My COVID Stories: My Art Journey Continues

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It has been six years since I started picking up that brush again and thirty one years since I learned how to paint. Yes, I learned how to paint from the womb. Nah, I am a relic. Ha!

At the start of the year, I wrote about getting my hands into digital illustrations. I had plans of getting a cheap graphics tablet just to get some creative juices flowing. We all know that many of our plans for this year did not happen. I only created a single digital illustration this year. There was a toon me challenge on Instagram where you turn into cartoon the half of youf face. This was my take on that challenge.

illustration

On the positive side, I had ample time to do some watercolor artworks.

I have packs of postcard sized watercolor paper. So I started practicing painting dews. It is always a challenge for me to paint any form of water.

dew watercolor

So this is the first artwork for 2020.

leaf dew
And then Taal happened. I saw a video of the plumes of the erupting volcano.

taal volcano

Whenever I have pockets of free time, I paint on the watercolor postcards. A rocky brook, this time around.

I realized that I also made a rocky landscape 5 years before and I think I improved a lot.

I really think that constant practice matters. But then again, my art is also fueled with those intangible things like mood, inspiration and feelings. I think no amount of practice would help improve my art when those things are amiss. Even if I have the time but I do not have the inspiration, I don’t paint. There are no deadlines for me. But that’s just me. Other artists operate differently.

I always try to challenge myself. I have always avoided painting people because they look like caricatures when I paint them. Then I figured I will just paint the back view. Thus, this postcard piece. The reference photo is from unsplash.com.

And I tried to paint something metallic.

My aunt celebrated her 60th birthday last year. I had no gift. Ha! I was supposed to give her a koi painting after she expressed that she wanted one when she saw what I painted for a cousin. She wanted something bigger. I was not able to paint one for her birthday. I think it is never too late to give her one especially that I have a reference photo from the only place in the world with the widest variety of koi- Nishikigoi No Sato!

So after painting non-flowers, I had to go back to botanicals. Flowers are still my favorite subject for paintings.


By March, a friend messaged me if I have a painting that I can donate to a fund drive to help fire victims here in my city. There was a huge fire in a densely populated area. Many of the victims were informal settlers who took refuge in the community covered court. I had paintings in my file but they were unframed so I made one with a subject that has been brewing in my mind for a while.


Then COVID-19 happened. Although it has been on the news since the end of January before we left for Baguio, it was March 15 when community quarantine started and we were supposed to go to Dinagat by March 20 so it was cancelled. I can only dream of the sunrise/sunset by the sea.

My cousin also sent me bunch of beach photos. He had a bright idea to go to Batangas before the community quarantine. I sighed and I just painted.

The quarantine was really getting to my nerves. My stress level was up. My projects for the rest of the month were cancelled so I stayed at home, dreamt of nature and painted.


Somehow I needed to keep my mind off the internet for periods of time in a day. What better way to do that than paint a very detailed subject. Strawberries.


Those little specks in the indentations are actually the seeds. Thinking about it now that I am gardening, we should have saved some seeds! Here’s a backstory: These strawberries are the ones we bought in Baguio. They were huge so we were really enticed to buy even if it was expensive. The vendor told us it would last a week. We just have to leave it in room temperature in its packaging. Fast forward to 5 days after while we were still in Manila, the strawberries had molds. My inner brazen self was telling me that I could eat the parts without molds. Hahaha My cousin who is a nurse insisted that these should be discarded. We should listen to our health workers, right? So we threw away Php 900. Ouch. This painting was my therapy. A friend offered to buy it so that is also my therapy. 😉

strawberries
There were other things that occupied my time while in quarantine. And many of us are familiar with these scenes. *wink wink*


The thing with art is that I always try to challenge myself with something new. This time around I wanted to paint realistic hair. I found a Youtube video detailing how to paint hair and I applied what I learned in this piece.


On the other hand, this piece is not a new concept. However, this is a testament how my art is about how I feel and how I see things. I just wanted to paint peonies. Ha! This is the original piece.


