Thursday, March 25, 2021

Essential Workers


3/21/21 Life Drawing+ organizer and host Agata wears a big straw hat to talk about the
challenges of offering online life drawing. (5 minutes)
For many years, Life Drawing+ offered open sessions and classes with live models in a traditional Manchester, England, life drawing studio. When the pandemic closed the studio, organizer Agata wasted no time in moving the models to what may have been the first life-drawing program on Zoom: It began only a week after the UK’s lockdown a year ago. While life drawing online has become commonplace during the past year, the Life Drawing+ program is still the most innovative and creative that I have participated in. Some of my favorite sessions have included dramatic lighting, a lesbian couple, and a drag queen with elaborate accessories.

To commemorate the weekly program’s first anniversary, Agata presented a variety of first responders and other essential workers from the UK. Instead of modeling in the traditional sense, they were interviewed by Agata about how the pandemic has profoundly affected their lives and livelihoods. They dressed in uniforms or held props of their trades as they told stories of courage and resilience.  

First up was Agata herself (above), who talked about the challenge of helping models continue to earn a living by putting them on Zoom instead of up on a studio platform. How much easier it was, Agata said, to simply invite artists to come to the studio instead of having to remotely teach models how to use video in the best ways possible.

Amanda is a volunteer at a vaccination site. Wearing a high-visibility neon green vest, she talked about how she reassures vaccine recipients and makes sure they wait at the facility the required 15 minutes after vaccination in case of an allergic reaction.  

Amanda, vaccination site volunteer (5 minutes)

Alan, who normally delivers produce to restaurants and stores, suddenly found himself many times busier once the pandemic hit. Suddenly food became difficult to buy in stores, so individuals began calling him to deliver produce directly. He said he appreciates the contact with customers, many of whom are shut-ins who have told him, “You are literally keeping me alive.”

Alan, food distribution (10 minutes)

Organic farmer Lindsay also found herself much busier when the pandemic hit. A seller at a farmers’ market, she had initially panicked when the market was closed, but then she started receiving “a hundred emails a day” from customers asking if she could deliver produce directly. When they couldn’t buy produce easily from stores or markets as they had in the past, they became more aware of where their food comes from.

Lindsay, organic farmer (15 minutes)

Helen, a teacher, had to face the enormous challenges of learning how to teach teenagers online. She talked about how difficult it is for young people to have only their families for company and not to have social interactions with peers.

Helen, middle-school teacher (15 minutes)

Unlike food producers and distributors who suddenly found themselves in greater demand, Steve, an emergency room nurse, had the opposite experience. He said that some people who needed urgent medical care became hesitant to seek help because they were afraid of catching COVID at the hospital. Part of his work has been to educate patients about how they still need to take care of themselves and seek medical attention if they need it.

Steve, emergency nurse (5 minutes)

An art director, Alan found many of his income sources drying up. To supplement his dwindling income, he became a parcel courier (my impression was that the retail service he worked for was similar to Amazon). As retail customers began buying more and more products online, the need for couriers expanded rapidly. Paid by the parcel, not the hour, he had to learn very quickly how to make deliveries at a fast pace. He eventually came to enjoy some aspects of the job, such as the relative flexibility and the small interactions he has with customers.

Alan, courier (15 minutes)

A surprising “model” in the session was Elizabeth, who designs and builds bicycles. She has built more than 50 bikes. Her small business has boomed during the pandemic. In addition to the many commuters who started bicycling to avoid public transportation, others sought the “liberation” biking provided – fresh air, an opportunity for fitness, feeling free when so much of life felt oppressive.

Elizabeth, bike maker (15 minutes)

The last “model” of the session was Elaine, a microbiologist working in the field of infection prevention and control and specializing in children. She chose to hold a COVID testing swab as her prop because it best represented what she has been studying the past year – and she has tested herself numerous times. Part of her work has been to figure out how to conduct COVID testing in countries that may not have reliable access to electricity, computers or other technology. Elaine also talked about the false impression many have that children do not catch COVID easily or that they don’t have symptoms. In fact, although not many children die of COVID, many do suffer serious, long-term consequences.  

Elaine, microbiologist (15 minutes)

This session was probably the most meaningful sketching I have done during the pandemic. I was moved by their stories and felt honored to sketch them in recognition of the work they do so that people like me can stay safely at home. And many thanks to Agata for making it possible for artists around the world to draw them and hear their stories.

Proceeds from this session, which are normally paid to the model, are being donated to two international charities nominated and selected by the essential workers and the artists who participated.


  1. I love your sensitive sketches of each of them and the way you wrote about the effect the pandemic had on each of them. This is very special.

    1. It felt very special to me, too. I've been very privileged to be able to stay safely at home while others risk their lives every day on my behalf, and this felt like a way to honor and thank all essential workers.

  2. Thank you for this post. I appreciate your insightful sketches and commentary.


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