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Art in Isolation

By Terese Schlachter, Writer in Residence

APRIL 18, 2020

A map artist draws detailed layouts of his apartment.

A photographer somehow snaps pictures of herself in a cupboard.

A sketch artist moves her class online, sharing her students’ work via email, for critique.

Many artists routinely work alone, seeking the distance needed to concentrate, to pour themselves into their pastels, scrape their sculptures into delicate parchment, idle silently while waiting for just the right light. But what happens when alone becomes mandatory, when the solitary becomes confinement, when the quiet rings.

A photographer in Norfolk who shoots “day-in-the-life” documentary stills has resorted to her own family. Angela Douglas Ramsey says her four kids are fairly used to her invasive lens. Still she consults them before making the results public. Her latest workaround is the self-portrait. She’s committed to one per day, documenting herself in various, constricted, somewhat domestic positions, reminiscent of how some of us may be feeling.


Angela Douglas Ramsey 

“They’re quirky and fun and I really just do it because it makes me laugh,” says Ramsey, in an interview for “Focus on the Story,” a non-profit organization which supports visual arts.    ( Before the stay-in order in New York, she took porch portraits of high schoolers in their prom outfits, shooting from the street.

AngelaRamsey-1Angela Douglas Ramsey

AngelaRamsey-1-2Angela Douglas Ramsey 

Another photographer decided to use her art to re-create togetherness, embellish it, even. Gulnara Samoilva, holed up in her New York City apartment, is taking family photo scrapbooking to a new level. She’s making collages of her relatives and others, then using oil paints, adding color to the black and white photos. She says it helps her feel like her family is near.

gulnarasamoilova_01Gulnara Samoilova, “Lost Family” Series.  “The large photo shows a husband and wife I met on Lenin plaza in Ufa, Bashkortostan on July of 2019 and the small photo is of my grandmother’s sister. She was a nurse during World War II.”

British mapmaker Gareth Fuller usually goes on vast walking expeditions to get the lay of the land before he puts pen to paper. Once he found himself confined in Beijing, he began drawing intricate layouts of his apartment.

“”You end up spending more time looking at the details, slowing back down, getting into the meat of certain subjects you wouldn’t usually have time to do. Your day is much more planned and less reactive.”  The result is a series of 14 drawings, titled “The Quarantine Maps.”

20200415_130230To see his whole hilarious collection go to  (CNN)

Artists who have been driven from their studios are faced with finding creative space at home. One California fiber artist who is now home schooling her daughter, has set up shop in a Volkswagon camper, parked in her backyard. Tanya Aguinita says it’s “meditative” to continue her work, even though she’s been separated from her own new exhibit at Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, indefinitely. (Miranda, Carolina. “Experimentation. Reflection. Wild ensembles. Photos show 5 L.A. artists working under quarantine.” The Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2020)

Eddie Lavin, a sculptor who has studio space at the SoCo Arts Lab, here in Tracys Landing, often works there or in a warehouse but has also created new space at home out of a “dinky” walk in closet. He says his current project in which he’s demonstrating oscillation, has “flowed out onto my living room floor, and has created quite the mess.” Still, he’s embracing the seclusion.


“Isolation is synonymous with solitude; solitude is where I find my peace of mind, which when channeled properly, provides for creative energy,” says Lavin. “Creative energy is not bound by limitations of space, time, or even a global pandemic for that matter, therefore I am grateful for this opportunity to use this time wisely.”

Lora Collins, a Lab founder, had just begun a drawing class there when Maryland’s Governor Hogan shut pretty much everything down. So she started a drawing group on Facebook where contributors post their work and others can comment. She says it’s been rewarding to see how others are motivated.

20200401_180726Lora Collins, SoCo Arts Lab Founder

SoCo Arts Lab painter, Ruth Bailey says watching watercolor pigments melt together on paper makes her happy, and during these anxious times, getting to a happy place is more important than ever. Normally she works alone in her studio. But now she and her students as well as other artists “are connecting via recorded lessons on YouTube and having art chats and showing each other what we have done via emails and remote meetings on the internet. In some ways I feel more connected than usual, as time in my studio was usually a solitary affair.”

