Pandemic Sketching Journal – Tradition



October is a month that represents much that is traditional here including harvest, Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en. Tradition is something that has meaning for many of us, and the Covid19 pandemic has affected all of that in certain ways.

Thanksgiving has always been one of the traditional annual holidays for families to get together and share food. This year throws that all out of whack. Some families can get together in a very limited way if their cohort is small and if everyone in the cohort understands the limitations of that (and the misinterpretations can be pretty wild). But since family gatherings have become one of the major ways that the virus is spread, many of us had small and solo Thanksgivings, sometimes with a video call to include family. The necessity of being away from many of the people who we love in order to protect them and ourselves is not easy. It takes courage and sometimes you have to be strong for other friends and family members who are struggling with the concept of distancing.  Or maybe you are struggling yourself – we all are to different degrees and at different times. We need to support each other and not let this divide us.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Outside of my art practice, most of my career life has been spent as an archivist and researcher in the heritage field. These jobs tend to deal with tradition and established fact (although there are always those who pick and choose historical facts to suit their agenda – and what the heck – even make them up!) History has lessons for us if we are willing to listen. Although not an exact template, the 1918 flu and even to some extent, the Black Death plague hold lessons for us. Officials at those times called for measures of control, but many people did not follow the restrictions, some continued to party, and many others spread conspiracy theories and blamed minority groups for the diseases. Sound familiar? As writer and philosopher George Santayana saidThose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Habit, comfort and familiarity are a part of tradition and make adapting even harder. We tend to resent change. If we have always gone about our lives in certain ways that have been comfortable, we don’t like having to change our routines. But those nicely upholstered ruts could put us or someone else in danger, and damage the economy. There can be advantages to change in every situation – it just takes longer to find them sometimes – and the pandemic sure is an example of that. Not only is it not going away, the numbers are worse than ever. We don’t have time to slowly adapt to change, and if 8 months hasn’t been enough, what will be? We are at a tipping point – right now it’s even more urgent.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Hallowe’en was something that made me hopeful though. Some of the traditions around Hallowe’en changed, but the changes weren’t major, so that’s maybe why people adapted more easily. It is a fairly safe holiday since trick or treating is outdoors. The weather was great, so the kids could show off their costumes. In some cold, snowy years they all look like Scott of the Antarctic! I’m always impressed with how polite the kids are and none of them complained about having to do things a bit differently. In fact, some innovations made it more fun! People came up with clever ways to give out candy from a distance. We set up a candy chute – the kids put their bags at the bottom and we sent the candy down the chute from the top. They had lots of fun with that and we might even make it a new tradition every year.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Stay safe. Wear masks. Keep distance. Wash your hands. Don’t form human clumps indoors. You know, the usual. And yes, after 8 months it is the usual.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Community


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I touched on the topic of community in my last post when I mentioned that I grew up on a farm, where everyone pitched in to help and care for whoever needed it. Part of what community means is having people you can count on to help out through the tough times. That seems to have gone disturbingly off course with some during the pandemic, but then crises tend to reveal character, for better or worse.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

I am fortunate to have good community around me in the many circles that define community, but I am also among those who have been mocked and assailed for keeping myself and others safe. So unsettling and shabby. Staying strong to fight this pandemic is exhausting, especially when there are those who are not only refusing to carry their share of the load, but are adding to the load and confusing strength with weakness. Setting boundaries and disconnecting from that negativity is a struggle, but can ultimately be a solace if we do it in a way that does not make the divide greater. We can shore up our strength to deal with life’s challenges with the help of the supportive people and communities around us. And we need to take time for rest and peace and enjoying life, albeit within the necessary constraints of life in the time of a pandemic.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

I love the message in Buffy Sainte Marie’s powerful poem/song Carry It On:

What is your attitude

Are you here to improve or damn it

Look right now and you will see

We’re only here by the skin of our teeth

So take heart and take care of your link with life                                                      

September is the month for the anniversary of 9/11, and at that time in Gander, Newfoundland and nearby towns, the concept of community extended to strangers who had “come from away” and who were treated with great compassion during a time of crisis. The “plane people” weren’t judged by their politics, race, religion, ancestry, sexual orientation, or otherwise – they were simply taken care of as fellow human beings. That concept has existed not only in Newfoundland but in many cultures for generations.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

One of the “plane people”, Laura Louie, said about the overwhelming kindness she and her two small daughters experienced, “We were completely taken care of,” she remembers. “For everyone else, 9/11 has a heavy connotation. But for me it was when I was reminded what humanity is.”

