Painting in a Pandemic

First, I’ll preface this article by saying that I didn’t expect to be blogging so soon about my new series and hope that my readers will appreciate a positive diversion and perhaps even some inspiration in this piece.

Early on, while hordes of people were hoarding toilet paper, I was ordering more canvases. Like most Americans, I’ve hunkered down at home, along with Lindsey and our 35-year-old son Charlie, who is unexpectedly stranded here—lucky for us! While he works remotely from his childhood bedroom and Lindsey immerses herself in projects, I paint.

My original idea to create Monet-like scenes of Venice had already transitioned into being a comment on climate change, but when COVID-19 invaded, the series morphed into something else. I got started in late January and by late March had ten in progress:

Unfinished (March 25, 2020). Each canvas is 28″x 22″

The first seven have been worked on twice and the last three only once. I assume that each painting will take 5-10 sessions—usually 1-3 hours per— before being completed. Note: All of these paintings have an orange undercoat that can be seen more prominently in early drafts.

Before the Quarantine

Individual frames from a 2003 home video of Venice (3 & 5 above) gave me a starting place, but I realized I needed more to work with, and added some online images and one from my friend George (6).

By the time I roughed in the initial five canvases, everything was rosy. However, I didn’t just want to show the city as it was for Monet in 1908, I also intended to make the series a commentary on global warming. Given last year’s flood and dire predictions of rising sea levels, I added compositions to show “The City of Water” flooded (7 & 8). I fully expected to paint more of those—I still may.

However, during my initial sessions with these two (below), the coronavirus had already hit Italy, and Lindsey was in touch with our friend Nicoletta, who was under lockdown with her family in Trieste. That’s when we began feeling a personal connection to what became a global pandemic. We all sensed a tidal wave gaining mass and rolling towards our shores, which seems to be reflected in the dim tone of these (click on pictures to enlarge):

Deeper Thoughts

Then, almost overnight, everything changed.

We entered quarantine, and my first inclination was to paint more—for lots of reasons. As I’ve said repeatedly, painting is a practice of contemplation and centeredness for me. I lose myself in the moment, focused on only brushstrokes and color. Painting helps me to feel connected to everyone who has seen or will see my artwork. Actually, these days I feel like I am sharing healing energy with all of you and our entire planet through this artistic form of meditation. If, indeed, my creations are a part of the legacy I leave behind as a human who has lived, then the pandemic provides me with plenty of inspiration to stay busy. As I’ve written before, I agree with the poet Kenneth Rexroth, “Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: the creative act.”

That, and staying isolated during a pandemic.

False Hope

By the time we’d been in seclusion for a couple of weeks, Italy appeared to be finally having a downturn in new cases. Their lockdown seemed to be having an effect. I went online to find out what Venice looked like with everyone in seclusion, and to my pleasant surprise, the canals were returning to the clarity of the Venetian Lagoon on which the city was built. Without tourists and pollution from so many boats, it has taken on an almost tropical hue!

Seaweed, fish, dolphins, and swans have returned to the waterways. The landscape below (left) was based on a current news photo and represents how beautiful Venice could be if humankind would commit itself to saving the planet, slowing climate change, and using clean energy sources. This is what Venice looks like today. Of course, that’s probably just a dream for the future.

The picture on the right reflects hope. Even in these difficult and unprecedented days, I try to be optimistic. Unfortunately, Italy’s daily drop in cases was short lived after I began the swan painting. So far, I don’t have the heart to begin a second session on it. With a rising curve of cases there and here, the hope I had has turned into disappointment.

This too shall pass, and we will be forever changed. Inevitably, we will have learned things about ourselves both because of and despite the suffering. Those lessons will be unique to each of us; but, everyone around the world will share something other than a virus—a new kind of connectedness and responsibility.

Life Lessons

My personal lessons have been occurring nonstop. Like everyone, I muse about my own mortality (ugh, as if that hadn’t been on my mind since I was a kid). But I consider the life’s big questions with more immediacy now. I internalize this disturbance in the force like Obi-Wan Kenobi did when the Death Star pulverized the planet Alderaan.

Leigh using a projector for a painting’s first draft.

Yet, it’s just not in my nature to focus on remorse. Instead, I deal with my negative emotions by doing positive activities—first and foremost, painting. Like Monet, who kept himself alive for as long as he could continue painting his Grande Décorations, my life-force compels me to work on this Venice series. At the rate I’m going, there’s no way to know if I will finish these ten canvases before the curve flattens and hope returns.

Regardless, I did get that shipment of more canvases! Be safe, stay well, look inside, and create something new today.


  1. Francesca Droll on April 26, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    Beautiful selection of paintings in progress, Leigh! I’ll reserve more detailed comments for when the paintings are finished. Enjoyed your positive outlook as always. This certainly has been an opportunity to sit with oneself and look inward. It has also been a time of reflection about our own mortality and trying to come to terms with it, once again. Wishing you and the family health and safety!

