McGill’s Artists Are Painting Their Own Silver Lining

Photo by Natalie Lloyd

We can all agree that sitting in the same room each day watching lectures on laptops has not been the most inspiring way to spend the semester. The snowy winter has brought on new challenges, leaving us with only the faint memory of last semester’s socially distanced outdoor picnics with friends. This year has been tough for everyone, but I have made it my goal to seek out the positive elements that have emerged amidst the chaos of the pandemic, however small they may be. I was thrilled to hear from a few McGill students that have taken remote learning and turned it into an invitation for pursuing creative passion projects. 

Natalie Lloyd, U2 sustainability, decided that if she was going to spend the semester in social isolation, she might as well use it as a chance to commit to her passion for painting. Natalie moved back home to Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) for the semester where she was able to build an art studio in her basement. She spends her mornings in McGill classes and afternoons and evenings immersed in her art. Using BC’s natural landscapes as her inspiration, she takes her camera on hikes and finds scenes that she recreates with acrylic paints. She hopes to ultimately show her pieces in a summertime backyard art show where friends and family can safely gather. 

Social isolation is a hindrance to many activities, but painting and hiking are two accessible ways of spending time while obeying social distancing restrictions.

Although Natalie has always had a love for painting, the pandemic gave her the push to produce art purely for her own enjoyment and artistic growth. Social isolation is a hindrance to many activities, but painting and hiking are two accessible ways of spending time while obeying social distancing restrictions. “When you’re painting you don’t just paint for thirty minutes, you paint for at least 2 hours,” said Natalie. “So it’s taking advantage of the isolation that is required of us anyway.” 

Natalie’s work reflects her desire to escape from the chaos of the world into the picturesque beauty of the forest, which remains peaceful regardless of the state of the pandemic. Spending hours a day in her studio has reaffirmed her love for painting and given her the chance to prove to herself that she can pursue an academic or professional career while still prioritizing her art. “I can paint every day and it’s so relaxing, fun, and energizing,” she said. 

Quarantine takes away the ‘audience’ to your life…

Taylor Douglas, U2 Faculty of Arts, is using the flexibility of remote learning to do patternmaking and sew her own clothes. Taylor also returned home to Vancouver, where she has been able to take a pattern-making and design class at a fashion academy. Taylor spent her days doing remote learning in the morning, pattern-making classes in the afternoon, and splitting her evenings between designing and homework. Remote learning has provided Taylor with newfound time to dedicate to her craft, reminding her of the value of taking the time to create art for herself. “Quarantine takes away the ‘audience’ to your life,” Taylor explains, “[so] everything I’m choosing to do is actually for me.” 

Caitlyn McConnell is also taking the isolating semester and turning it around by building the Interdisciplinary Network of Students in Music (INSM). Caitlyn lives the interdisciplinary life firsthand as a student in a dual degree program, pursuing a Bachelor of Music in classical voice performance and a Bachelor of Arts in economics with a minor in computer science. 

The INSM aims to inspire, connect, and support music students in their interdisciplinary career or academic pursuits. The organization centres in on music students’ transferable skills and the ways they can support themselves in other industries, academic opportunities, or as career musicians. 

With a lot of cold calling and outreach, Caitlyn and her team of five have been able to initiate workshops, lectures, networking events, and a mentorship program with music school alumni. Caitlyn explained that remote learning has normalized online events, giving them the opportunity to dream beyond the McGill music community and open up the network to students from all over the world. Already, music students from seventeen schools in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Ecuador are tuning into their events. 

The INSM was partially born out of the challenges that COVID-19 presents. “Remote learning has been very challenging for music students who spend most of their time at the conservatory– playing with an orchestra, ensemble, or chorus, which cannot be replaced by online school,” Caitlyn explains. The INSM offers them a way to stay engaged. “It is nice for students to know that there is something out there for them and a community to support them in this time,” Caitlyn says. Even after we return to in-person learning, Caitlyn and her team hope to pass this club on to students so the network can continue to flourish and be a source of support for music students. 

Creating art is one thing not even COVID-19 lockdowns can touch…

Through the experience of creating the INSM, Caitlyn has been reminded how supportive and helpful artists and community members are willing to be. “Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, [artists] are part of a larger community, and they should never be afraid to reach out…because [people are] always willing to help.” 

These students’ stories are a reminder that although living through the pandemic isn’t getting any easier, there are ways to take our fate into our own hands and create something beautiful during this time. Whether it’s pursuing an art project, building an online community, or picking up a new hobby, we can find peace and meaning, even in isolation. Creating art is one thing not even COVID-19 lockdowns can touch. So, grab a paintbrush, a pen, a camera, or whatever tool you need and create something for you!

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