A teacher in Gander at the time of 9/11, Diane Davis, said “Everyone looks at us and says that’s an amazing thing that you did, and the bottom line is I don’t think it was an amazing thing, I think it was the right thing to do.”

A USA Today story reported, “In a world today seemingly fraught with division, terrorism and hate, they’d do it all over again. Kindness is woven into the very fabric of their nature — they don’t know any other way to live.”

Karen Mills, manager of the Comfort Inn in Gander said, “No matter where you go people are good. I truly believe that in my heart. There’s 1% arseholes everywhere and if this happened where you live, you would help.”

Of course, no place or people can be categorized as being 100 % uniform in any way, but I have spent time in Newfoundland and I have experienced that kindness and generosity first hand. It should be noted however, that they are not pushovers and they do not abide arseholes.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

The people in my life who are dear to me let me know that I am also dear to them in their many ways of caring. I can relax with them and feel that I don’t need to justify why I am keeping myself and them safe. I trust them with my life. I can say to them, and they to me, “I’ve got your back”.

Courage my loves!

Posted by Marlena Wyman


Exhibits Update 2020


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It has not been an easy year for the arts. The Covid 19 pandemic has hit a lot of industries hard, the arts among them. But artists have been out there helping people to make it through. Music, film, television, books, video games, virtual performance and pop-up performance, online and pandemic-modified museum & gallery exhibits, online craft tutorials for kids; all arts based and all helping us to cope through a very strange and difficult time.

I’ve been fortunate to have had artworks in two group exhibits during the pandemic so far. The Alberta Foundation for the Arts/Art Gallery of Alberta TREX exhibit that began travelling in August 2019 was shut down for a while since most of the venues were libraries and community centres. It reopened at the Multicultural Heritage Centre Gallery in Stony Plain, Alberta from July 22 to August 26, 2020 and will continue travelling in the Grande Prairie and Calgary regions until fall 2021.

“Real Women” exhibit, Multicultural Heritage Centre Gallery in Stony Plain, Alberta

“Real Women” exhibit, Multicultural Heritage Centre Gallery in Stony Plain, Alberta

“Real Women” exhibit, Multicultural Heritage Centre Gallery in Stony Plain, Alberta

The other artists whose works are in the exhibit are Lisa Brawn, Kasie Campbell and Alison Tunis. My four paintings in the exhibit are inspired by early Edmonton women’s stories. You can read more detailed background about my following paintings and their inspiration in my earlier blog posts by typing “Real Women” in the search box.

Mat No More by Marlena Wyman. Oil stick and image transfer on Mylar and birch panel, 16”X24” diptych, 2018

Bluebird by Marlena Wyman. Image transfer, oil stick and graphite and on Mylar and birch panel, 16”X24” diptych, 2018

The Beulah Home for Unfortunate Women and Girls by Marlena Wyman, image transfer and oil stick on Mylar and birch panel, 20″X20″, 2019

The Visitors by Marlena Wyman, image transfer & oil stick on Mylar and birch panel 20″ X 20″, 2019

Early on in the pandemic during the first time of global self-isolation and lockdowns, the Penticton Art Gallery, B.C., in association with association of Nice/Berlin, put out an international call to artists for submissions to their exhibit “You Are Not Alone”.  The exhibit is at the Penticton Art Gallery from September 18 to November 7, 2020, along with an upcoming online exhibit. Future exhibit dates are in the works for 2021 in Berlin and France.

As the exhibit organizers state: “We hope this exhibition will not only celebrate the power of art, but will serve as a poignant testament and celebration of our diversity, culture, and an important reminder, that regardless of where we live on this planet, we are not alone.”

“You Are Not Alone Exhibit” at the Penticton Art Gallery. Photo by Robert Dmytruk

My artwork for this exhibit focused on the stories of early prairie women who suffered terrible isolation. Many of the first women to emigrate to the prairies came from eastern Canada, the US and Europe where they had enjoyed social life, community and culture, and they longed for that. Memories of that companionship and society were all that many of them had on the prairies.

Today, one of the groups for which the coronavirus pandemic has had a particularly adverse effect is women. The isolation and loneliness that was endured by early prairie women reminds us that we are not alone in our present experience of isolation and adversity. Many have come before us; their strength and perseverance is with us.

