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Lockdown Inspires Outer Banks Students’ Art

The coronavirus stay-at-home order has inspired N.C. State University graphic design student Katy Spore to create artwork such as this coastal scene.

Albert Einstein once said that the monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind. That is the case for many young people across the Outer Banks. With no school to attend or jobs to work, many are starting creative projects to pass the time.

North Carolina State University graphic design student and Outer Banks resident Katy Spore understands the importance of art at a time like this, and what it can mean to people.

“I love to make things that really hit home for people and remind them of a time or place that they hold close to their heart,” she said.

Ryan Seal, assistant manager at Surfin’ Spoon Frozen Yogurt Bar, has felt her desire to create during the pandemic on a deep level.

“It’s something that makes me feel grounded, productive, and accomplished,” she said.

Creativity can serve as a release from moments when you feel overwhelmed, and for many there is nothing better than getting lost in writing a story or painting a sunrise. This expression can come from deep in the creators’ souls, a manifestation of the hopes and desires that cannot otherwise be conveyed. It draws upon a universal range of experiences and emotions.

Recent research suggests that both environment and genetics may affect creativity. If you grow up in a home full of artists, you may be more likely to choose that path later on in life. It worked out that way for Emma Alter, a junior at East Carolina University.

“My mum has always been super creative,” said Alter. “She’s been an interior designer for over 30 years and has worked with costuming. She sews a lot from home. I’ve always looked up to her creative side and ever since I was really little I think I acquired that trait from her.”

Recently, Alter has been sewing on her own. After receiving a sewing machine for her 21st birthday, she picked up the hobby and began spending hours at the machine every day. Looking into the future, she is hoping that it will evolve into something more.

A piece from Emma Alter’s swimsuit collection inspired by the lockdown. Photo: contributed

“I have been working on making a swimsuit line,” she said.

She gushed about her lifelong obsession with bathing suits and admitted to wearing them underneath her work clothes. Unfortunately, she has not had the time to hone this passion while at school.

“I started losing my motivation for becoming a future band director and school was burning me out,” Alter said.

As a music major, she was taking 19 credit hours a semester and was in class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

“Once I came home, I became a lot more motivated to get up early and start on some sewing projects, redecorating my room or filming new YouTube videos.”

This outbreak is not the first time that a pandemic has led to a spike in art. The European Renaissance bolstered the human spirit against the Black Death for 300 years, and the work of both Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare benefited from lockdowns similar to the ones currently in effect around the world.

Before the virus hit, Spore was studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, drawing inspiration from a very different aesthetic than the one in northeastern North Carolina. “I wasn’t designing or creating much at the time because I was trying to soak up every minute I had abroad.”

When she returned to the U.S., Spore spent two weeks quarantined with her brother in Washington, D.C.

“Every day I talked about all of the projects I was going to make once I got back home,” she said.

Once she returned to the Outer Banks, she began making five to 10 projects a day, a variety of crafts within the art category.

“The free time has been really good for me to expand all of my creative skills,” she said.

Spore began making graphics both as a fun activity and a way to strengthen her Adobe software skills, and it did not take long for her art to make its way around the Outer Banks. She was pleasantly surprised when her bosses at Duck’s Cottage Coffee & Books approached her about selling some in the store.

“I realized I might really have something special in my hands,” she said. “So that’s when I approached SeaGreen Gallery about selling them and they said yes. Since then they have been very successful there.”

An example of Ryan Seal’s artwork created during the pandemic.

Recently, her projects have taken on a new form.

“I have been creating a graphic illustration series that highlights every town on the Outer Banks and some of my favorite things in that town,” she said. “I have also been working on collages made out of vintage photos of the Outer Banks.”

Living in such a beautiful environment has led many, including Seal, to draw inspiration from the island itself.

“Bright colors — think sunset or sunrise — inspire me the most,” she said. “Especially blues that remind me of the ocean.”

Pouring time and energy into art has proven to be a comfort for Seal during the lockdown. She has been working on paintings, sketches and even songs depending on how she is feeling on any given day.

“Painting or drawing is more of a mindless task so I’m usually drawn to that after work to decompress,” she said. “If I’ve had a slower-paced day or have lots of anxious thoughts, I usually process it through writing.”

Artwork boasting hope for the future and bright colors amid a sea of darkness reminds us to see the beauty in the difficult, she said.

Spending more time with family and rediscovering passions are just some of the positive outcomes that this time at home has allowed young people to experience. Creativity is blossoming in the monotonous, and simply having the time to rest and recharge allows students more space to breathe, to imagine.

“I’m thankful for time to get back to the things that truly set my soul on fire and not just living the mundane to aspire to the ‘American dream,’” Seal said. “There is so much more to life that I think we’ve all been missing out on because we haven’t been tending to those areas of our soul.”

About the Author

Chloe E. Williams

Chloe E. Williams, a resident of the Outer Banks for more than 10 years, is a senior at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studying creative writing and Southern studies. She has worked as features editor for Coulture magazine at UNC and her credits as a freelancer and editorial intern include the North Beach Sun of Kill Devil Hills, Heart of NC Weddings of Durham and Cent Magazine of London. She enjoys historical fiction and dark chocolate.