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Arts & Life

During Stay-At-Home Orders, Kansas City Artists Sketch What's In Their Own Backyards

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Peggy Wilson
Artist Peggy Wilson often competes in plein air art festivals this time of year. Instead, she's sketching her neighborhood.

Whether it's dwindling toilet paper rolls, sweatpants, or blooming flowers, Kansas City artists find inspiration at home when they can't venture out.

Urban Sketchers, an international nonprofit, launched about a decade ago in the state of Washington, and chapters have cropped up around the world -- including one in Kansas City, which now has nearly 700 members.

“Our drawings are a record of time and place," says the group's manifesto, "We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation."

But, with metro-wide stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, subject matter and locations for Kansas City artists have grown increasingly narrow.

As the artists wait for states, counties, and cities to reopen, they've looked to their own gardens for ideas, painted portraits of neighbors' homes, or poked fun at their own sense of fashion.

Peggy Wilson, a retired art teacher for the North Kansas City School District, helped launch the Kansas City chapter of Urban Sketchers a few years ago. Wilson lives in the Briarcliff area of Kansas City, Missouri, north of the Missouri River.

“I sketch all the time,” she said. “At home, from my car, at a doctor’s appointment waiting in an office, when I’m standing in line. I’m constantly sketching.”

Sketching is still part of her daily routine, she’s just not roaming as far as she used to.

“I’m able to watch my tree peonies bloom. I’m watching my azaleas bloom, my redbuds bloom,” she said. “I’m very aware of everything, more so, in my personal surroundings in my yard this year.”

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Inside her home, she’s sketched a few humorous works of dwindling rolls of toilet paper. “It’s funny what will catch my eye,” she said, with a laugh. “You just never know.”

And in her neighborhood, she’s turned to sketching some of her neighbors’ homes in her cul-de-sac.

“And I thought, you know, if I go up and down the street and I sit in front of their house and I sketch their house, maybe eventually we can have some type of a cul-de-sac get together,” she said.

“And then I can have those drawings to give to them just as a thank you for being such great neighbors.”

Related: FAQ: When And How Parts Of The Kansas City Metro Will Reopen

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Artist Tammie Dickerson lives on a 25-acre farm about five miles south of Belton, Missouri. She’s hunkered down at home with her husband, and son, a sophomore at Missouri S&T in Rolla, Missouri, who’s finishing up this semester's classwork online.

Dickerson said, for now, she’s painting what she sees on the property with oils and watercolors, taking inspiration from what's blooming in her garden -- the irises, lilacs, pansies, tulips, and redbud trees.

“I’ve been painting a lot of flowers these last few weeks,” she said.

Usually, around this time of year, Dickerson would be competing, she said, along with about 100 other artists in plein air, or "in the open air," art competitions.

"That's a very social way of doing art," she said.

Or she'd meet up with members of the Urban Sketchers group, which last gathered in early March for a sketch walk at Boulevard Brewing Beer Hall.

She added, “We all share ideas. There’s a lot that we can learn from each other, which doing virtually isn’t the same as doing it in person. I miss that.”

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Erik Wray performs as a jazz guitarist at restaurants and clubs, busking on the Country Club Plaza -- or, at least, that’s what he used to do.

“There are no festivals, no concerts, or being out at the jazz clubs,” he said, “like, everything was just shut down.”

Without gigs in recent weeks, Wray has focused on something else he enjoyed: drawing. At the end of March, at a friend’s suggestion, he joined the Urban Sketchers Kansas City group.

“It’s kind of been a relief,” he said. “Throughout all the stressful times, drawing has always been a really good way to remind yourself that your problems are not as big as you think they are.”

Wray admits there are some challenges these days when it comes to art-making.

“You can’t really go out into the world like you used to,” said Wray. “But I think a lot of artists just know this: if you’re really looking at something you can find an entire universe in an empty teacup.”

He adds, “I think most good art comes from working within limitations anyway. So to have a limitation like, stay home, don’t see other people. I think it’s forcing people to look at what’s in their everyday existence.”

Wray said he’s looking forward to getting back to his music, but also to meeting some of the artists in-person that he’s only interacted with online.

“Now that I know that’s it’s here, I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I can talk to somebody about gouache painting, I can talk to someone about watercolors,'” he said. “This is amazing.”

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