Fortitude and Forebear-ance by Marlena Wyman, Image transfer, ink and graphite on Mylar, 11” X 14”, 2020

Quotes in the artwork:

Civilization is gone and only the little band of lonesome women here remember it…

Quote from Hilda Rose’s published memoir: The Stump Farm: A Chronicle of Pioneering, 1928. Hilda came from Boston, Massachusetts to Montana, and then to Fort Vermilion, Alberta. Her book is based on a series of her letter written to friends between 1919 and 1927, which were published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1928, the money from which allowed her and her husband to survive in one particularly difficult year.

If we just had some neighbors but we are three miles from the nearest. I have seen no women since fall. 

Quote from Gertrude Chase’s letter to her mother, February 11, 1922. Gertrude came to the Wapiti River area, Alberta from Tonasket, Washington State in [1918]. Letters: Provincial Archives of Alberta PR1973.0569

We felt our neighbors hearts beat with ours in trouble and in joy. 

Quote from Mrs. Stedman’s memoir. She came to Pincher Creek from Ontario in 1884. Glenbow Archives #CA1935

Once I visited another of the early settlers. She was a young woman with a baby and she was lonely too…When we met, we ran to each other; we each had to speak to a woman, and put our arms around each other’s neck and just had a good cry. All the hunger and longing which we had stifled for so long, came to the surface.

Quote from Catherine Neil’s memoir. Catharine came to the Grassy Lake area of Alberta from Scotland in 1905. Glenbow Alberta Archives M888, M4116.

Photograph: Miss MacKay & friend, Ottawa 1885. Library & Archives Canada #MIKAN 3448478

Posted by Marlena Wyman







Pandemic Sketching Journal – Distance


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As with many aspects of life and concepts that have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the definition of “distance” has taken on a new meaning. What first leaps to mind are the 2metres of physical distancing, distance education, and working distantly. The pandemic has also meant that families and friends who are distant cannot travel to see each other. However, there are still possibilities to span the distance. We are fortunate in that we have so many options for communicating through modern technology.

Sadly, distance has also come into play by those who are making the pandemic into a political issue or through hostile personal attacks that divide us rather than help bring us together to fight the common enemy of the coronavirus. Disinformation and conspiracy theories abound, distancing us from each other and from our humanity. I wonder how each of us would now define what it means to be a good citizen. Has that definition eroded for some to rights and privileges only? Duties and responsibilities of citizenship are the other side of the coin. Civilized society can’t exist without it. I grew up on a farm, and it went without saying that the community pitched in to help and care for whoever needed it. My hope is that the spirit of goodwill and cooperation is not a thing of the past. We need it now more than ever.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Height: overlooking the river valley

My Urban Sketchers Edmonton group have been able to start sketching together again on the first Saturday of each month – although only outdoors and physically distanced.

As for a form of distance in my life, in August I would have been artist-in-residence at Porphyry Island Lighthouse on Lake Superior. Not a hugely distant destination, but the necessities of dealing with the pandemic required them to postpone the program until next summer. Hopefully I will be able do my residency then, dependent on a couple of contingencies: whether the pandemic is over by then, and whether their volunteer organization that depends on grants and tourism will be able to survive. I measure the distance of the residency not only in cross-country kilometres, but also in height, as I would have had a lighthouse as a sketching perch. In honour of that, I have dedicated my August sketching to high places.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Height: the garage rooftop

Theme challenge – Weather: as in “How’s the weather up there?

In addition, my sketch group Urban Sketchers Edmonton, has been posting prompts and challenges each week for the sketches that we have been doing on our own. We have found this to be a fun way to expand our sketching practice and to feel more connection with each other (and less distance) during this difficult time of the pandemic. So I have taken up the challenge of combining these weekly themes with my August theme of vertical distance (I had to stretch the interpretation a bit with some!)

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Height: grain elevators are the lighthouses of the prairies

Theme challenge – Urban transit: elevators were the hub of wagon, truck and rail transportation

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Height: Mount Pleasant Cemetery is one of the highest points of land in Edmonton (and I assume that at least a few of its denizens have ascended to heaven)

Theme challenge – Gates/fences/doorways: a headstone depicting the Gates of Heaven

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Height: Keillor Point lookout/The End of the World

Theme challenge – Change your usual sketching tools: I used a delphinium stem and leaf

My final sketch of August is of a lookout in Edmonton dubbed by locals as “The End of the World”. Hopefully we can all make it safely to the other side of this pandemic, and the only end of the world will be this beautiful view. Peace everyone.

