Written by: Emely Ricci
We were all hit with cabin fever in the first month of the nationwide quarantine. You had to stay home the whole time and figure out what to do. But if you catch COVID, you’re then confined to one room and the occasional two-step trip to the bathroom. I was in that confined state for the last two weeks, though in my case I had the luxury of staying in our finished basement. But while the basement is my usual living quarters, this was different; I was trapped in that area, while everyone else had the option to visit the kitchen!
So, what did I do once day three hit and I had already viewed my Netflix watchlist, spaced out during my favorite streamers, and had no assignments due until a week later? One of the first things I did was get back into my childhood hobbies. Those two hobbies were drawings and reading, my first two true loves.
I used to draw a lot as a kid. I have stacks of my assorted sketch pads and art materials stashed away in a cupboard waiting to be taken out when I have the time. When I did, I was surprised at how well I drew, and how long it had been since I last drew. I tried finishing a smaller piece but it turned out horribly; my skills had atrophied to a comical level. However, watching a beginner’s guide to charcoal drawing refreshed what I’d forgotten and challenged me to create new pieces. There’s also no need to splurge on a charcoal set. The Artist’s Loft 22-Piece Drawing and Sketching set, the same one I use, can be easy to acquire at a Michael’s Specialty Store or online. It comes with graphite pencils, several charcoal blocks, and other tools at a reasonable price under 20 dollars.
This article from Greenleaf and Blueberry captures the big world of choosing a sketchbook and how personalized it can get. I’ve always liked a spiral-spine sketch pad because I don’t like dealing with the gutter inside a journal. The sketchbook should entice you to draw in it, so a regular sketchbook might not do it, but splurging on the one with the cool swirl pattern might keep you at it! But I do recommend starting with either Cason or Strathmore sketchbooks as you can easily find them in stores like Target or Walmart for a fair price.
Always keep in mind that art is supposed to be fun and it takes time to get into it. This article by Loney Abrams certainly puts that into perspective. Laugh at your poorly drawn frog and send a picture of it to your friends. I found looking up drawing prompts helped to inspire and motivate me. On the other hand, this art blog by Liz Steel contains fun and engaging articles. Though her work focuses on ink, she has a variety of posts focusing on mixed media, brushes, workshops, and techniques. Reading through them made me look at my older watercolor pieces and recreate them in charcoal.
In addition to getting back into art, I also returned to some favorite books. I have three bookshelves filled with books I’ve either read, not yet read, or read multiple times and dog-eared. So what better time than quarantine to start going back through those shelves? I could give you a million and one suggestions for your next book, but I’ll only give you three this time.
June Jordan’s His Own Where is a novel I gobbled up in a day. Jordan was a writer of her time; she was primarily a poet and essayist who focused on political activism, human rights, and the lived experience in her works. She’s won awards and fellowships like the National Association for Black Journalist Award and a National Endowment of the Arts in 1982. His Own Where was published in 1971, and then re-released in 2010. No more than a hundred pages and written completely from the point of view of its Black narrators, this book is a quick but deep read.
The story follows the teenage couple, Buddy and Angela, as they traverse the space they live in Brooklyn. The book touches upon love, space, family, identity, and belonging. Its imagination of space, environmentally and architecturally, is woven throughout the book and through how Buddy interacts with the world around him. Buddy’s voice is poetic and sensitive; it gives life to his father’s reconstruction of their home, the loneliness Buddy feels, and his protectiveness of Angela when he sees her life first-hand. I cannot emphasize enough how much I adored the characters and the relationships created in this novel. It kept me immersed in their lives and how beautiful it was, even when it seemed otherwise.
Another favorite I’d recommend is Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. This book brings the story of family, death, and love to the front. The story follows Mikage Sakurai, a young woman who is mourning and cleaning out her late grandmother’s house. While doing so she meets a man, Yuichi Tanabe, who was a friend of her grandmother. Mikage soon starts staying with him and his transgender mother, Eriko Tanabe, while she grieves.
Yoshimoto’s writing style is quirky and whimsical at times, yet delicate and soft in others. It’s real and refreshing tagging along with Mikage as she goes about life after her grandmother’s and Eriko’s deaths. The budding romance between Yuichi and Mikage, and the depiction of Eriko as a phenomenal and free spirit, made me both cheer and mourn. The heartwarming ending brings our main characters together through a pork cutlet bowl.
A third book I’d recommend is Alexander Chee’s How to Write An Autobiographical Novel. If fiction isn’t your flavor, his collection of essays will whet your appetite. His essays are wonderfully written and varied, each woven together so that you lose yourself in the stories he tells. From recounting his earlier years of visiting Mexico on a school field trip, to participating in the fight against AIDS in the 80s, and his practice of tarot, Chee’s essays breathe a different kind of life.
But one essay, “The Rosary,” had me reading and rereading. Chee weaves the historical significance of rosaries, various species of roses, and the roses he grew while living in an apartment into this wonderful narrative of beauty and perseverance. There is an intimacy he creates in his pieces that keeps you there wanting to learn more about him. This is a book where you can read one essay a night and feel you’ve read a novel in an hour.
Hopefully, if you’re thinking of reading these books or getting into drawing, you aren’t sick. But if you are, these books will fly you out to different places right outside your window. Drawing will let you create possibilities and explore what you see in your mind. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to write about that two-step trip to the toilet and draw a portrait of that porcelain throne. I know I had time to.