East End Artists Roundtable: Home Studios & Adjusting to Quarantine Life

"Zebra Sighting" by Joe Chierchio and "Waiting" by Doug Reina
“Zebra Sighting” by Joe Chierchio and “Waiting” by Doug Reina

When asked to stay indoors, East End artists continued to pour their hearts and souls into new works from their home studios. However, it’s taken some time to get used to the virtual exhibitions, Zoom art classes and social distancing rules. Hamptons and North Fork artists share their insights and some words of encouragement.

A piece in Kat O'Neill's "Boat Reflections" Series
A piece in Kat O’Neill’s “Boat Reflections” Series

Changing the Plans

Here’s what happened when the pandemic first got started—the gallery exhibitions I was scheduled to be in were cancelled, my students could no longer attend my studio classes and the artist residency I was to take in March at the Vermont Studio Center was postponed. Suddenly the deadlines and pressure I normally work under disappeared, and I had a lot more quality time on my hands in the studio. As a result, I was able to give my paintings all the time they needed to develop. It’s a remarkable time for me to remember because I am aware of how much more creative and productive I was during that period. Now, as I’ve had time to make changes to adapt to this new reality, I find responsibilities, deadlines and pressures to have started creeping back in, and I am missing that creative freedom I had.Doug Reina

Owning a gallery in Bridgehampton that has been in name only since March is a strange and challenging adjustment. My partner, Andrea McCafferty, and I usually change exhibits every month, so beyond taking the current exhibit online, we have started doing artists of the week to keep some sense of normalcy and relevance. — Kat O’Neill

How social distancing has most affected me is the impact on my upcoming shows. One solo exhibit was scheduled for this month and canceled, and another scheduled for the fall is still in question. Since my work sells at my shows, and painting is my livelihood, this is taking a financial hit on me as well.Mike Stanko

"Carpe Diem" by Gia Schifano
“Carpe Diem” by Gia Schifano

Working from Home

Since I no longer have students coming to take classes here inside the studio, I’ve had to develop an online Zoom class for 12 students which meets once a week. As a result, my studio is a lot neater and I always know where my favorite palette knife is, but I am putting in much more time at the studio’s computer preparing images and notes for the two-hour class. I’ve developed a new level of organization and teaching skills I never knew I could have, but I am concerned that my time at the easel has been limited. — Doug Reina

My studio has always been a separate space in the house but now because I have more time to be there it has become a little more organized. I made room to experiment with stretching my own canvas and creating my own canvas panels. It is always my sanctuary. We all need to find a space to put the reality of the day away for a little while, shut off the news, quiet the mind—to be thankful for whatever is working in our lives and to be creative and keep the soul thriving. Gia Schifano

I recently had shoulder surgery, prior to the pandemic, so I was already adjusting my space and surroundings. I will literally draw wherever I’m comfortable since, lately, my favorite medium has been graphite pencil. Although my favorites rotate often as I work in any medium. Heidi Lechner

In my studio in Greenport, I have lots of room for a heavy easel that doesn’t fall over when I use my whole arm to create long brush strokes for my water paintings. At home, I have to make due with a smaller, flimsy travel easel. My canvases have become smaller and brushstrokes more dab-like. With four adults working from home, I had to be more mindful of paint fumes. My palette at home is limited because I didn’t transfer all my paints from the Greenport studio. Isabelle Haran-Leonardi

My workspace is the same, but I value it more intensely.Joe Chierchio

It’s just messier. Still spray painting outside. Biggest change—painting over canvases and then wishing I hadn’t. — Kat O’Neill

My workspace is still the same small “microdemic” it was before the pandemic. It hasn’t evolved so much as devolved.Keith Mantell

My wife and I took this new house as it has a huge studio for the both of us to work, so we’re very fortunate to be able to keep working from home. We also have a big terrace where I plan on painting outdoor figures when the weather improves (if my wife will pose for me), and we bought a number of large plants to make it more picturesque.Marc Dalessio

Funny, my workspace really hasn’t evolved too much, but with spending more time in the studio, I’m getting around to cleaning it up a bit, letting go of old supplies and art paraphernalia that I no longer use. The biggest change, however, is that my wife has been working from home, so now I’m making lunch for two! — Mike Stanko

"Cherry Trees and Lambs" by Isabelle_Haran-Leonardi
“Cherry Trees and Lambs” by Isabelle Haran-Leonardi