Posted by Marlena Wyman


Pandemic Sketching Journal – Adapting


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Looking back on my sketches and journaling comments through July, they seem slightly…less anxious. A bit odd because the number of Covid19 cases in Alberta is on the rise, and that is very concerning, but we now also have some tools to help mitigate that. Don’t get me wrong, people are still my greatest source of anxiety – especially through a weird combination of carelessness paired with scornful, adversarial denial and mean-spirited mindsets out there – yikes! For sure it is hard for all of us to wrap our heads around everything that is happening, especially with the speed at which it is happening, but this is one of the most important tests of our human spirit and our humanity. There is cause for hope if we can come together (with our hearts and minds that is – keep your 2m distance please!)

Since experts have been feverishly (no pun intended) figuring out this virus, we are now better armed with more solid facts and evidence-based information from which we are able to adapt to living and functioning within the pandemic landscape. If we can adopt a couple of simple tools, those mainly being masks and distancing, then we have a better chance at staying healthy and so can the economy. This is true not only for today’s pandemic but also for the inevitable future ones, since we will be able to apply to those at least parts of what we are learning now.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

With my first sketch of July, one of the adaptations that took place for me was my Urban Sketchers Edmonton’s first pandemic-modified sketch-out. Our group usually gets together on the first Saturday of every month to sketch on location and then have lunch together. Our last one was March 7th, just before everything shut down. Since then we have been staying in touch and bolstering each other’s spirits with weekly sketch-ins: sketching on our own and posting the sketches online. For our July sketch-out, we met at the beautiful Alberta Legislature building and grounds to sketch. Then we viewed each other’s sketches that we laid out and took turns looking at them while keeping distance from each other. We did not get together for lunch of course, but it was great to see each other in person and share that feeling of community.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Another adaptation was ordering and picking up a delicious take-home meal from a local church, instead of attending one of their community dinners in person.  Our favourite is their amazing Ukrainian perogy church dinners that dozens of people usually attend! One day…

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

Since having guests over for indoor meals is not advised, and since we have not formed a bubble with anyone (Who to include? Who to exclude? Good grief – it’s a decision fraught with more challenges than a guest list for a wedding) we have instead had friends and family over for outdoor distancing get-togethers on our deck and in our yard. But since the weather tended more toward rain than sun, if it rained, we simply moved the car out of the carport and moved the visit under its cover. Instant pavilion!

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

There are other examples of more subtle adaptation: for several years now, one of our neighbours has posted a different poem in their yard every week. However, lately I have noticed a shift toward poems that speak more specifically to our present time and circumstances with kind and encouraging messages to help us through all the uncertainty. Art has contributed greatly through the pandemic’s times of isolation and anxiety to keep us occupied and entertained away from the woes of the world as well as providing us with a way to express our feelings.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

We were planning trips to both BC and Newfoundland this year, but since those were not possible due to the pandemic, we have been taking day-trip stay-cations closer to home in Alberta, and there is no lack of beautiful places to visit around here. We miss family and friends terribly who live farther away, and we have been keeping in contact through video calls and emails. If we can all work together to fight Covid19, next year can be one of true togetherness and freedom. Keep a good thought and a mask handy!

Posted by Marlena Wyman




Pandemic Sketching Journal – The Reopening


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Alberta began Stage 1 of reopening on May 14; Stage 2 on June 12; and Stage 3 TBA. It is important to allow people to go back to work to earn a living and to restore the economy, but how can we do that safely without people thinking that things are “back to normal”?

There have been some advances in the battle against the coronavirus, but a second wave is predicted if we become too cavalier. Covid19 case numbers have already increased in Edmonton, and part of the present resurgence is because people are weary of restrictions and have become complacent, compounded by misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Wearing masks and distancing can be compared to the indoor smoking ban that began as a voluntary measure but had to be made law. It is about kindness and consideration for others as well as protecting ourselves. Pandemic mitigation measures are being asked of us on a voluntary basis right now, but in this context, “voluntary” doesn’t mean when we feel like it. It means unlegislated – for now.

