As COVID-19 has moved classes online, all departments have been forced to adapt. However, a particularly unique obstacle has arisen for the art department as students leave Peeler’s state-of-the-art facility: making art at home.
Sculpture professor Lori Miles sent her students home with their toolboxes and small sewing kits. Despite these materials, Miles is already on the third full version of the course syllabus that she has re-written over these last two weeks.
Initially, Miles had planned on mailing students materials, but then shipping became restricted. She thought students could find or collect materials to work within public, but then the stay-at-home orders were announced. “Like everyone else, as restrictions have become more clear, the possibilities of what we could do had to adapt,” Miles said.
Now her sculpture students will be using common domestic objects from inside their homes and will only need access to two things to complete the weekly projects that Miles has devised: a cell phone and the internet. “It is a weird opportunity to teach students how to create under extraordinarily restrictive conditions, but also to exercise the two most important traits of successful artists: agility and resourcefulness,” Miles said.
Miles’s course has also shifted so that her students will be researching artists throughout history who, like the students themselves are now, worked in isolation: “whether that came from physical conditions like imprisonment, quarantine, political status (undocumented people), illness, or from psychological conditions like agoraphobia or severe depression,” Miles said.
Despite the accommodating course adjustments, the innate urge to create has led many Peeler students to transform basements, bedrooms, dining rooms, backyards, and laundry rooms into make-shift studio spaces.
“It has been very sobering,” senior Konrad Rula said about the transition back to his childhood home in Chicago. “I’ve been away from home for four years now, and it’s been difficult finding my space within its four walls again.”
Although Rula has found a space in his basement’s laundry and storage area, it “does not function in the same way” that his studio in Peeler did. “My space is very limited, and so are the resources,” Rula said.
Early this spring, Rula won first place in the 2D category of the Spring 2020 Juried Student Exhibition. To make this piece, Rula used a band saw, a circle saw, a table saw, and dowel rods. These four tools are only a small fraction of the power tools and hand tools that students can utilize in Peeler. Rula has none of these tools at home.
Limited access to tools is only one obstacle that Rula has had to adjust to at home. “I have very little privacy,” Rula said. “I can’t spray paint. I can’t sand anything. I can’t walk upstairs into the sculpture room, pick up a piece of wood, and cut it.”
Senior Gracie White sees this experience as an “important test” for the senior art majors. “Artists have to find a way to continue their practice even when they can’t afford materials [or equipment],” White said.
White is now using her backyard as her dubbed “studio,” and has completely changed her senior project after losing access to the equipment and materials that she had been “spoiled with” in Peeler. Though she hadn’t anticipated leaving Peeler so soon, White has been preparing for the inevitable adjustments her practice would require after graduation.
Similarly, this uncomfortable transition gives Rula confidence that “the next stage of [his] life will be a lot easier” when the time comes to find a space to make art wherever he moves since he will have already done it. “I have no doubt that I will emerge from this time with a better understanding of my pursuits and what is necessary for me to function as an artist.”
The struggle to find space, access equipment, and afford materials is not an atypical experience in the art world. “Artists are by nature creative, curious, observant, and resilient,” Miles said. “We are able to work under literally any conditions, so while this sucks for everyone, it also opens up new ways to see and adapt the visual world we live in. We can work anywhere, anytime, with anything.”
Below are images art students submitted of their make-shift studios.
Konrad Rula ‘20, Chicago, IL
“I will not lie to you when I say it has been incredibly difficult. It has been a complete shift in momentum. The lack of resources and equipment has shifted the understanding of what my work is, and in what medium it rests.
These past two weeks, I have been focusing on creating a new space. It has been a combination of my room where I lived on campus, my studio, and the student lounge in the Peeler basement, where I spent many nights sleeping on the couch.
Art from home is difficult, especially since I know I am not able to call the space my own. I’ve rearranged a room in the basement for the time being, and I hope that as the time goes by I am able to produce work. I have also been trying out painting, something I did not get a chance to do in my four years.”
Gracie White ‘20, La Veta, CO
“I don’t really have a studio space, it’s pretty much just going to be outdoors, I guess, so my practice has to change. The transition is incredibly difficult because I do not have the materials and space that I was so lucky to have in Peeler. I was doing a performance with clay, but because of the stay-in-place orders I am not able to get clay, which means the direction that I was going in for my senior work is taking a sharp turn. Now I will pretty much be doing performance work using the nature around me. This is my backyard (above), and my performance will be involving the nature that I’m surrounded by. I am still trying to figure out what that is going to look like, though.
