When COVID-19 lockdowns canceled all public events and closed non-essential businesses, many musicians moved online, sharing their skills and work in live-streaming shows and concerts, and even practice sessions. But they’re not the only artists reaching an audience through the internet. Though fewer in number, you can also find visual artists presenting their craft live in cyberspace.
One such artist is Durango-based painter Lauren Bell.
Each weekend since we’ve all been quarantining-at-home, Bell has been aiming her phone at an easel, turning on Instagram Live, and putting paint to canvas — while narrating what she’s doing and answering questions from the chat.
“I kind of figured that people are getting sick of, like, streaming Netflix,” she said. “When I’m doing this, it makes me feel like I’m less alone.”
Painting for an audience who are watching the process on a screen is not without precedent. After all, instructional TV programming goes back further than even Bob Ross. Unlike “The Joy of Painting,” though, Bell’s streams are live and last longer than 30 minutes, typically an hour or two. She’s also not painting landscapes; Bell’s works are vividly colorful Expressionist-style female nudes influenced by painters like Egon Schiele. Eat your heart out, happy little trees.
While the purpose of Bell’s live feed — which can be found at @lbellart — isn’t to instruct people how to paint, she’s a firm believer that anybody can make art. If anything, having an audience on a regular basis drives her own work.
“I keep being pushed by a few artists in town to keep painting, keep painting, keep painting because I will go through spurts where I’ll feel really inspired and paint, paint, paint, paint, paint — then I’ll just kind of go on a little hiatus. And that’s kind of what I’ve done for a long time,” she said. “This is really nice because it’s forcing me to actually take an entire day to plan for it and to work on a piece and force myself back into my practice.”
The conversation, too, helps Bell engage with the art.
“In school, that was kind of the whole thing: We would have critiques and we would kind of go back and forth and do that type of thing,” she said. “Being out of school, you don’t have that opportunity much unless you’re a part of some sort of collective or have a lot of artist friends, and most of the people I went to school with have moved away.”
Bell said she intends to keep doing the live streams even when the quarantines are lifted, and hopes to display [the art] in some sort of show in the future. You’ll be able to catch her work in person later this year, she said.
If you’re really hungry for live artistic creation, social media pages aren’t the only place to find it on the internet. Alongside all the video game streaming, Twitch has a category for art. Is it mostly people drawing anime/manga characters? Yes. Is the next largest group drawing furries? Also yes. But if you wade past all of that, you’ll also find some cool creatives.
Nen Chang, for instance, is a Georgia-based concept artist and illustrator who has been streaming her work on Twitch for just over four years. She was actively recruited by Twitch at a comic con, but has stuck with it because it gives her a way to connect with the people who enjoy her art.
“It gives like kind of an extra layer of like personal attention or personal access that is otherwise absent from things that are more traditional and like the social media landscape,” she said.
Chang, whose website describes her work as “neon fantasy pop-erotica with a death wish” (which feels appropriate to us), currently streams her work on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and typically sees somewhere between 90 and 200 people on her channel.
As a professional artist, she finds that building a community around herself offers a degree of stability when weathering hard times.
“If you think of it, the artist is like a clownfish and their community is like an anemone, and in times of crisis, that anemone will protect the clownfish because, over time, the clownfish has fostered that anemone so that it is its home and its protection,” she said.
Chang’s streaming channel can be found at twitch.tv/killernen. The project she’s currently working on with partner Liz Tecca is a web serial called “Body&Shadow,” which she describes as a post-cyberpunk xianxia epic (so ... like, a Chinese costume drama/soap opera with cyberpunk elements).