I created the artwork below, not to minimize the impact of the suffering caused by the present pandemic, but as a way of showing that we are not alone. Our ancestors suffered longer periods of isolation and hardship through pandemics, economic depressions, wars and other suffering caused by humans and by nature. The isolation and loneliness that was endured by early prairie women reminds us that we are not alone in our present feelings of isolation and adversity. Many have come before us; their strength and perseverance is with us.

Fortitude and Forebear-ance by Marlena Wyman                                                    11” X 14”, image transfer, ink and graphite on Mylar, 2020                                (photo image credit: Miss MacKay & friend, Ottawa 1885. MIKAN 3448478 Library & Archives Canada)                                                                                              Click here on Description for the quotes in the artwork

In particular, it is difficult not being able to be physically close to our loved ones who don’t live with us. And although it goes against our nature as humans, wearing masks and keeping distance is actually how we can now show our love for them. The virus doesn’t care that we want to be social. Small “bubble” situations can work and keep risk low but only if the small bubble of people agree to just be with each other, and as long as they can trust each other to stay distanced from everyone else. To put it indelicately, not sticking to your bubble is like having a non-peeing end of the swimming pool, but beyond the ick factor of the swimming pool analogy, it is dangerous to those in your bubble.

As restrictions were relaxed, I listened to Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw in each of her calm and reasoned updates. I figured that there would be those who would just hear the words “reopening” and would not hear her repeated and emphasized cautions about how to reopen safely. In this post I will be interspersing my sketches with her sage words.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

It is important for all of us to remember that this virus is not gone. COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities, and will do so for many months to come.

Ensure that distancing and masking when needed are firmly embedded in their return-to-the-workplace strategies.

Wash or sanitize your hands after touching common touch surfaces. If you get sick, stay home and arrange for testing.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

This is a marathon, and we are not yet near the end, so let’s pace ourselves, encourage each other, and cheer each other on with face masks in place.

Our knowledge of COVID continues to evolve, as does our approach to prevention as we seek to balance all the needs we have, for human connection, meaningful employment, and protection from infectious disease.

Following public health guidelines can help increase a feeling of being in control, and can make a real difference.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

We must all be vigilant in following the public health measures, particularly when indoors or attending any group event.

Even if we are feeling healthy and symptom free, we all need to continue operating as though we could spread the virus to others, and could catch it from those around us.

We are all protecting each other. Diligently following the public health measures in place means that you are being considerate and caring, not over-cautious or afraid.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman

This is not the time for complacency. We are not out of the woods yet, and will not be for quite some time.

By now, I believe most Albertans could recite my health advice in their sleep: Stay two metres apart. Wear masks. Get tested. And stay home if you’re feeling ill.

Being thoughtful, kind and considerate to each other not only makes for a better world at any time, but in particular right now it is the way forward to weaken the hold of the virus until our hard-working scientists can find a vaccine or cure.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Gratitude for Food


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I am grateful that I am in a fortunate position during this pandemic. Not everyone is. I am retired with an income from a modest pension. I live with someone who shares my concern about the pandemic. I don’t have small children to cope with schooling at home while working from home. I have a house and yard for outdoor space and that yard is helping me to produce food.

Food has taken on a new and enhanced meaning during this strange time. Beyond sustenance, it also symbolises comfort and security. Home cooking, baking and gardening have increased, partly out of necessity, but partly as a way to cope, mentally and emotionally. They are peaceful, meaningful activities.

For some of us, grocery shopping is one of the few times that we venture out into the world, armed with face masks and hand sanitizer. It is not an enjoyable experience; no leisurely wandering up and down aisles for meal inspiration or bargains. Instead we shop and get out as quickly as possible, trying to touch as little as possible.

Now that I have a routine for grocery shopping, I am starting to feel slightly less anxious when I go, but my anxiety shoots up again by people who do not wear masks and do not physical distance. These steps are low-tech, free, simple, and an act of caring and kindness toward others. Isolation has proven to work best to combat the virus, but that is not practical over the long haul and we don’t want to have to go back to that.

I think that the acts of wearing a mask and physical distancing can cross the divide that seems to be happening. It can bring us together because it works for those who have opinions on either side of that divide. Those who feel that we are reopening too soon can feel safer if everyone is wearing masks and keeping distance. Those who think that we need to open up more can advance that by wearing masks and keeping distance. We can all come together in the common cause of helping people return to work safely, being able to move around in public safely, and progress toward economic recovery more quickly. Don’t allow anyone to pit us against each other. No one wants a do-over where we are back to months of isolation to again try and take out a virus that affects every human on the planet.

