At the end of last year, I picked up Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 to replace my ailing Sony XPERIA Z4 Tablet. The Z4 had been perfect for me though poor sales meant Sony never released a successor, and the Tab S6 is the first tablet since to tick all my boxes. Samsung bundles the S-Pen stylus, which I expected to be an unnecessary addition for me, like the keyboard included with the Z4 which languished untouched in a drawer for years. Around the new year, I started playing around with a few sketching apps on the tablet. Little did I know that this would develop into a hobby perfectly suited to forthcoming social distancing, the timing being fortuitous for my sanity. The initial experiments were incredibly rough, but I found it therapeutic to have a new creative outlet at a point when I have been struggling for writing inspiration (hence the lack of new Shards). I settled on a technique of inking over photographs to highlight the details I wanted to capture, then using multiple layers for colouring and finally adding shadows and highlights for depth. After trying a few apps I settled on Adobe Illustrator Draw for its thicker strokes. And then it suddenly clicked. You will be able to find my illustrations as a new area of the Artist section of the site, divided into a few basic categories that will likely grow over time.
I began with portraits of individuals because using them for fleeting birthday wishes was an understated way to share what I produced as I improved. Shamini, who has been drawing D&D characters for some time, provided helpful mentoring as I found a style I liked, including the addition of stylised backgrounds from my own photography. That led to adapting a photograph from her birthday party (remember birthday parties?) into a fairytale witch. I discovered that slavish recreation of a photograph often resulted in an image that seemed less realistic because of unusual optics or angles in the underlying image. Influenced by my photography, my focus was originally on faces, with sparser detail on the rest of the image. You can see how that developed over time into the intricate detail in Tempest’s corset. It is incredibly time-consuming, but that’s arguably perfect for lockdown and I find the finely detailed work soothing. Meanwhile the drawing of Shep shortly after he died was my limited offering at a distance to his grieving family, as well as a tribute to a wonderfully good boy.
The first series of drawings I consciously produced as an ongoing set (after liking the result of the original image of Angie) is the “Isolation Series“. Created as the COVID-19 lockdown began in the UK, these were an attempt to capture the atmosphere of self-isolation. The loosely linked images feature pensive, lone individuals surrounded by a white void rather than a background. Each also contains certain objects in considerable detail as a focal point outside of the person themselves.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the most popular images I have shared are those linked to pop culture. I had an evocative photo I had taken of Dave from an unusual angle with a fish-eye lens. The white shirt and red tie were immediately reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead and his expression seemed to fit too. Netflix’s Tiger King show proved a welcome distraction to those in quarantine, and drawing tiger print provided an intricate, time-consuming distraction of its own. Lastly, photographs of cosplayers like kysplay allow the creation of stylised images that lie somewhere between the individual and the source material which inspired their look. Just don’t tell Harry Potter fans that to emulate Breath of the Wild’s towering ruins I actually used a photograph I’d taken of Hogwarts!
I am glad that people seem to be enjoying these, and it’s allowing me to go through some of my historic photographs to produce new images at a time when I cannot simply take my camera out. It’s also offering a new perspective on some images, as well as making me increasingly aware of certain interactions of light that will feed back into photography. Do let me know what you think, and which are your favourites.
I have not been feeling sufficiently eloquent to capture much of what I have felt over the past few weeks. At a fundamental level, I have a felt a considerable amount of guilt over the fact that the transition to isolation has been largely painless for me. The fact I have a job capable of remote work is helpful of course, but more than this — as an introvert I draw energy from time in my own company and I have more than enough hobbies to fill the hours at home. My sympathy for extrovert colleagues having a harder time with the transition lessened when I realised that their discomfort is — to a considerable extent — emblematic of the fact the working world is generally designed around their preferences.
Can we stop pretending that we all have a huge amount of free time now? Those working from home have traded time commuting for a system in which individual tasks likely take longer due to technological or other limitations. Those who have lost work are industriously finding ways to supplement their income. Those with children are now supplying permanent childcare alongside their existing roles. And everyone is having to manage and maintain a single space for home and work that is suddenly occupied 24 hours a day. So if you haven’t picked up an esoteric new hobby, built a shed or reorganised your entire bookshelf like a friend on Facebook, that’s not a personal failure.
