I hadn’t planned it this way, but when a global pandemic hits, planning goes out the window.
The arrival of COVID-19 in Manitoba and the subsequent safety-based restrictions posed a significant professional challenge for me and the other photojournalists at the Free Press.
The early days involved finding creative ways to document one of the most important stories in the province’s history. Wearing masks, washing my hands so often that my typically dry skin was left raw, was the new reality as I looked for unique perspectives to explore with my camera.
As weeks passed, I wanted to see if there was another way to document the pandemic in the city. A newfound passion for watercolour painting gave me that opportunity.
I started to dabble about a year-and-a-half ago. I had watched my daughter really grow as she explored the art form. I saw her enjoyment and wanted to experience that, as well.
There is something about the process of painting with watercolour that intrigues me. The paint often has a mind of its own. In a way, it is similar to photojournalism in that you are trying to capture something that isn’t completely controllable. You just learn to anticipate and plan for various possibilities. It’s a lot of fun.
One of the big differences is that you have to slow down when you bring out the pen and brush. You have to put the brakes on the wheels turning in your head. You have stop paying attention to the world roaring past you. It’s not about keeping up by jogging backwards with a camera held to your face, holding a flash over your head to capture the necessary news photo.
You get lost in following the thin line, following the contour of a person’s jaw. Different, but still exhilarating.
At some point I also wondered about documenting the world through sketching and painting. Would it be possible? Could I learn to illustrate an event and/or people in a way that would be satisfying personally and then, possibly, professionally?
Then the pandemic came to town. By May the anxiety level was pretty high for me.
To escape I had started to spend more time in the evenings with my sketchbook. It is definitely better than TV. In fact, I often combined the two. Rather than watching television and splitting my attention with my phone, it would be my sketchbook and a British police drama that got me through the last few months.
When the paper sent out the request for selfie photos from staff involved in the COVID and the City project — a collage of those photos became the front page of the 49.8 section on May 9 — I saw an opportunity to challenge myself. What better way to learn to paint portraits! Set a goal and see what happens.
Thirty portraits later and I feel like I’m just getting started.
Thirty portraits later and another chapter of COVID and the City is complete.