Although there have been some empty shelves in grocery stores, the hoarding of food has not been as extreme as the selfish and predatory hoarding and price-gouging that happened with face masks and other personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and most oddly, toilet paper. But precarious working conditions are affecting food security, food worker safety, and the livelihoods of farmers and producers who we depend on for our food and therefore our survival.

Although many are hoping for the return to “normal”, that is probably not going to happen. We may be able to return to a comparatively freer, safer time, but things will likely never be the same again, nor in many cases should they be. The “normal” of the past was not healthy, fair or sustainable. We need to prepare for another pandemic, natural disaster or whatever else will be coming our way so that our health, safety, livelihoods and economy are not thrown into turmoil.

Hopefully the post-pandemic world will be a kinder, more generous place but the daily news keeps convincing me otherwise. However, there has already been much kindness and generosity to help balance that darkness that humans are sadly capable of. People have been sewing face masks at home, distilleries have been making hand sanitizer to fill the gap, artists have been providing online entertainment, restaurants have been providing food for those in need, and much of this has been provided for free or at cost. Unfortunately, many of these acts of generosity are coming from people and businesses whose financial security and profit margin were already minimal pre-pandemic. Many of these good independent businesses may not survive. It would be a bleak world without the engaging and varied life that they provide; a reduced life of limited choice and dull uniformity. There would be a loss of vibrancy and human scale without the variety of food and experience that the arts and other creative enterprises provide to feed our bodies and our souls.

On a personal note, I am grateful for the kindness that I have experienced. Our neighbours and community league volunteers have offered to do grocery shopping for us. Neighbours and friends have been dropping off gifts of baked goods with cheering handwritten notes (and we have been reciprocating). Family and friends have mailed me seeds and dropped off bedding plants that they grew from seed. My city, Edmonton, started a program of pop-up community gardens. I appreciate grocery stores and other businesses that have curbside pickup, delivery, and seniors’ hours (another benefit of my newly minted senior status).

This pandemic provides us with a window into our future. Do we just survive or do we thrive? Eat, sleep, work, consume, reproduce, die – that is not all there is to being human. We need beauty, nature, meaning, and humanity in our lives. We need to encourage creativity and innovation to help make the world a safer, better and more fulfilling place to live.

As the song Bread and Roses says:

Our lives shall not be sweated
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses.

(Lyrics: James Oppenheim   Music: Martha Coleman, 1911)

There are still reasons to be hopeful and Reasons to be Cheerful.

Food for thought.

All sketches by Marlena Wyman

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Pandemic Sketching Journal – Homesick at Home


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Lately I have had a vague feeling akin to homesickness and the longing that accompanies it. Not for home since that is solidly where I am. The feeling is definitely associated with homesickness though, and takes me back to when I first left home to go to university. The homesickness that I am feeling now is the longing for the comfort and the familiarity of my old life, rather than for home, and the feeling of homesickness hits me in waves.

Part of it is the strain and unease of trying to adapt to an uncertain new way of being. It takes time for us to adjust, especially when the disturbance is so significant and much of it changes daily. We are adaptable creatures and some of my new routine is starting to feel more habitual, but my mind and body still inhabit my pattern of old ways, and I am fatigued from the constant vigilance of it. (As I say these things, in no way am I objecting to these very necessary measures. What causes me the most anxiety are people who are being cavalier about the pandemic.)

Part of homesickness when we first leave home is a feeling of loss of community and belonging, and the loss of security and protection.  Although we are lucky that we can keep in touch through modern technology, it does not replace the loss of contact with our loved ones that we still feel. There is nothing predictable or stable, and we long for that.

The feeling of longing brings to mind a dominant theme in my research of early prairie women’s diaries and letters for my paintings. Their experiences of isolation and homesickness resonate in some ways with our experiences of isolation today.

A Little Band of Lonesome Women by Marlena Wyman, 2014

Although I painted this in 2014, it feels appropriate to today’s experience of social distancing. I wanted to represent the experience of isolation that was one of the overwhelming factors in early prairie women’s lives. As a rule, men were much more mobile. If anyone left the farmstead on business, the men were usually the ones to go. If anyone took a seasonal job away from home, it was generally the men; the women were left on the farm to manage alone.