I am not living where I grew up; I am living at my dad’s, which is very different. I’m in a town of less than a thousand people, so accessibility to anything here is way less than anywhere else I’ve lived, especially with the closures. I work with clay primarily, which, in normal circumstances, I could get. But because of the closures and all, the accessibility [of clay] is not there. I have to try to keep myself focused on art, and it is showing to be very difficult.”
Adilene Garcia ‘20, Highwood, IL
“This is the little space that I was able to create for myself. I live in a small, cramped place, and it definitely took me a while to recreate something similar to my studio at Peeler. It’s not the same, though, I live with several other people; it just doesn’t feel like a space of my own. That’s what I miss the most.
There’s really nothing I can do if I’m in need of materials, as opposed to Peeler, where I could look around the basement studios or even the second-floor studios to find what I need.”
Emily Graves ‘21, Plainfield, IN
“Transitioning to home has been uncomfortable. I’m not the same artist I was when I was painting in this room during my high school years. It almost feels like I’m too big now, my thoughts are too loud, my process too hectic. I have to figure out how to fit all of myself in this small room again.
I’m enrolled in a sculpture class and a ceramics class, and of course, things have changed drastically. I’m no longer able to create work that would have been possible in those studios, so I’m adapting by being creative through painting and through the guidance of my professors.”
Emma Wittkowski ‘20, Grand Rapids, MI
“I’ve been using the spare bedroom/office in my home as a studio space since leaving school. It’s pretty spacious, and my mom is allowing me to paint on top of her drafting table while she works at our dining table. The transition from Peeler to home has been tough since I find it difficult to work when I can’t separate my living space from my working space.
It’s difficult for me to find the motivation to paint even though my new ‘studio’ is across from my bedroom. I also have started to burn out much quicker than I might have in Peeler since my studio space was an escape where I would strictly paint. Now that I no longer have that separation getting myself to work feels like a greater challenge. In order to get over this difficulty, I’ve started to sketch a lot more. I open my sketchbook while I watch tv, eat, or FaceTime my friends in order to keep my wrist moving and stay creative.
I think making art right now, no matter how you do it, is a good way to destress. Although this situation is not ideal for me or my creative process, I still find comfort in making small pieces of art (like sketches or photos) because it takes my mind off of what’s going on around us for a little while.”
Hannah Metzger ‘21, Lake Forest, IL
“This is my art bucket, it’s my carry around studio. At the moment I’m working anywhere I can in my house. I have drawing supplies from this semester and paints from last. So I’ve been drawing a ton, and I am starting to think about painting. The only problem is that I like to paint on a large scale, so I’m working through solutions to that at the moment. I was working out of a notebook in Copenhagen [this past semester] and drawing really anywhere I could, so I’m not feeling too cramped!”
Emma Pizana ‘22, Brookfield, IL
“I’m supposed to be painting in a space in my basement, but the lighting is really bad [down there]. It was pretty hard [to find space since] I don’t have a big house, so space is limited. I’m using my dining room table [right now], and it gets in the way for the rest of my family.”
Brielle Bait ‘22, Granville, OH
“The physical transition has been fine for me because I have a corner in my basement I can use as studio space. It would be a lot more difficult if I didn’t have any open area in my house. The hardest part is to stay motivated while being in my house, 24/7. It was easier for me to make art in a space completely designated for that, where other artists are also creating their work as well, and where my art professors were just down the hall.
For my digital art class, we were provided with the programs needed on our own computers (adobe premiere), and in community sculpture, our newest assignment is to work with whatever objects we have at home, arrange the objects and then submit a photograph and drawing of our arranged objects.”
Maddy Green ‘21, St. Louis, MO
“Here is my “studio,” basically I’ve just taken over my basement slowly through the years, and now it’s my own little apartment.
The biggest transition is how I’m feeling. It is like I’ve fallen back into high school again. While I have plenty of space in my home studio, it’s like I can’t even make myself create something good because I’m feeling too lost. I’m really just struggling with feeling confident about anything enough to begin painting seriously. Yeah, I just don’t feel like a human, so I can’t make myself paint since I feel like it’s just gonna be bad.”