As I write this, it has now been more than two months since formal “stay-at-home” orders went into effect locally due to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world. There have been so many emotions and adjustments including worry, uncertainty, feeling overwhelmed, having creative block, etc.
I am fortunate that my three sons are past their raucous years underfoot (miss those days!) and that this lock-down has given me time to pursue extra projects (somehow those closet doors still work to hide a mess I don’t want to face). My normal involves running an online art gallery (https://rendezvousstyle.com) that has slowed down for now, helping with family health issues (put on hold as they are not critical) and visiting my mother in a local nursing home several times a week.
Some of the highlights that have helped me cope: Zoom/Facetime/Skype video calls with my family and friends including virtual happy hours with girlfriends and watching my two granddaughters play. Other productive (haha) activities have included dieting during a pandemic (eek) and binge-watching Rick Steves travel shows along with PBS miniseries (loved Victoria, Sanditon and all things British).
I am also an illustrator and surface pattern designer. I first thought this “extra time” would be perfect for creating lots of new work. But that is easier said than done. I must admit I have struggled with focus (before and during the quarantine) and have been frozen with anxiety at times. I decided to spend some time thinking about things I wanted to accomplish now and into the future – focusing on playtime, marketing and some practical business planning.
Some awesome things happened along the way – so I thought I would share some of the creative journey I have been on.
ART FOR GOOD
Thank You Letter to a Nurse on the Front Line
I participated in a Love Letter project to thank a healthcare worker for their service on the front lines. I sent a note (and a print of this floral piece I made) to a nurse in Manhasset New York.
Safe at Home for the United Nations
I was very honored that this illustration was selected by the United Nations for their Global Call Out to Creatives to Fight COVID-19. “Safe at Home” is meant to remind others of the importance of social distancing that is so critical in the effort to stop the Coronavirus from spreading. I am thrilled to hopefully have some small impact on this important mission.
I sent a press release to local media to spread the news and was featured by a local magazine and a Washington, DC television station – via their websites and social media channels.
See (this blog post) for more details about my “Safe at Home” project.
This is an ongoing nightmare for me. As already admitted, I have trouble focusing sometimes. I have so many directions I want to go in, so many ideas to develop … my studio has piles of scribbled notes, tutorials, etc. that need attention. I “started” organizing them by moving the piles around and adding papers to hanging file folders in rolling carts that fit under a table. One cart is for vendors and business documents for my online art gallery business. A second cart holds folders for freelance design clients and collaborations and the third cart contains information for various computer resources and other technical documents. Someday I will get more done but for now the priority has been working on projects that will move my business forward.
One business dream tip – I create folders on my computer (under “clients”) and in the rolling cart file folders that contain the name(s) of any dream companies or contests I have submitted to and have actually had some of those turn into opportunities!
Trying new materials, letting go of perfection or expected outcomes and relaxing were part of the playtime I fit in. It can serve as a warm-up before other projects or tedious business chores. Allowing yourself to let go and dream can have huge benefits.
Make Art That Sells – MBA (Money Bad Ass)
This course was offered for free during the pandemic in 2020 to support artists and designers in a concrete way during the pandemic as so many were affected by lost or delayed projects, shows and art sales. The course is meant to help you strategize about your creative business in new ways, helping you clarify dreams, add multiple income streams and build a plan for moving forward. It was so generous of Lilla Rogers and Beth Kempton to offer this self-paced course and the companion private Facebook group to share and connect with artists and designers from all over the world. I admit I have only tapped the surface of all they offer but have benefited from lots of dreaming and thinking about my “creative joy.” Being in this head space directly impacted my creating the “Creativity During a Pandemic” drawing I present in this post. I was able to download the content (playbooks and videos) to work at my own pace over the next few months. NOTE: this course is no longer free but it is quite a bargain even at full price. I have seen MANY other artists vouch for how career-changing this course was for them.
Travel, Write, Draw
I had so much fun watching Meagan Morrison of Travel, Write Draw offer a free Paint Challenge and live lessons using images from her exotic travels for reference. We “went” to Rome and Marrakech in the two sessions I participated in.
White Buffalo Studio/Leslie Kenehan
In addition to running a print studio representing and directing artists to create exclusive original artwork for print buyers in fashion, Leslie Kenehan also offers educational resources for artists and designers. I took a few of her workshops on finding your niche, branding, pitching to design studios, marketing and other areas relating to developing a freelance design business.
I watched various Skillshare classes on lettering and Procreate – it is such a great resource. Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in a day to watch all the great tutorials they offer. I constantly scribble down new classes to watch in the future. Use this link to get 14 days of free access to check out their classes.
Social media has been an important part of connecting with friends, family and other artists. I enjoy sharing my colorful art on Instagram in the hopes of brightening someone’s day. I find inspiration from the artists I follow from around the world.
I belong to quite a few private Facebook groups relating to art, pattern design, illustration, and licensing. The artists are supportive and are willing to share resources and advice.
I decided to update my LinkedIn profile to reflect my illustration and surface pattern design efforts and successfully connected with many art directors and designers. I also connected with Jo Packham of Where Women Create and had a lovely messaging conversation with her about my “Safe at Home” illustration that was picked up by the United Nations. She said, “I love your pink house!”
I hear that other artists have been found by art directors for freelance projects through Pinterest and Twitter. I have lots of content on Pinterest and many followers but have not seen a benefit yet. I have not found Twitter to be useful for me – it seems like it would take up so much time looking through so much content … will have to learn more.
In addition to the various efforts mentioned above, I had a few other exciting and productive things happen during this creative quarantine:
- A large home décor company chose twenty of my designs (floral portraits, food and Christmas illustrations) to present to their global clients for possible wall art licensing
- Created a poster about climate change for Towards Tomorrow/United Nations
- Updated my website and created a blog
- Joined a small local arts group (Creative Soulpreneurs) and have met via Zoom twice a month to share our latest efforts and offer advice/encouragement about our creative businesses
The success I experienced during this “up and down” time has given me new confidence in my art and the courage to reach out to more art directors for collaborations as well as to media outlets for possible coverage. I realized I really enjoy creating art for a cause and hope to do more of that in the future.
Having some creative moments has been a joy and has helped bring some balance to this difficult time in history. Art and creativity matter, now more than ever – for the personal growth it can spur and for the positive impact it can have on others.
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Karen Burton is an illustrator, designer, and photographer – inspired by her view of the Blue Ridge mountains from her home and studio in Virginia. She creates colorful, uplifting illustrations and surface pattern designs suitable for home decor, textiles, stationery, tabletop, publishing, and other products. Available for commissions, licensing and other custom projects. She has lots of future plans and dreams: illustrating a cookbook, creating illustrations for food magazines or culinary packaging, having a gallery show featuring her large-scale floral portraits, and seeing more of her art on all types of surfaces.