Drawn together: Local artists offer live, online classes to help community

Essential reporting in volatile times.

Not a Subscriber yet? Click here to take advantage of All access digital limited time offer $5.99 per month EZ Pay.

Interested in Donating? Click #ISupportLocal for more information on supporting local journalism.

It’s not easy to fight an invisible enemy.

But maybe — just maybe — a little color can help.

“When I was younger, art class was all I looked forward to. I would be devastated if that were to be put on hold,” said Jayde Akers, a Charleston-based painter.

Armed with multi-hued pencils and bristled paintbrushes, she is one of several area artists who each came up with roughly the same idea at roughly the same time: why not offer free, online art classes — live and interactive — for anyone feeling the need to scratch a creative itch?

“I used to do paint parties where people colored their pets in all kinds of crazy colors, and they came out really nice. And I thought, ‘Well, they probably don’t have paints lying around the house like I do, but I guarantee they have colored pencils or crayons.’”

Akers created a “Color in Place! Online Coloring Party,” Pet Edition, through her Facebook page, Made By Jayde, instructing anyone who wanted to join in to email her a picture of their pet.

With a shelter-in-place order looming, it was set for Sunday, March 22.

“I will sketch your pet for you to print out and color while we enjoy our time at home,” she wrote, and limited participation to 12 for the first online gathering.

All 12 gathered their materials and followed along online at the appointed time for a free, live lesson.

Among them were 12-year-old Isaac Harris and his sister Ava, 10.

Already, the unexpected vacation had grown old.

“I kind of miss my teacher and my friends at school,” Ava said.

“We actually sent her pictures of our dogs, she drew those out, she emailed them, I printed them out and they colored them all at the same time online with her, and they really enjoyed doing that,” said their mother, Amanda Harris.

“This time of us having to be socially distant from everyone, it’s really good to be able to stay connected with people even if it’s people you don’t know,” she added.

For all of the fear, the expense, the utter inconvenience of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has thrown countless people into a forced staycation minus any of the appealing activities they might have planned, leaving in its wake large gaping blocks of unscripted time and no easy way to fill it.

“We need a little bit of positivity,” Akers said. “Everybody has responded really well.”

Within days, the video of that first class had been viewed more than 2,700 times. She’s added other classes, including, a few days ago, an event titled simply “Baby Yoda and Cupcakes! Online Drawing Party,” for which she posted recipes and photos of cupcakes and invited followers to post their own recipes and make up a batch so they could all eat “together” during class.

“I basically said, ‘Hey, it’s Baby Yoda eating a cupcake, it’s really cute. We can all eat cupcakes and draw together, it’ll be fun,’” she said.

Other artists with similar projects have also seen an eager community, jumping in with both feet.

“I honestly wasn’t really expecting or hoping for any kind of response,” said Ian Bode, who posted printable, original illustrations for painting or coloring — some related to the virus — on his website, ianbodeart.com, and invited Facebook followers to check them out.

“People have been sending me images of them colored. I’ve already gotten requests for some gymnasts and some other stuff, so maybe we’ll just release some of these regularly and I’ll just make a new post every time I add something new to it,” he said.

At Uncork & Create, where in-person painting classes are held multiple times each month — or were, until recently — co-owner Danielle Snidow was mulling over a similar plan.

“It came about because I was thinking, ‘How could we help during this difficult time?’ And I thought, ‘Well, we could actually make our classes live and then people could view them in their homes,’” she said.

“I actually think art is a way of releasing stress so they can be together as a family and also do this activity which releases stress, so it’s just a win-win,” Snidow said.

In the midst of all the concern, the obsessive hand-washing and the near-frantic search for hand sanitizer and toilet paper, laid-off workers and stay-at-home students struggling against the sheer boredom of so many empty days have turned out in droves.

For 8-year-old Chastyn Viars, the live art classes have been a highlight — and a good break for her mom, Melody Viars, who is working from home.

“The first week she heard they were gonna be off school she was all gung ho for it, thinking, ‘Oh, this is gonna be fun doing school at home.’ After the first week she was like, ‘Can we go back to school yet? This isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be,’” Viars said.

The art classes have been engaging and fun, she added, and they’re able to watch the videos on Facebook if they miss a lesson or need to go back over a particular technique.

“Our first video has reached over 7,000 people. We’re doing people all over the country now. Someone asked if it was Central time and I’m like, ‘No, it’s Eastern Standard,’ so you know the word is getting out and it’s going all over the country,” Snidow said.

The response has startled Uncork & Create art instructor Kevin Cunningham.

“It’s really intense, I thought it would just be a few. When I started seeing the numbers it made me kind of nervous,” Cunningham said.

“Our max, when we’re in person, you have 40 at the most. So the thought of being viewed by so many people at once is kind of nerve-wracking but it’s also pretty cool,” he said.

It has been gratifying, said Snidow, to spearhead an effort that clearly is so meaningful to people going through a difficult time.

“A lot of the kids send in pictures of themselves with their finished masterpiece and they just look joyful in that moment,” she said.

“I think being able to provide joy in the moment during this time is really a gift.”

Reach Maria Young at

maria.young@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5115 or follow

@mariapyoung on Twitter.