Wednesday 28 April 2021

My year of COVID, drawing and London

[By James Hobbs in London.] The drawings in any sketchbook inevitably tell a story of the artist who drew them. They say where we were and when, and perhaps who we were with, and as much other narrative content as we care to give away. But looking back at my sketchbooks from 2020 I realise that it is the long gaps when I did not draw that were a large part of the story of my year. 

Between the end of March 2020, when I posted the view from our front window as lockdown started (top image), and the start of May, I barely drew at all as I succumbed to the virus. I had no energy to think about drawing: my focus was simply on breathing and getting through. By the end of April I picked up the sketchbook again, but the false dawns of recovery that are typical of Long Covid meant the extended gaps between drawings lasted through the summer and into autumn. 

Views from my isolation bed and out of the window came first, and later, when some strength had returned, I drew from the top of the house (above) and in the park at the end of the road. It’s odd to remember just how exciting and triumphal it was to walk to and draw somewhere so familiar and close at hand.

As time when on and fitness grew my subjects expanded: we went camping for a few days when lockdown eased, and later I drew a series on the vast unfinished construction sites of offices in London and pondered whether they would ever be fully utilised in a new age of working from home. (Above, 21 Moorfields, being built over the Moorfields rail and tube stations.)

Medical visits, to donate convalescent plasma (at Westfield shopping centre, Stratford, above), or to undergo scans and tests, provided more opportunities and subjects to draw. It was not as if these were the most exciting subjects, but it felt as if drawing them and marking them in my sketchbook played a part of my glacial creep to recovery from the virus.  

As part of my recovery I took to cycling into the largely deserted City of London to experience it during its silent days (above, Threadneedle Street on a Tuesday afternoon, and below, Bank). Even in the middle of a working day its pavements and streets were calm and quiet. One day in broad daylight I followed a fox as it trotted down the middle of a street close to St Paul’s. 

During this time I have connected with the city in a way I haven’t before. I have felt – ridiculously – as if I have had it to myself, despite the security staff, other essential workers and skateboarders who stayed on. The empty, gleaming towers and echoing historic backstreets were all mine for a bit. Now I can see it coming back to life post-lockdown, I am mildly resentful at having to share it with other people as normality returns. 

I’m glad to say that last weekend I met with some fellow artists to draw together in central London for the first time since 2019. My health is much better, thank you, and there’s lots to be positive about and look forward to in the coming months. Drawing has helped me through this past year, so I’m looking forward to meeting the wider Urban Sketchers group in a joyous London face-to-face reunion – when the time is right. 

There’s more about my Long Covid recovery on my website. And see more of my images on Instagram