Keeping a Healthy Mind and Body

Being pressured into communicating through the phone and internet without much physical interaction, I now feel isolated from the world we once knew. It’s somewhat sterile with lack of emotion. I realize what this is doing to people, and that’s why being out on the water feels so normal. I am interacting with nature and get a feeling of intimacy with something I know.Daniel Pollera

I am part of the COVID-19 vulnerable population due to underlying health concerns. When I first learned that neighbors in very close proximity to my Greenport studio were testing positive, I made the early decision to temporarily close my gallery and move my studio to a hastily created studio space in my home. — Isabelle Haran-Leonardi

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have felt an urgency to create even more art. The creative process has always been meditative for me. I become completely immersed and literally unaware of my surroundings. And if I’m not painting, I’m thinking about it. It’s an escape from the overwhelming amount of information and emotional upheaval the pandemic has brought into our lives. Patricia Feiler

Ajuga by Ty Strousburg
Ajuga by Ty Strousburg

Adjusting to the New Normal

The galleries and museums are now doing virtual openings which is a whole different world from the crowded physical openings we are used to. Artwork now is being shown strictly online. I mean, it was before but more now than ever, and it might be a trend that will continue. I don’t know what the future will hold moving forward, but we are entering a new world. And we will adjust. — Daniel Pollera

My home office, aka studio, has never been a social workspace. This is one area, because COVID-19, that has become a place for virtual visits, talks and discussions. These events usually take place in galleries who support the artists. (I did have a major show at Gallery North in Setauket cancelled this month.) For some, it might be fun and interesting to talk, but the important information—choices, decisions and process—is right there on the canvas itself. I do not think that any virtual visit can be a substitute for the solitary—and silent—act of looking at a painting. With that in mind, I look forward to the time when our galleries will reopen, with renewed commitment to providing the solitude and quiet environment for viewing visual art. — Ty Stroudsburg

"Marsh in Shinnecock Bay" by Lynn Mara
“Marsh in Shinnecock Bay” by Lynn Mara

Encouraging Fellow Art Lovers

To my fellow artists, I would say—work, explore, challenge yourself to grow and develop your art practice. How? Read about today’s artists, look at their work, develop your own visual mental toolbox, take some online art classes. Perhaps it’s a good time to get quiet and go deep—ask yourself, why are you making the work you’re making? Are you excited about it? If not, it might be a good time to work on that, to push yourself into new creative directions where you find excitement and passion about the artwork you’re making. And to the folks who enjoy my work, all I can say is thank you very much for your continued support and interest in what I’m doing. It means a lot these days, that’s for sure. — Doug Reina

We are lucky to have so many different ways to communicate in 2020. People can reach out and see each other through the internet and artists can share their work virtually through social media, artist’s websites and online exhibitions while we hope and pray that the galleries that show our work will one day reopen. Afterall, there is nothing like seeing paintings close up where you can see the artist’s hand and really appreciate it. No matter how long this goes on, we will adapt. We will find ways to create and exhibit. It’s who we are and is as important to us as the air we breathe. Stay safe, be well, and keep creative. — Gia Schifano

Just keep believing in yourself. If you have a dream, keep working at it. If you’re good at it, you can be better. If you feel you’re not as good as you’d like to be, keep working, because time, practice and patience are key! Good luck! — Heidi Lechner

I truly believe that art has the power to heal—both for the artist and for those who experience it. I hope that each artist can continue to express themselves in whatever medium is currently available to them. We need to make art for ourselves even if no one sees it. The world needs our voices to make sense of all that life is—the beauty and the suffering. — Isabelle Haran-Leonardi

Stay strong and creative—we’ll get through this. — Joe Chierchio

Keep at it. The world needs artists to convey the times we live in, to take us away from the times we live in and to give us everyplace in between. And for all those who enjoy our work, collect it. Art brings meaning to your lives and supports the creative process. — Keith Mantell

I have always had a clear sense of what’s important and what’s not—now more than ever! At the end of the day, love and the memories we hold with those we love, is all that lasts. This is one of those “memories.” Lynn Mara

In the past, after periods of difficulty and economic uncertainty, there has been an explosion of life and a desire for art, music and beauty. I believe we artists should be preparing in our studios to satisfy those needs for society when we come out of this. — Marc Dalessio

Happy days will be here again, though possibly quite different, but we must still surround ourselves with fun, positive people and art. Life throws us both good and bad, so grab the good by its tail and wrap yourself around in it. — Mike Stanko

We are all feeling the enormity of this crisis. My philosophy is this—keep pressing on one day at a time.Scott Hewett

Check back later this week to read the second half of the Artists Roundtable. 

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