Another Lab founder, Nancy Oliver says she worries that social distancing will quash the group’s growing outreach and presence in the community.

“I struggle with the decimating effect of isolation on the lab’s building momentum,” Nancy says. “But that same isolation has also created an opportunity for me to focus on my own art, a welcome cathartic respite from the current chaos.”

Artists who work solo outside are on the periphery.

One New York photographer, Reuben Radding says he must conquer his fear daily, to keep his feet on the street. Once he’s outside though, he says he feels more normal, less reckless. “…I walked down the middle of 42nd street between 5th and 6th Avenues in the middle of the day and it’s incredibly easy not being near anybody.” And documenting this time, which he says is like nothing he’s ever seen in his 31 years as a New York resident, is important and feels essential.

“When I walk around this city I see this incredible adapting going on…the street skateboarders are just killing it! They are just loving this time because their city is now just this open playground.”

CORONA-DIARY-040420-SELECTS-6Image from Corona Diary, © Reuben Radding, 2020

As a documentarian and writer, it seems to me that the current situation is critical for generations to come. History is not necessarily recorded by VIPs of the time, but by those who are watching. More well-known writers craft articles for newspapers or magazines. But “non-essential” or entrepreneurial scribes might simply keep diaries or journals to pass along to their children or grandchildren.

Or, as Joan Didion recommends, write for yourself.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Art is often a product of the times. As we look to the next few weeks of isolated creativity it will be telling to watch how our passions and creations evolve.

Terese Schlachter is the SoCo Arts Lab Writer-in-Residence, and a writing coach.

The Art of Keeping Your Kids Occupied

It’s not your worst nightmare, but it’s close. 

            Both you and your spouse are working from home for a period of not less than two weeks. And your kids are all home from school with you. No playdates. No movies. No food court. They can go outside, and as siblings, ride their bikes, fly drones, walk, run, and skateboard. But there’s rain in the forecast. Soon, you will lose your sense of humor. 

            If the current coronavirus is making you feel like you’re in an alien episode of Modern Family, you’re not alone. Well, technically, yes, you are alone. But your local band of creatives from the SoCo Arts Lab has a few ideas for you. Not surprisingly, they’re all about making things. Likely, your source things are things you probably have lying about the house. 

Simplest idea first: use old magazines to make collages 

1) cut out random shapes and things…

A picture containing indoor, table, items, desk

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2) glue the cutouts on construction paper to make faces…

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or other objects, like a robot…

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Idea and photos from SoCo Arts lab member Anita Ewing.

Kids can give their characters names and even tell stories about them. 

Another easy and accessible idea: Puppet shows. Dig through your dresser to find a few old pairs of sacrificial socks. Buttons, ribbons and other sewing accoutrement can be used to make faces on the toe ends and voila! You have a cast of characters and the potential for a complete performance.

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Photo: Rion / Creative Commons, Idea: SoCo Arts Lab member Lora Moran-Collins 

Now that your magazines are shredded and your old socks have been donated, it’s time to send the kids outside for some sidewalk crack art. First, they need to find an appropriately deteriorating walkway, so that could keep them occupied for a while.  Next, they need to take a photo, bring it home, and print it out. Now it’s time to find the hidden animals and creatures lurking in the cracks, and bring them to life with colored pencils, markers, or crayons. 

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More detailed instruction can be found at: (look under “Free Stuff”/Kids’ Art Week 2019)

Idea: SoCo Arts Lab member Ruth Bailey

Out of art supplies? Word games require just a pencil and paper (perhaps threatened species in some households!)

Foldingstory is a group storytelling game.  Just find a standard sized piece of paper. The first person writes a sentence, then folds the paper so no one can see what’s written. The next person writes a sentence, then folds the paper. And so on. After everyone has written a sentence, read the whole story out loud. It’s usually pretty hilarious. 

If your kids lean more towards poetry, try having them write a Haiku (three lines, first line 5 syllables, second line 7 syllables, last line 5 syllables) by passing a paper, each person contributing a line. Or try a Tanka poem, which is one sentence of 31 syllables, each person contributing a word.  (word game ideas: SoCo Arts Lab member Kim Jones)

Now that you’ve got the kids occupied, what are you going to do with your adult alone time? Some thoughts…

Catch up on your correspondence. Aunt Lulu would love to hear from you. 

