When the Covid-19 pandemic originated from Wuhan in China in December 2019 and rapidly spread across the world, life went haywire with borders shut and countries transforming into islands.
For months on end, thousands of people got stranded across the world, separated from their loved ones, while the others were forced to stay and work from home. It took several months for many to be reunited with their families.
When the initial panic wore off and the world realised that the pandemic was in for the long haul, as proven over the past two years, people gradually got used to the precautionary measures. Masks, hand sanitisers and travel restrictions became the norm as a Covid-19 lifestyle eventually evolved, making it the new normal.
The predominantly indoor life also prodded everyone to look for options to maintain their sanity. For many, the disconnect from the routine rush served as an inspiration to rekindle long forgotten talents or learn new skills.
Longtime Doha resident and Indian national Sarah James recalls the initial months of the pandemic as a blend of work from home, intensive gardening, and hours and hours of cross-stitch craft.
"I used to take several completed cross-stitch pieces back home during the summer break to get them mounted and framed. But when Covid-19 prevented the 2020 and 2021 vacation travel, the pieces began to accumulate and after a few months it become sort of frustrating to leave all those creations packed in anticipation of the next trip," she told Community.
It was when the pandemic entered the last quarter of its first year that James knew she had to divert her creative energy elsewhere. "I don't exactly remember how it happened, but I started pencil drawing, which opened the floodgates of memory and took me back to my early days in college.
"While drawing botany and zoology records was a chore for many of my classmates, for some reason I could do it easily and very soon. Many, including my seniors began to request me to draw their records. This was something I enjoyed immensely and the reward would be mostly an ice-cream or a bakery snack.
"But, when I switched academic streams for my undergraduate programme and veered off into humanities, the passion for drawing took a back seat but for occasional doodling during some dull lecture sessions, especially in summer afternoons."
James had forayed into cross-stitch in the early 90s shortly before her marriage. Over the past three decades, she has completed dozens of cross-stitch kits. Though she would not hesitate to begin a new cross-stitch piece once those in the queue are mounted and framed, the self-taught hobby artist believes there is more creative satisfaction from watercolour paintings, her latest passion.
"There is lot of artistic liberty in paintings and watercolour is my favourite, a throwback from the childhood experiments with the basic kit. I try to improvise based on images from the Internet, mostly flowers, and learn bit by bit everyday.
Free hand pencil sketch is the beginning of a watercolour painting
"The initial attempts were disappointing until I realised that the right paper grade is the foundation to begin a good watercolour painting. Then came the learning curve about better quality paints and techniques. Every stroke is a lesson, I feel."
The innumerable YouTube tutorials by professional and self-taught artists from across the world are nothing short of an encylcopaedia for budding artists like James.
"Many of those artists are maestros in their own right and beginners like me have a long way to go. But the satisfaction I glean when I try and at least partially succeed in a technique is beyond words," she said.