It’s easy to be cynical about the weekly applause for NHS workers and yet there was something immediately heartwarming about the widespread sound genuine support. No, it’s not a substitute for a decade of underfunding or for proper pay (and adequate PPE), but it is meaningful to those working long hours at high risk of infection. Everyone should be welcome to join in that gesture of appreciation. Those who voted for the Tories can certainly applaud but ought to feel guilty as they do so; those who still intend to vote for them should feel hypocrisy. That praise should be extended to all frontline workers of course: those keeping us fed and powered, and ensuring we don’t drown in our own filth. Despite the Government rhetoric, this is not wartime where sacrificing lives is essential. The NHS in particular should not have to be at risk when carrying out their lifesaving role, particularly when we had months of advance warning in which to build up stocks of necessary equipment. Coupling that with what appear to have been entirely untrue assurances about stockpiles of protective equipment is unacceptable and will only undermine what public trust remains.
I also wanted to share a few fragmented discoveries about the lockdown life:
I haven’t read a book for weeks. It took me the best part of two weeks to actually notice consciously. I knew that I had reduced my news consumption because I was keenly aware that the 24/7 COVID-19 news cycle wasn’t particularly healthy, boiled down to rising numbers and little context. However, I eventually realised that most of my reading time was allocated to my commute or my lunch break. I am yet to find a new rhythm.
If you are someone who cuts their own hair, you have suddenly jumped from having the least impressive to the most impressive hair in your friendship group. For the rest of us, I think the best approach is to lean into wild hair. However, keep a selection of hats readily available for videocalls — last week I even found an excuse to don a tricorn pirate hat.
Even if you don’t have a great home office setup, the quickest way to improve how you come across in videocalls is to raise the height of your webcam to eye level. Stack up some boxes and balance your laptop on them if that’s what it requires — no one can see what’s under your camera.
All the extra handwashing is drying out your hands. Hand cream helps but SLS-free hand wash may be a worthwhile investment.
It’s strange how swiftly one becomes used to empty skies even in a city like London, dense with flight paths. Now a lone set of contrails draw the eye as an alien mar again the sky.
It is an unsettling time to be human. A pandemic on this scale was inevitable and yet the reality of the outbreak has provoked misplaced panic because many leaders’ reactions have been woefully inadequate and collectively we were psychologically unprepared. I have avoided writing about the Coronavirus outbreak until now. Given my lack of virology credentials, I did not want to pass on unverified information; go to The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for best source of UK-centric medical information. Nor do I want to provide calming platitudes. Rather, as the UK moves into its second week of lockdown, I want to write about the way we react to this situation, and explore what we can learn from our time in isolation.
Uncertainty encourages humans to follow the actions of the herd for safety but — without applying critical thought — it results in a nonsensical shortage of toilet roll (in Australia, bulk buying made some sense since they import a substantial volume from China where supplies were at risk of disruption; in the UK we have plenty of paper mills producing our own, so copying the Australian reaction achieved nothing more than voluntarily disrupting our own supply chain). It is easy to blame others for acting selfishly, but strong leadership should be quelling such actions through clear and transparent messaging.
Instead, the UK Government (whose main achievement continues to be that at least it is not the US Government) chose to delay taking action despite the clear consequences in Italy, justifying this to the public on the basis of “acquiring herd immunity”, without really addressing the fact that uncontrolled spreading would place an impossible burden on the healthcare system. Whilst herd immunity might be the outcome of a large swathe of population contracting the virus, it is only something we actively court through administering vaccines which, notably, don’t require a substantial number of people becoming seriously ill and requiring hospitalisation. This plan reeks of a Dominic Cummings policy that runs counter to conventional wisdom and sounds a bit smart until subjected to any rigorous scrutiny. As a result, when social distancing measures were belatedly introduced, it is little wonder that many people were sceptical and flouted the recommendations, requiring firmer controls. For Johnson to shirk any responsibility by acting like a disappointed parent when announcing the lockdown was deeply disingenuous. This is, after all, the same man who bragged about shaking hands with infected patients and has now tested positive for the virus.
A week into lockdown, messaging has improved although much of the “Stay Home” mantra is being propagated through social media from sources other than the Government. Supermarkets are imposing measures to limit numbers inside stores and, as a Brit, it was pleasing to see a queue outside in which people automatically adopted the recommended 2m distancing without any discussion required — even in a crisis, if there is one thing we can do, it is to form an orderly queue.
Meanwhile, if you want to know what strong Government messaging from the start looks like, I hope you have had the chance to experience Vietnam’s genuinely excellent “viral” sensation: