I have been incredibly fortunate to live the life of a “professional creative” for over twenty years. I’ve been a letterpress printmaker, business owner, teacher and, now, a creative director here at Designsensory. Through it all (and technically, since I was four years old) I’ve ALWAYS created, and always painted. It’s allowed for a sense of greater purpose and clarity that factors into everything I do. 

With that in mind, let’s talk about March 6th, 2020 (which now…seems like a million years ago). That was a big day for me, my family and my art career. Nights, weekends and early mornings for months had centered around one thing: my latest solo exhibition of paintings at Bennett Galleries in our hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Almost thirty new paintings—all created in my home studio in South Knoxville—opening that evening to a large crowd of friends and fans. Plans were in the works for the Knoxville Museum of Art to do a collectors’ event early in April, interviews were planned and it seemed like interest grew every day. And then: we all went home.

We all went home to protect our families, our community and our world from an invisible enemy. In a recent article titled “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”, Scott Berinato spoke with author David Kessler who had this to say: “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different.” This article really hit me square in the chest. I know we’re doing the right thing, but it still hurts, and we still don’t know what “different” will look like…and what should our expectations be moving forward? 

At Designsensory, we’re all adapting quickly to the new way of working—conference calls and video chats, home offices and headphones. We’re all having conversations with clients and co-workers about pivoting, flexibility and “asynchronous communication”. We’re all asking better questions and demanding better answers. We’ve always been a creative, solution-driven band of characters, and now we’re even more focused on exploring opportunities for deliberate, creative collaboration with our clients and our internal teams. 

As for me, I’ll pivot as well. I may not be able to give an artist’s talk to a crowded gallery, but if my mother-in-law can figure out Zoom, I can certainly record an artist’s talk and walk everyone through the inspirations, techniques and intentional practices that inform every piece I create. My studio has been turned into a home office, and my paint-spattered walls look over my shoulder with anticipation of what’s to come and what I’ll create next. The title of the show makes even more sense now: “Make it Real Compared to What?”. 

And one last thing…I’ll tell you what I’ve experienced in these past few weeks that has filled me with hope, and a renewed expectation: we’re here for each other. I’ve already connected with family and friends that I haven’t spoken to in years, I’ve seen co-workers turn our regular Cocktail Club into a Zoom meeting just so we could see each other, and I’ve seen communities come together to support local businesses, artists and neighbors in a time of unprecedented need. It’s going to be a long time before the artistic community recovers from this, and we need to be thinking about that every time we binge-watch our favorite show, listen to our favorite music and, one day, when we come together to enjoy our favorite play TOGETHER.

Until then, keep an eye out for those artists and non-profits that are going to be in need. Lend your support, whether it’s through a donation, a purchase or a “share” on social media. Reach out (remotely, for the time being) to those in need; take care of your community, and take care of yourself. This is all too real, and it’s our job to define and make the most of our own versions of “compared to what.” It’s time for empathy, grace and patience, and we’re lucky that all are in abundant supply.