I feel like it was too plain.  So I painted a dark background to make it pop.


Now I kind of miss the old painting. This is the trouble with watercolor. I cannot undo what I did unless I repaint everything. I just have to live with it. Just like life. (Naks! May reflections?)

I was also invited to an online art sale and exhibit, Love in the Time of COVID-19. Thirty percent of the proceeds of the sale was used to support relief operations for micro and small entrepreneurs, artists and designers that are affected by the pandemic. I sold seven paintings for that cause. Some of the paintings were made years ago. I just kept them for my dream art gallery. Yes, in my dreams, I will have my own art gallery. I guess the art gallery of my dreams had to wait. (Wala kang pera, Kat!)

The last two paintings, I did them in May which I also included in the art sale after the other paintings were sold. I am thankful for those who appreciated my art- most of them my friends. When you get such support from the people around you, you realize that not everything is bad in this pandemic. My friends also bought pieces from my artist friends. Thank you so much, friends! I feel the love! I have framed some of the works my friends bought.


My friend in Japan lives Niigata where COVID cases and population density are so low that they can spend their weekends outdoors. During cherry blossoms season, she sent me a lot of dreamy landscapes. They were so beautiful I could cry! So I painted them. I painted two pieces so far and I have at least two more planned when I have the time.


My cousin’s birthday came up and I promised her a painting. She wanted koi after she saw my aunt’s painting. I no longer want to paint koi for a while. I do not have a decent reference photo that I truly love to replicate. I told her I don’t want to repeat the same concept in my painting. Since her name is Cherry, I painted cherry blossoms for her. I even wore my dress that I painted with cherry blossoms.

I was busy with work from May to July so I was only able to find few pockets of time to finish a commissioned piece which almost has the concept of three paintings this year- the back view of a woman. This time, I painted the side view and placed a lot of red roses since the recipient loves red roses.

I shipped this framed painting without glass but it was protected with cold wax – the same way I did with my largest painting to date.


July was world watercolor month and I wish I did a few pieces but I just couldn’t find time to paint. I really do not paint that fast. I take my time. I plan how to execute it. It is a therapeutic process for me. I wish I can be prolific but I am not and it is okay. I still have a number of commissioned pieces on my list and I am thankful for the trust. I’ll take it one rest day at a time since, surprisingly, I still have projects coming in my other job. I thank God for the opportunities because, with this pandemic, my thoughts often wander. Should I find new ways to earn a living? Should I start a full-time creative business with my art? I tread this path carefully. Austin Kleon wrote in his book, ‘Keep Going’: “One of the easiest ways to hate something you love is to turn it into your job: taking the thing that keeps you alive spiritually and turning it into the thing that keeps you alive literally.” Art truly feeds my soul so I try to nurture it well. I try to keep it that way.

But then again he also said something about keeping a daily routine with art which I do not have yet. So far what I do is to challenge myself with a few techniques once in a while and I try to improve on what I already know. Hopefully, in time, I find my own rhythm and continue to produce pieces I really love. Never mind if others do not like it. I paint really for myself and, if others appreciate it, it is already a bonus. Art really helped me ease my anxiety with the pandemic. I get to create scenes I wish to see even if I am stuck in my little corner in this world. I hope I continue to find inspiration in the world around me no matter how bleak things are. I hope everyone struggling in this pandemic is able to figure out how to cope in these trying times.

 

My COVID Stories: 10 Lessons Learned on the Road to Being a Hardinera

It has been four months since the quarantine started in the Philippines and I have not written anything about it. A friend of mine thought about temporarily shutting down her blog since she has not written anything new for years and she’s regularly paying for hosting. I was thinking about that, too, but I wanted to keep many of what I have written and I am too lazy busy to bother learning how to back up my files. So here I am pushing myself to write something by starting a series of posts about what I did during the COVID-19 quarantine.

The quarantine posed a lot of challenges but nothing motivated me more to start a vegetable garden than the thought that I might have trouble finding food in the future. The pandemic has rendered me an unessential worker and that bruised my ego a little bit. If this pandemic leaves me without a source of income, I should start learning how to survive by growing my own food. This started my journey to being a hardinera (gardener).

The local agriculture office had the same thought, I guess. They distributed seeds for households to grow. I asked my cousin who worked for the city government to get me some seeds which she sent my way by mid-April.

I was an eager beaver. I germinated all the seeds in the egg trays.

Lesson number one: germinate only what you can grow.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was so happy that the vegetables started to grow after 3 days. I was given pechay, kangkong, eggplant, okra and string beans.


These trays were placed in a shelf outside the house. A rat probably ran through the trays and toppled everything because one morning, I found the trays on the ground with the seedlings scattered and dead.

Lesson number two: Try again

Since I wasted all the seeds given to me, I went to an agricultural store and bought seeds that are available so I bought carrots, cucumber and mustard greens. I only planted a few this time around and I germinated them inside the guest room. They were placed near the window for the sunlight. My family photos were even watching over the seed trays.

Still dead.


The sunlight may be too harsh and the room lacked ventilation.

Lesson number three: Seek help

It was already mid-May. Had I been successful with my gardening, I could have harvested something by this time. So I watched Youtube videos on how I can grow an urban garden with the limited space that I have. I also asked the help of my friend, Mitzi, where to source good soil, particulary vermicast (vermicast is a compost produced by earthworms). She underwent training on organic farming years ago and has started a hydroponic garden this year so she knows these things. She told me that the Caraga State University sells vermicast. I sent my cousin to buy soil for me there. When he came to deliver the soil, he also gave me three seedlings of lettuce which the caretaker gave him. He also gave me fresh lettuce he bought there which became my dinner that night.


I planted these on a self-watering containers made from coke bottles.

Gardening reginites my love for coca-cola. ( hahaha somebody found an excuse to drink more coke)

I cut and transformed the 1.5 liter bottles of coca-cola into self-watering containers. Also, my aunt helped me rummage the trash for these bottles. Yes, we became scavengers. Save mother earth!

I think my cousin enjoyed his time there because he told he was going back to buy some herbs. By his next quarantine pass schedule, he got me mint and basil plants. My garden dreams slowly came to life.

Lesson number four: Get your friends and family involved.

I have already dragged my cousin and one aunt into this garden goal of mine. Anticipating my need for planting containers, I asked another aunt to buy me pots.

But look at what she bought me. They are too pretty.

So I asked my friend to buy me regular pots and while she was at it, I asked her if she might want to buy me garden soil and coco peat, too. Hahaha! Most gardening videos I watched suggested mixing regular garden soil, vermicast and coco peat. (Yes, my friend got them all for me.)

I even asked my friend all the way from Cabadbaran (2 localities away from Butuan) to buy me these pots.


My aunts went another notch higher. They gave me an indoor garden so I was able to use some of the pots here.

But wait there’s more!  There is another rack in my entryway.

Lesson number five: Keep trying

I still wanted a vegetable garden. I have a few herbs already but I wanted other vegetables. In particular, ampalaya (bitter gourd). I have tried growing from the seeds I collected from the vegetable I bought. No luck. So I decided to order online. Since shipping cost is lower if I buy more, I got as much as I can afford. Tada! I got all these online from Ramgo.

I germinated them. I planted only 5 to 10 seeds at a time so that I can try again if I fail. Since I am more successful with hanging pots, I got hanging germination containers from yogurt and ramen containers.

I germinated some in used tin cans.

I used wood coffee stirrers for nametags.


Lesson number six: Be inspired.

My friends have awesome vegetable gardens!

My friend, Mitzi, has a hydroponic garden here in my city.

My friend, Ginee, has a thriving vegetable garden in Canada.

My friend, Grace, grows these fruits and vegetables  in her yard in Japan.

I also saw gardens of other friends, too, and I am happy to see them happy with their plant babies.

When MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) was declared (for just a short time) in my city, my friends and I trooped to the Caraga State University. I bought seedlings for blue ternate, Thai basil and stevia. I saw their greenhouse where they germinate the seeds and the vermicast area. It felt nostalgic to set foot in the campus again. I spent five months of my short teaching career in that place. A lot has changed and I was happy that I was able to explore that place again even for a short while.

Lesson number seven: Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Sometimes, the fruits come from what your parent labored. My cousin sent me two boxes of mangoes as my share from the trees Papa planted at least twenty years ago.

This was me and the mango trees more than 15 years ago.

I shared most of the mangoes to family and neighbors.

My meals often had mangoes.


And some ‘fruits’ come from my own labor.

The lettuce grew well and so does the basil and mint.

I have been eating samgyupsal using my lettuce. I cut a few leaves and they grew every time.

I have used the basil for pesto pasta…

..and the mint for my drinks.

Lesson number eight: Share what you can.

I sent some seeds to Azenith so she can grow her own herbs and veggies.

She planted them and was happy to see her seeds sprouting.


I also gave some seeds to Mitzi, too. She is way more successful in growing the vegetables compared to me. I also gave cuttings of my aunts “purple heart” plant to Jeanne.

Mitzi also gave me some of her harvested lettuce before.

I hope someday every family has their own vegetable garden and we just exchange our produce. My friend, Grace, in Japan gets veggies from her neighbors. When we were there, there was a box of eggplant in the entryway. She gets different veggies depending on what her neighbors are growing for the season.


Lesson number eight: You win some. You lose some.

Sometimes you lose them from the mentally challenged.


The day after I proudly showed my plants to friends, I found my very lush lettuce gone. Only the container remained. Thankfully, I have another lettuce plant growing and it remained untouched so I made a salad out of it before anyone tried to steal them.

After posting about it on Facebook, one neighbor informed me she found the plant on the ground near the barangay hall. My aunt’s lilies were also in the mix and she did not even notice them gone.


I surmised somebody with mental illness made the plants into a bouquet and played with them and when that person got tired, the plants were just thrown on the ground. My neighbor told me she brought the plants home. I hope that those will revive in her care.


We then hanged the containers higher that I have to stand on a chair if I need to water them. Ha!


I also lost a lot of plants to pests, inexperience and for reasons I still have to figure out. These mustard, basil and arugula succumbed to pests and lack of sunlight.


I realized my plants survive better when they are hanged.

Lesson number nine: Appreciate the plants that survive.

This is my current surviving garden. I have at least 33 containers hanging with basil, spearmint, chocolate mint, stevia, pechay, kale, lettuce, kangkong, tomatoes, bell pepper.

I have 3 vines of ampalaya left. The one vine hanging for dear life is now dead.  I don’t know why that one plant died and the rest are thriving.

I replanted 4 seeds of cucumber after 2 vines died.

I have lemon, lime and calamansi seedlings I bought from a cousin.

My blue ternate started to flower and it started to crawl in my aunt’s window grills.

My tomatoes started to bear fruits. So far, there are 4 fruits. I hope we get to harvest soon. Fingers crossed.

I celebrate these wins.

Lesson number ten: We all need a good laugh.

So I have been germinating these onions.

For some reason, one onion seemed to grow faster than others. When it was already big (after more than a month!), I transferred it to the hanging container. After a looking at it and observing it regularly throughout the day, I had an epiphany. Is this really onion? I messaged Grace asking her how to tell if I am planting an onion. She told me to smell the leaves.

These little plants in that container smelled like onion. Such thin and tiny leaves emitted the onion smell.

This large and lush onion plant smelled like grass.

WAAAAAAHHH! I planted weed!!!!! I am turning into a crazy plant lady who planted weed- the legal yet annoying kind.

The universe is trying to humor me.  I had a good laugh.

So far I am enjoying the gardening process. I was never into plants before. Now my aunt who spends a lot of her time in the garden has an ally.

My friend commented that her family knows me as Katrina laagan (wanderer or wanderlust). I traveled a lot before. I replied, “Not anymore! Meet Katrina hardinera!”

What is your gardening story?



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