Amid COVID-19, students find calm through crafting

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Finished paint-by-numbers design of a geometric deer. April 8, 2020. Photo courtesy of Alison Hwang.

With stay-at-home orders in place across the country and in-person classes at Occidental canceled, some students, such as Alison Hwang (first year), Lennon Kuzniar (first year) and Emma Denend (first year) turned to crafting as a way to seek solace amid the uncertain times of COVID-19. Hwang turned to paint-by-number designs to work around the challenge of limited space at home. According to Kuzniar, a positive side to staying at home is having more time to work on artistic endeavors than she did when she was living at school. Denend said she now has more space to create art than she did in her triple dorm room, and she has taken on a variety of projects since going home, including jewelry-making. Crafting has become a way for people everywhere — not just Occidental students — to stay busy during this time.

Hwang said she has been filling in paint-by-number kits she ordered from Amazon. According to Hwang, her first piece, a geometric deer design, took her about a week to complete. She said the pack she ordered came with all the supplies she needed, including paints, brushes and a canvas.

“Before [COVID-19] I would dance, but because it’s so hard to dance when you’re stuck at home, even with online dance classes, I felt like I needed another way to — not distract myself — but give myself something to enjoy and to express myself artistically,” Hwang said.

Hwang, who is a member of the Occidental Dance Team and was a choreographer for Dance Production this year, said the paint-by-numbers have been another outlet for creative expression while she is unable to dance.

Kuzniar said she decided to make ninety paper hearts, arranged into eight color-coordinated panels, to hang above her bed during California’s shelter-in-place order. According to Kuzniar, the entire process took her about a week and a half. She said she was inspired by her younger sister, who had made a collage from origami paper. According to Kuzniar, she decided to make the panels out of hearts because she finds the shape aesthetically pleasing.

Eight color palettes of origami hearts before their assembly. April 7, 2020. Photo courtesy of Lennon Kuzniar.

Kuzniar said she has started crafts in the past but was deterred because of her busy schedule or a project becoming too complicated. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she said it is easier to stay focused. Kuzniar said she liked creating the heart collage project because it is easy to do something creative while enjoying other things.

“I really like that it’s somewhat mindless. I can do it while I listen to music or watch one of my favorite movies. It’s something I do to keep myself busy,” Kuzniar said. “But my favorite part was planning the design itself. I really like planning things and I like to organize, so it was kind of a treat for my brain.”

Denend has taken up a variety of projects, from sewing a dress to painting with watercolors and making old toys into earrings. In order to make the earrings, Denend said she heats up a needle and pokes a hole into the top of the toy she is using. Next, she inserts a small screw with a loop on top. She then attaches a hook to the loop, creating dangling earrings.

“You’ll notice my earrings are currently two [Nintendo] D.S. cartridges of the game ‘Nintendogs,’” Denend said.

Earrings made out of various childhood toys. April 11, 2020. Photo courtesy of Emma Denend.

Denend said she has always been drawn toward crafts. In fact, during spring break, she was already thinking about making a dress or quilt. Then, after classes moved online and Denend returned home, she turned toward crafting to occupy her time.

“There’s a lot happening right now, and it all can become very overwhelming if you let it absorb your whole day. It feels really, really hopeless and really, really scary,” Denend said. “And so I think what crafting has done is take away the necessity to fill my day with the scary stuff and really hard stuff that’s going on, and make it into something that’s more positive for me overall.”

Hwang, similarly, said crafting is a positive part of her day, away from the electronics she is required to be on for class and homework. Although there is no recommended number of hours of screen time for adults, the negative effects of excessive screen time include eye strain, insomnia and neck, shoulder and back pain, according to Scripps Health. The article also recommends standing up and stretching every hour, paying attention to posture and looking away from the screen every twenty minutes.

According to Denend, challenges persist in this uncertain time, and the hardest part of her experience has been seeing the way the pandemic impacts those who are still working and risking their lives for others.

“These people have always been essential workers. These people have always been the backbone of our society,” Denend said. “But watching that realization be contingent on them risking their lives for the rest of us has been really heavy.”

A display of watercolor paintings created by Emma Denend (first year). April 11, 2020. Photo coutesy of Emma Denend.

Kuzniar said she has found it valuable to reflect on things to be grateful for. Denend shared a similar sentiment, saying she has realized who genuinely cares, such as professors, family and friends.

Although things are continually changing as COVID-19 infection rates grow, Hwang said finding small joys every day, such as making crafts, is what gets her through this challenging time.

“I think it’s good to laugh every day. Find a reason to laugh. Find a reason to smile. It really helps me to get through, enjoying the little things,” Hwang said.

Kuzniar said the best part of her design was planning and working towards an end goal: a beautiful collage to hang above her bed. Denend now wears her newly-made earrings to her online classes, displaying her crafts for her classmates to see. According to Hwang, having time away from screens helps her relax during these turbulent times.

“Just sitting there and being able to paint and have my music on by the window, it’s just really calming,” Hwang said. “For a moment, it doesn’t feel like anything’s changed.”