Finding Zen in the Art of Creative COVID-19 Lockdown Projects
Updated: Jul 14
by Scott Beller
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso
Like most dads, facing long-term confinement with the family got me thinking about the best ways to pass the time at home together during the quarantine. The first thing that came to mind: art projects.
Actually, that’s not true. My first idea, fueled by an early COVID-19 lockdown trend, was for me and the family to recreate our own, shot-for-shot version of this absolutely sublime John Mellencamp classic live performance. But that immediately got voted down internally, even though many friends on Facebook heartily encouraged it. So, we went with ART.
We began thinking big and small. First, the small. As soon as schools closed and classes moved online in early April, at my wife’s suggestion, we ordered four DIY miniature room model kits. The timing was almost too perfect. We’d just finished watching the episodes of the original CSI series that included “the Miniature Killer” storyline. That particular serial killer’s M.O. was to build exact replicas of actual crime scenes where they’d killed people and then taunt investigators by leaving the scale models onsite or having them delivered.
In addition to the obvious benefit of giving me the chance to stage a mini-murder in my own completed room, the models promised a few other key lockdown benefits:
1) A much-needed, creative challenge requiring many hours of focused effort
2) A diversion and mental refuge we could enjoy as a family; and
3) Self-contained kits requiring no extra art supplies (i.e., paint or glue).
But there was one major drawback: our kits couldn’t be delivered until late-May.
While we awaited the delivery of our “murder rooms,” we could begin planning our big project: wall paintings.
Last year, we bought the vacant house next door. Our plan was to knock it down and rebuild something completely new. While awaiting design and building permit approvals from the county, the old house stood empty. My vision was for this house with bare, white walls to become a broad canvas for exercising the kids’ and my creative minds. We could experiment without fear of screwing up or making a mess, and it would give us a safe place to go outside the house during the pandemic.
The mural project, however, hit yet another snag. Art supplies – specifically paint – suddenly had become about as easy to find online as toilet paper. Apparently, every other desperate parent had the same artsy idea for how to keep their homebound kids busy.
Again, no problem.
Our large-scale, mural project required more planning than my everyday-artistic kids were used to. So the long lag between ordering supplies and delivery was fine, and I knew demolition of the vacant house wouldn’t happen until late-June, at the earliest. In that sense, at least, time was on our side.
The kids and I were excited about this new art challenge. I was especially looking forward to again sharing creative time with my girls – having something that was ours. Until just a couple of years ago, I still read to my oldest daughter before bedtime. But as she approached double-digits in age, those bonding moments became fewer and fewer. I recently suggested reading aloud my favorite book Dandelion Wine – the book that inspired me to become a writer – together with my almost 13-year-old. I got a polite, “No thanks.”
At least there was no eye roll.
Creating, making, building, and working with our hands are areas where my daughters and I have always connected and always will. And after a rough 2019, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get back to creating more art myself – something I'd been missing in my life since dabbling with a few art classes in college. I craved not just the "destination," but also the potential healing properties and process art provides. I sensed my girls did too and I hoped they would embrace the idea.
Of course, they did, and I was immediately impressed by their enthusiasm.
While I took extra time researching subjects and related images that interested and inspired me, both kids quickly decided what they were going to make. Like a dad, I still made a point to share my process with them (You know, in case one day, either one decided to pursue an artistic or other creative career with clients who might require a more deliberate approach.):
Research/concept planning => Small-scale sketch/composition => Full-scale layout/sketch
We picked out our respective walls in late-April. Art supplies trickled in through May while we planned our designs. Finally, in early June, we began laying out and drawing our full-scale designs on our “canvases.”
Throughout June, we escaped next door to add a little here, a little there to our works-in-progress. Every time we entered our “studio” sanctuary, everything else melted away.
The same went for our DIY model room builds. Early on, all four of us worked together as a group, or sometimes in pairs. Later, as time allowed, we worked individually. Whatever the case, the art projects gave our family the opportunity to disconnect from Zoom classrooms or business meetings, slow down our thoughts, reflect, and rest our minds, while practicing patience, and crafting something really cool.
Full disclosure: Of four rooms begun, none are finished. Closest to completion is mine (so many tiny books to glue!), and that's only because I was on a self-imposed deadline for the blog. But it’s not from a lack of effort. The manufacturer estimates a total build time of 20 hours. Yeah, right. Just assembling the high-backed chair pictured at right took me almost SIX hours. Just gathering the right tools/supplies in order to sit down and work often took 15 minutes!
Again, I was really awed by my wife and kids' efforts. Even with more work still to go, what they’ve already accomplished with these formidable models is impressive. The age suggested by the manufacturer is 14+. Here are some representative pieces completed by my wife and my 10- and 12-year olds:
Spending time and sharing my love of art and making with my kids these past few months has been nourishing for me. After my mother's death last fall (and the constant thoughts of my own mortality ever since), I really needed this. I needed to feel closer to my kids. I needed not just a pastime, but something to freeze time, if only for a few peaceful moments with them. The deliberate act of creating something together gave me everything I could have hoped for: meaningful time with my kids, quality time alone, creative freedom, a sense of accomplishment, and an escape from the chaos raging outside.
In short, the journey has been pure joy for me. I think the kids got something out of it too. When I asked how our lockdown projects made them feel and if they were at all inspired, here's what they said:
10-YEAR-OLD: "It made me feel happy because it was fun to paint everything and put together all the pieces of my [miniature] Coffee Shop. I liked them because I like to do crafts like that."
12-YEAR-OLD: "I liked painting the mural, but the house got boring to me. Painting the mural let you think of and paint whatever you want, which I liked."
Support her art and help fight food insecurity by checking out her Etsy shop
Who knows, maybe we’ll cover a wall or two in the new house with whiteboard panels so we can all continue to freely create whatever, whenever. Together or separately. (Model building is likely out of the question for the kids, at least for the rising 8th-grader. But as Mythbusters and Tested's maker extraordinaire Adam Savage might say, that also is a result!)
As with every joyful thing, the lifespan of these lockdown murals is fleeting. Demolition begins next week on the old house to make way for the new. But I'm confident our artwork will soon be replaced by the beauty of our new home. One built on a foundation steeped in memories of an awesome art project I hope is just the first of many lovingly shared with my favorite people in the world.
UPDATE 7/13/20: Demolition of the vacant house happened today, and the art by Scott and his kids was revealed. A bittersweet moment, they were part of the last structures standing. Here's to new beginnings, strong foundations, and the beauty that will rise from it!
Art – like trust, like democracy, like a friendship, like a home – requires precious time and
great effort to build, yet astonishingly little of it to demolish. Daddy on.
Scott Beller is the proud dad of two mighty girls and also Editor of the Daddying blog, DCG's Director of Communications, and occasional amateur artist. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.