  2. Cathrine Hannell on April 16, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing, both your very lovely paintings from Venice and your wise thoughts in these strange time we live in right now. Gives one hope for the future.
    We are in voluntary quarantine here in Sweden, right or wrong we´ll find out later. Life on the farm is pretty much similar to normal. We are struggling with spring farming and calving season right now. Life is good to us!

  3. Julie Nygaard on April 6, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    Beautiful paintings. Makes me want to take up the brush again . It has been a long time. Hope you are safe. Our family is safe for now. Alex is in South Carolina but being very careful. It is time for reflection. Thanks for sharing with me.

  4. Stephen Ambrosini on April 5, 2020 at 1:04 am

    Thank you for this, love the art and commentary. One good thing that has come out of this is I’m resting up and healing my body. I’m looking forward to playing ball again.

  5. Amelia on April 4, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    I love watching the paintings emerge. Thank you for sharing. It’s thrilling to watch the progression of your creations.
    Love in creation and destruction

  6. Keith Kaplan on April 3, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing! The art…your musings…all create positive and productive thought.

  7. Renetta on April 3, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    I enjoyed reading your narrative, Leigh. I love hearing an artist present the birth of their work and the accompanying transitions and sometimes even tranformations that bring to light the completed piece.
    I hope you can feel your way to completing the swans in the canal. How lovely that will be!
    Stay well my friend,

  8. arnold andersen on April 3, 2020 at 12:42 am

    you are a great source of encouragement and optimism in this time of pandemic fear. For as long as we are left standing (hopefully all of us) we need to continue with our passions and live as normally as possible. Being unable to go to our art store, I am left with some paint by number sets that were somehow never given to my grand-nieces for Christmas. They will have to do for the time being and will serve as a kindergarten level of activity in hopes of moving toward an unrequited passion of true painting based on your teaching methods. Cheers and keep the brush going. Venice can be so brilliant and so sad. Arnold

  9. Mary Ann Lane on April 3, 2020 at 12:38 am

    Hi Leigh,
    You are really ambitious. Your paintings are turning awesome. Posting Italy’s beauty is an encouragement. They have really been through this “plague”. It is hard to get my head around it all.
    Yes, we are hunkered down here as well. Except for shopping 3 weeks ago, we have ordered what we need from Amazon, Vitacost, and Walmart. Everyone is doing what government and state governors have requested. Im proud of the American people. We go through “wipes” like crazy. Hands are rough from washing. Laptops and TV receivers get a wipe every day. On and on. But all of my family in California and Idaho are doing the same. We talk more on the phone, text more, and pray more.
    Thinking of you all.

  10. Dean Forman on April 2, 2020 at 11:29 pm

    Hi Leigh,
    Your coping through painting seems appropriate. I watch the news but can only do it for long. Whatever happened to the dawning of the Age of Aquarius or whatever hope that implied? Doing music sustains me…so what else is new? Your paintings are very beautiful. Give our best to Lindsey and Charlie.

  11. Dennis Koski on April 2, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Love reading and “seeing” your thoughts. Do hope you all are staying healthy. I know you all are good at amusing yourselves. Wishing Neil is well also. Love and hugs to you all.

  12. Diane Camp on April 2, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    Loved reading your positive thoughts in these dire times. In times of lock down I’m appreciating my small acreage to roam around on alone. My family is sprawled out in other states, just lost my beloved dog, so now is time of reflections. I’m also throwing in a good book in between. Thank goodness for technology!
    I love your Venice series, water, boats, and old buildings. Very peaceful to look at.
    Glad to hear you are safe with family and using your isolation time to positive useage.
    Carry on!

  13. Roger L. Harris on April 2, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    The odds of survival are in your favor. Keep doing what you enjoy and enhance your immune system to the best of your ability RLH

  14. Mark Tanchuck on April 2, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    Good thoughts, Leigh! I’m glad you have this preoccupation to keep you occupied! We’re hunkered down. Walking around the ‘hood. Got a stationary bike online…….works purty good! Placed a coupla grocery orders online……..haven’t got ’em yet, so don’t know how that goes. Readin’…….watchin’ the Turd give his “talks” on TV…….practicin’ my “ax”…….chipping in the backyard. Had to “resign” from our Country Club, since they wouldn’t give a suspension of dues. Haven’t ridden in a car but two times since St. Paddy’s Day……both times to risk my life goin’ to the grocery sto’. But, no mo sto’…………if this online delivery service works out. Gotta keep away from folks……..for…….another 6-8 weeks? Wotta nightmare! Here’s wishin’ you ‘n yours the Best! Keep away from that nasty coronavirus!

  15. Leslie Harris on April 2, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    I love reading your blog posts. Reminds me of how big the world is as I am socially isolating.
    Continue your efforts. We appreciate them. Hope you all stay well.

    • Suzanne Browning on April 2, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      Amazing as usual. We miss you.

  16. Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith on April 2, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Awesome work and gives me a better grasp of hope!

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