Civilization is gone and only the little band of lonesome women here remember it…I have no woman to talk to so I will write [letters] to ease my brain.                      Quote from Hilda Rose’s published memoir: The Stump Farm: A Chronicle of Pioneering, 1928. Hilda came from Boston, Massachusetts to Montana, and then to Fort Vermillion, Alberta. Her book is based on a series of her letters written to friends between 1919 and 1927, which were published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1928, the money from which allowed her and her husband to survive in one particularly difficult year.

…if we just had some neighbors, but we are three miles from the nearest. I have seen no women since fall.                                                                                        Quote from Gertrude Chase’s letter of February 11, 1922 to her mother. Gertrude came to the Wapiti River area, Alberta from Tonasket, Washington State in [1918]. Letters: Provincial Archives of Alberta PR1973.0569.

Once I visited another of the early settlers. She was a young woman with a baby and she was lonely too…When we met, we ran to each other; we each had to speak to a woman, and put our arms around each other’s neck and just had a good cry. All the hunger and longing which we had stifled for so long, came to the surface.            Quote from Catherine Neil’s memoir. Catherine came to the Grassy Lake area of Alberta from Scotland in 1905. Memoir: Glenbow Alberta Archives M888, M4116.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman, April 4, 2020

Beginning April 4th, Urban Sketchers Edmonton has been doing weekly Sketch-Ins instead of our monthly Sketch-Outs. Since for now we can’t meet as a group to sketch at a location, we are sketching our experiences of the pandemic individually. For our first month of Sketch-Ins, I have focused on my home since that is my most convenient subject.  Home has taken on a new significance in the pandemic.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman, April 11, 2020

Staying at home is an important tool for fighting the coronavirus. Home cooked meals and obtaining food have become a focus. Our access to entertainment and to the arts is from home. Working from home has become a new way of being for many as has schooling from home, and for many families, the adjustment of 24/7 living.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman, April 18, 2020

I am lucky in many ways. I have the security of my home, a partner who shares my safety concerns about the pandemic, and at this point at least, a modest income from pensions. There are many people in much more challenging situations.

Sketch by Marlena Wyman, April 25, 2020

Stay home, wash your hands, disinfect surfaces, cough and sneeze into your elbow, and keep 2m apart when you have to go out. I wish everyone good health and hope.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

Stay home and draw YEG: Week 2


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This is the second week that I have joined Edmonton artist/illustrator Emily Chu in her daily online sketch club: #stayhomeanddrawYEG. Emily started this to help local artists connect, stay positive, and support one another during this time of isolation. She posts daily prompts for sketching, and anyone who wants to can post their interpretations of the prompts on the group’s Facebook page or Instagram.

I am going to take a bit of a break from Emily’s great online sketch club. I have been inspired and am going to be working on some paintings. We’ll see what that brings but for now here are my Week 2 drawings.

The prompt for March 23rd was “nearby nature”. I used a piece of nature – a twig dipped in ink – to sketch some nature. I’m pretty sure that the huge majestic fir tree in our backyard was a school tree planted in 1950 when our house was built. The Edmonton Arbor Day tradition began in the early 1950’s. The City distributed evergreen seedlings to all grade 1 students in Edmonton and that tradition continues to the present day.

The prompt for March 24th was “childhood nostalgia”. I keep this teddy bear on a shelf with some other childhood pals.

The prompt for March 25th was “look down”. I was in my studio so I looked down at the pattern in a hooked rug that I bought at a thrift store a few years back. It brightens my studio floor (and it’s not in a part of the studio where I paint so it is doing fine.)

The prompt for March 26th was “screen time addiction”. The BBC series “Wartime Farm” on YouTube is well worth viewing. It is entertaining, informative and beautifully filmed and it provides us with some lessons to be learned for today’s global crisis. Different in that WWII required people to come together physically to help, and now we need to stay apart physically to help, but amazing to see how adaptable and resilient people were. For six years!!!

The prompt for March 27th was: Skype portrait – call up a friend”. So I Skyped my friend Mike and did some continuous line blind contour portraits while we chatted. These are always a quick and fun type of sketch.

