched skilled artists explain their strategies and tell the stories of their work and their lives. Every day included at least one artist painting in plein air. A few painted in acylics but most painted in oils. And so, I acquired a limited palette of water miscible oils.

I was intrigued with the ability, with oils, to make significant changes to a painting, even days after creating the initial painting. While changes can be made in acrylics, it means painting over something. Not the same with oils.

Turtles sunning. Santa Fe River. Acrylic. Palette knife.

I’ve learned about dynamic symmetry and planning the composition a painting. I’ve learned the value of value studies and notan for designing the darks and lights of the painting – and debating how to make my focus point contain the lightest lights and the darkest darks. The knowledge is intriguing; the application of the knowledge is hard. 

If I found mixing colors fascinating then I had to do it all over again with the oils –the colors were not exactly the same even if the tube label contained the same name.  The feel of the oil paint is so different from watercolors and acrylics.  

In exploring using paint brush vs. palette knife, I’ve learned it makes a huge difference whether using acrylic or oil paint.  And the differences between painting on linen canvas vs. wood board is noteworthy. I prefer making and prepping/sealing my own MDF boards – cutting large boards to a range of sizes for a fraction of the cost of purchasing boards.

Memories of an evening in Barcelona. Oil. Palette knife.

As an evolving artist, the opportunity to focus on art during the pandemic has been memorable, providing engagement and time for creative growth.

Painting and learning with acrylics and oils is not the only thing I have done during these months of social isolation but it does account for a considerable amount of time and growth as an artist. I’m grateful to have discovered learning oil painting is such an engaging experience.


  1. You are kind. As I’ve been reading, it’s more about dedication than talent. You are very much the artist in your own right! I value your insights, encouragement and talents!


  2. Loved reading this, Judy! It has been fun to watch you grow and develop into a wonderful artist, first with watercolors and now oils and acrylics. You have helped me as well by encouraging me to start painting, and even though I don’t have your talent, you still make me feel as though what I do has merit.

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