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It was spring break when Nathaniel Infante, an assistant professor of art studio, heard that all of his classes would be taught remotely for the rest of the semester. He was faced with the same obstacles as his colleagues when the COVID-19 global pandemic started spreading across the globe.

“There are many challenges that come along with remote learning and teaching. Figuring out how to balance being at home and trying to communicate ideas to students remotely is probably the biggest,” he said.

Infante started working at SUNY Potsdam as the art department technician in 2008. Last year, he was hired as an assistant professor of printmaking, a discipline that includes a wide range of processes and techniques to create everything from relief prints from linoleum and wood blocks, to screen prints from a stretched screen mesh. Printmaking relies on inks, rollers, chemicals and presses—none of which are now available to his students.

“I had to make some large adjustments to the way I teach my printmaking and drawing classes for the remainder of the semester,” Infante said. “We received notice that classes would continue through remote learning while we were on spring break and like so many others, I was not able to send students home with any supplies or materials that would have made printing and drawing from home more accessible to students.”

So, he came up with a plan—a daily drawing challenge for his students called “PENdemic.”

Alexa Pfeiffer - graphic design and new media major

Alexa Pfeiffer - graphic design and new media major

Emily Morton '20 - visual arts major

Emily Morton '20 - visual arts major

Angel Sorto '21 - graphic design and new media major

Angel Sorto '21 - graphic design and new media major

Monica Trummer '22 - double major in musical studies and art history

Monica Trummer '22 - double major in musical studies and art history

Marquisha Eason '21 - graphic design and media arts major

Marquisha Eason '21 - graphic design and media arts major

Nate Infante is also contributing to the "PENdemic" project.

Nate Infante is also contributing to the "PENdemic" project.

Infante created a list of daily prompts on Instagram to inspire a shared sense of creativity among his students and the art community. Every day, his students create art based on the theme of the day. Panic, relax, illuminate, toilet paper and fly were the concepts for the first week. From March 23 to May 22, students will continue to create art as part of the “PENdemic” project.

“I chose a variety of prompts that I hoped would provide a creative outlet for our collective situation and an avenue to express our thoughts and emotions in such a troubling and turbulent time,” Infante said.

Inspired by a popular drawing challenge created by Jake Parker called “Inktober,” students use hashtags to share their work. On Instagram, a collection of student artwork is starting to flourish under the hashtag #PotsdamPENdemic. One of those students is Joyce Lau '20, who is pursuing a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design and media arts, with a minor in arts management. She has also turned to video as a form of expressionrecently producing "Clouds" for "PENdemic" as well. 

 

Joyce Lau '20 - "PANdemic" digital illustrations:

Time lapse of Joyce Lau '20 creating a digital illustration from home.

"I'm currently a senior at SUNY Potsdam and because of the pandemic, sadly, I have to end my last year online," Lau said. "'PENdemic' is a way to escape reality; working on these illustrations makes the time go by. This helps me practice my skills and build my portfolio. I love seeing other students participate in 'PENdemic,' it’s a way to express your feelings. It is important for art and content to continue to be created. The arts have always been a focus during times of crisis, and this feels no different."

Beyond the student artists at SUNY Potsdam, the hashtag #PENdemic is creating a global community of artists. “People are posting very elaborate drawings, paintings, digital paintings and poems based on the prompts. One example of how this project has helped create a sense of connection within a wider community comes from a poet in South Africa named Cara Mia Baker. Every day I look forward to reading her poems and searching around to see what others have posted for their “‘PENdemic,’” he said.

Cara Mia Baker Poem

Cara mia

Infante is dealing with the challenges the best he can, and changing his expectations based on the limitations of the times. His students may not be able to create lithographic prints from large blocks of limestone within the walls of Brainerd Hall, but his “PENdemic” project is creating a digital artistic community that is truly extraordinary.

“I think the most important thing under these unique circumstances is to maintain creativity,” Infante said. “My hope is that these prompts encourage students to be creative and communicate through art at a time when art may have the most meaning in our lives.”

Article by Jason Hunter
Top Image by Emily Morton '20