The prompt for March 28th was “isolation fashion.” I am very into cozy, comforting and comfortable clothes, and even more-so now. Loose, elastic waist pants, long sleeve T-shirts, slippers and especially my sock-monkey sweater. I am not a clothes-horse. More of a clothes-sloth and I’m not apologising.

The prompt for March 29th was “your favourite Tom” of which my favourite was our neighbour’s cat. He was definitely the neighbourhood guy. He visited everyone on the street and never begged for food – just wanted to hang out and make sure everything was fine in the hood.

I wish everyone good health and happy inspiration while you stay at home!

Posted by Marlena Wyman



Stay home and draw YEG: Week 1


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Although artists tend to be introverts, we also like to be social and get together from time to time. Unfortunately, the new reality of the Covid19 pandemic means that one of the best ways to fight it is to avoid getting together. So I have been making some self-isolation art.

I sketch with my Urban Sketchers Edmonton group on the first Saturday of every month and we have lunch and socialise afterward. We will not be sketching together for a while, so we are going to sketch from home and continue to share and socialise through social media. Nice that it has the word social in its name – now is the time to really adopt that part of it.

I have also decided to join Edmonton artist/illustrator Emily Chu in her daily online sketch club: #stayhomeanddrawYEG. Emily started this to help local artists connect, stay positive, and support one another during this time of isolation. She posts daily prompts for sketching, and anyone who wants to can post their interpretations of the prompts on the group’s Facebook or Instagram pages.

The prompt for March 16th was a “mirror/blind contour self-portrait”. I added another layer to that by also making it a continuous line drawing. For those of you who aren’t familiar, blind contour is drawing by looking at the subject that you are drawing without ever looking at the paper. Continuous line means that you can’t lift your pen from the paper. Try it – it’s fun!

The prompt for March 17th was “your isolation grocery cart or fridge” so I sketched some fruit that I had picked up from the farmer’s market (except the orange – it was already in the fridge). In contrast to the craziness at big box store supermarkets, the Edmonton downtown farmer’s market was nice and quiet – lots of room for social distancing and lots if beautiful fresh produce and other food.

The prompt for March 18th was “window views”, so I had some fun sketching with my set of brush pens, looking out to a view in the backyard. It is slowly warming up here but still lots of snow.

The prompt for March 19th was “Staycation Meals” so I sketched my lunch. A homemade tomato basil quinoa soup made from some of my farmer’s market purchases, and a grilled cheese sandwich with bread from my local bakery and Gouda cheese from the farmer’s market. It’s one of my favourite childhood lunches (just fancied up a bit).

The prompt for March 20th was “non-essential essentials”. When I first realised I was going to be staying at home for the foreseeable future, after I got groceries I went to the Paint Spot to fill in some gaps in my art supplies. Creative activities help to occupy the mind, calm the heart, and add balance to what has been overwhelming news. You can see from any social media platform that art in all its forms is helping people to get through this crisis and the isolation issues that it requires. Art is often considered “non-essential” but it is actually essential in so many ways. As the great protest song “Bread and Roses” says “Hearts starve as well as bodies; Give us bread, but give us roses”.

The prompt for March 21st was “local hero/weirdo”. I considered sketching our back yard weirdo squirrel who acts like it is crisis mode pretty much constantly, but who also offers great window “TV”. However, I opted for heroes (of which there are many right now, and in particular our health care workers. Thank you for your amazing work.) The heroes I chose to represent are my more local heroes: the volunteers from Parkallen Community League who are helping people such as seniors in my neighbourhood with grocery-runs, errands, etc. A gesture of kindness that is so needed right now. Thanks to a great community league and great neighbours!

The prompt for March 22nd was “under the High Level Bridge” which I interpreted as the High Level Bridge under construction. The High Level Bridge is Edmonton’s most iconic bridge – a magnificent and historic structure. I used an archival photo (#A15027) from the collection of the Provincial Archives of Alberta as my subject. “Charlie Leake and friend on High Level Bridge Edmonton during construction”. 1913

I am adding a wee bonus drawing that was in answer to a challenge by the Alberta Aviation Museum. Like many museums and other cultural institutions, it is closed due to the pandemic.  They sent out a challenge to draw an airplane with your eyes closed. In keeping with a historical perspective, I attempted a biplane.

Wash your hands, stay home, and keep your spirits up everyone. Try doing some drawing – there are lots of free online tutorials right now, and for most of us there is lots of free time!

See you next week.

Posted by Marlena Wyman