Everyone has a story: Get going on that memoir or bit of family lore  you’ve been wanting to write. 

Keep a journal. These are unprecedented times. Record the happenings (and non-happenings) so you can pass them on to your grandchildren. One day they’ll be fascinated by your personal account of the virus which stilled the world, and how you kept their parents safe and happy throughout. 

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This one’s from me: Terese Schlachter, SoCo Arts Lab Writer-in-Residence 

Handling Hearts: The Jeweler’s View

February 14, 2020

Kim Jones is a Member of the SoCo Arts Lab in Tracys Landing/Deale MD. She is a Jeweler and works with precious metals and gems.

By Terese Schlachter, Writer-in-Residence at SoCo Arts Lab

Love can be a delicate thing. That’s why when Kim Jones creates jewelry with romantic intentions, she handles the client with the same delicacy she applies to her precious metals and jewels. 

“It can get dodgy,” the artist says. “When couples are looking it’s often the man who will say, ‘That’s a pretty necklace, do you want to try it on?’ He puts her on the spot. I can tell by her body language she doesn’t really like the piece, but she doesn’t want to insult me. I want to say, ‘it’s cool, just tell him you don’t like it.’” But she doesn’t. That place where love meets art can be formidable. 

On other occasions, it’s the eye of the woman that’s caught by something in Kim’s showcase. “She’s showing him something and he either keeps on walking or he’s standing there with his arms crossed. I can tell he’s never gonna buy it for her,” says Jones. “There could be a lot of reasons for that—or he just really super doesn’t get it,” she laughs. Still, she keeps a cool distance. She’s not one to wield a 2×4. 

Often, though, after a couple has walked out the door, he’ll come back and collect a business card, which, aside from the possibility of making a sale, provides some personal relief. 

One evening, though, she was tending her store and a couple who was looking for rings came in. For one reason or another Kim explained to them that before the De Beers company popularized diamonds in the 1940’s, most rings were simple circles, meant to depict eternity. The couple moseyed off, presumably to quietly enjoy the rest of their evening. “But later the guy came back and bought a simple silver band, then proposed right there, that night, on the waterfront.” They came back together to tell her. “They were just incredibly cute!” 

Handling couples who are searching through her limited production designs may require a light touch, but couples who are commissioning pieces for a special occasion, like Valentine’s Day for instance, sometimes need a heavier hand. 

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch a couple discuss the design,” says Jones. “I sit them down and try to get out of them what they want to see on their hands for the rest of their lives. Some men think they want a chunky ring, but I find out they work on cars a lot or do other things with their hands and that design might not work with their lifestyle.” After she talks with them about certain symbolisms and materials, she offers three drawings and from there, gets to work fabricating the actual metals. “The design process is very personal,” she says. 

But when a customer is working alone on a commission for his or her life partner, Kim sometimes very subtly intervenes. 

Kim often uses connected bricks to depict the interdependence of relationships.

“I had one client working with me on a piece for his wife. I’d worked with them before, so I knew her and I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to love it,” Jones recalls. “But I didn’t want to second-guess what he was trying to do. So, I crafted the piece in a way that it was easy to change later. I wasn’t surprised when it came right back to me.”

Kim’s own romantic notions include nostalgia for Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State who famously wore brooches.  In the ‘90’s more women wore suits, so brooches were popular. “I still wear them,” Jones admits, “A brooch can really pop a boring sweater.” 

Her other romance involves nature, which inspires her designs. And there’s the one with her husband, Pete, of course. She designed their wedding bands. But mostly, she works solo in her studio, with occasional assistance from another love, Moses the dog. 

Kim learned to make jewelry at the School for American Craft, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology.  It was there she learned she had a knack for tapping tough metals into exquisite keepsakes. But the yin and yang of managing the tender hearts and hands who will model her work to the world, she had to figure out on her own. 

Kim Jones is a member of the SoCo Arts Lab in Tracys Landing/Deale, Maryland.