Artists picture the pandemic’s silver linings

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(From left) Karin Warden, Sheryl Seltzer, and Hedy Buzan. Photo by Barbara McMurray.

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

With Laguna’s summer art festivals canceled due to COVID-19, local artists have supercharged their creativity to keep their livelihoods afloat.

Laguna Art-A-Fair, the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival, and the Festival of Arts Fine Art Show have all gone virtual with a wide range of artistic offerings for sale online. Returning festival artists accustomed to an annual cycle of working nonstop to prepare for summertime commerce and the exhaustion that follows are sizing up the losses and silver linings brought on by the pandemic.

The community of designers, makers and painters at the Laguna Canyon Artists’ Studios complex at 3251 Laguna Canyon Road continue to ply their art, most making private appointments with collectors while observing sanitization, mask-wearing, and distancing protocols. Others are planning to participate in “Art along the Coast,” a self-guided tour for art lovers at various venues in late August.

Printmaker and painter Sheryl Smith Seltzer, a former Festival of Arts exhibitor, said, “For most of us, making art is both our job and our passion. Our studios are havens for work and thought. The problem is that in a business that is notoriously hard to make a living, the virus has pulled the rug out from under us in terms of selling our wares and broadening our client bases. The biggest change must be for the festival artists, but all of us feel the loss. And yet, we can and do show up and create.”

Seltzer usually makes most of her income teaching individuals and small groups, including children, at her studio.  “The studios in our complex are quieter than usual, mainly because those of us who teach cannot do so safely right now.”

She had planned to offer monotype and woodcut classes at her studio, but those had to be canceled. Instead, she is lending her expertise as an advisor and teacher to an East Coast school that is launching a teaching pod system for grades K-8. She was recently commissioned to paint a local couple’s portrait. Her website, sherylsmithseltzer.com, has produced a few sales of her nature-inspired oil paintings, woodcuts, and prints.

Likewise, printmaker and painter Hedy Buzan, who has 20 years of experience as a Saddleback College adjunct professor teaching two-dimensional design, drawing, printmaking, collage, and color theory courses, had been teaching privately. She had to cancel and refund the fees of four students enrolled in her abstract painting class. Her lecture at an artists’ league in Huntington Beach was scrubbed, as was her teaching gig for LOCA Arts Education at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Buzan has logged 20 years exhibiting at the Festival of Arts and 30 at the Sawdust. Sales from the festivals provided her with a tidy income.

“I can get through this year, but if there are no festivals next year,” said Buzan, “I am going to have to rethink this. Should I make and sell videos? Should I write? Do I need a greater web presence?” In the meantime, she, too, will use the power of the internet to showcase her work at hedybuzan.com.

Jewelry artist Karin Worden makes botanical-inspired jewelry that has generated 80 percent of her annual income for the past five years at the Festival of Arts. For the past five years, she has lived her professional life in what she calls a production loop. Every February, she attends a huge gem show in Tucson, and based on her finds there, builds a collection for her Festival of Arts show.

“I work around the clock until the festival opens and do a year’s worth of retail in two months. I take a break in September, then make some holiday sales out of my studio gallery, and in January, the cycle starts again. However, the silver lining of the festival being canceled is that it’s given me some breathing room.”

She has spent most of 2020 focusing on the creative aspect of her work and has also used the time to retool her website for e-commerce. The result is her botanicalartjewelry.com website, which she decided to rebrand, apart from her name, for a more descriptive handle. The pause allowed her time to write a business plan for a second jewelry line. In the fall, she will unveil her high-end mandala designs inspired by sacred geometry and gemstone lore.

For creative, often introverted individuals, the busy summertime festivals can provide enough human interaction to last them the rest of the year. Now, however, the artists agree that their frequent, outdoor, distanced lunchtimes in the center’s parking lot have been a lifeline, sparing them from isolation.

“Everyone feels the restrictions,” said Worden, “but they have drawn the neighbors together. That aspect is starting to feel very important to me. I appreciate lunchtime.”

Seltzer agreed. “We share support, stories, laughter, gossip, and ideas. For me, this new development is a lifesaver.”

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