This year being the year of Covid19, the Sycamoreans’ movements outside the house have been extremely limited. Much of what Harrisburg has to offer has not been available to us. However, we have managed to stay creative in finding activities to do together. Our most common group activity is watching movies in our living room. The couches are especially comfy, so it is the perfect setting to curl up and immerse yourself in a good film.
Lately, we have been on a sci-fi spree. We began with “Inception”, the iconic movie starring Leonardo DeCaprio in the lead role. It is about a group of individuals delving into their subjects’ dreams and implanting ideas in their subconscious. After the viewing, we held a rather in-depth conversation on the nature of reality and the conceptualization of ideas. Another day we watched “Prospect,” notably starring Pedro Pascal. This featured a young girl and her father living in an alternate world in space. They crash on a foreign planet and have to scavenge for gems to buy their way back, all while defending themselves from dangerous mercenaries. It was a low-budget production, but still artistically done. Our latest movie was “Tenet,” hailed as the new take on “Inception” and directed once again by Christopher Nolan. This film is very difficult to summarize. The most I can put to paper is that it explores the concept of time travel and the relationship between the present world and posterity. We were awed by it.
I look forward to these moments with my housemates. It’s a fun way to explore each other’s perspectives, worldviews, and even just taste in movies and shows. The living room, pictured at the top of the post, is a great gathering place and one of our go-to ways of practicing community in this very unconventional service year.
Most of my work seen here so far has been done in graphite or paint. I have also done some other mediums, such as pen and charcoal.
An early charcoal drawing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prince of France in the 13th century. This was done entirely with a charcoal ‘stick’ such as this:
As you can imagine, these are cumbersome tools that are not very precise, and are better used for blocking in shadows and laying down some very rough outlines, but they are poor for detail work. At the time that I made this drawing, I did not have any other tools, so I did the best I could. It has been a while since I have worked with charcoal, but it really does have some benefits over graphite, being less shiny and much easier to create deep contrast on paper with. The disadvantages are that it can be messy and prone to smudging; fixative can only solve the latter issue after the drawing is done.
This is an early pen drawing of “power armor,” which you may be familiar with if you have read any of Robert A. Heinlein’s fiction or any fiction that pays homage to him by using the concept. I don’t work much with pen as a medium these days but I wanted to give it a try some years ago despite obvious reservations about its permanency. Assuming one has some skill, there are actually some advantages to pen as a medium. It can be fairly clean and the contrast is already at its maximum extent, causing the drawing to ‘pop’ from the page early on. It also has a strange psychological effect, pressuring the artist and forcing him to commit to the drawing. If the artist is skilled, the work can actually come out quite well and be done fairly quickly as a result.
The obvious disadvantage to pen drawing is that a single mistake in a particular area (especially one that needs a clear demarcation between a shadow and a highlight) can ruin the entire work. As such, it is best to use subjects that are a bit less delicate.
Mediums can be mixed, too. This drawing of a Nazgûl from The Lord of the Rings makes use of both charcoal and graphite. Although they are similar, I found that graphite can’t quite get as dark as charcoal can, but because of its propensity to shine, it made for an excellent sort of ‘texture’ as the metal of the gauntlets, whereas the charcoal does an excellent job of depicting the folds of the cloth as well as the inky blackness of the void where the wraith’s head would be.
To round out my exploration of different mediums in 2 dimensional art, this drawing is my most recent and was done digitally. Digital mediums are… strange, to say the least, when coming from a traditional background. The tools feel floaty and disconnected, and there’s a lot of abstraction in between the work that one does. It is not really possible with the tools I have to use something as simple as pressure to lighten or darken areas. I can’t use my graphite tortillon or my oil brush to blend values and colors. Instead, I have to rely on tools within the digital program such as air brushes, fill buckets, layers, and so on.
Strange as it feels, there are a lot of distinct advantages to many digital mediums. For example, the use of layers means that I can more finely control what I’m blending. In oil painting, for example, there is a chance that a mistaken stroke can blend things one did not mean to. In digital painting, one can separate things by assigning certain areas or outlines to layers which are untouched by the others.
There are also some automated functions that make the process much easier. For example, the camouflage pattern on the uniform is actually a predesigned pattern that I simply applied over a flat surface that I already drew shadows on to give it depth.
There is also no mess – it’s all digital. As long as one has a power source and the device and a stylus, it’s actually very compact and clean.
There are disadvantages too. As a digital thing, it does not exist in the world itself unless one prints it out, which can be expensive especially with color and larger sizes. The files can be lost if the device gets bricked, so one has to back them up on a cloud service or a hosting website, which then opens it up to the Internet in some capacity. The tools themselves have a steep learning curve and there are a lot of functions I still don’t know about even after the effort of making this drawing. And of course, it’s more time staring at a screen.
Hopefully this little exploration of different mediums has been informative. Thank you for reading!
One of the hardest things for me to do is sit still. From a young age, I have been conditioned to always be moving and learning at a fast pace. If I am not doing something, then I am being lazy. But since graduating and starting the next phase of my life during a pandemic, being still is now part of life. Working from home, quarantining, less interactions with friends, and business closures have thrust me into a daily routine that moves much slower than what I have been used to. With all that being said, I thought I would share my daily routine for those interested in maybe joining the service corps or are just curious about life in the Sycamore House during a pandemic.
It is very hard for me to wake up. If I could sleep till noon, I would.
My favorite spot in the house is a flower chair that sits next to a window in the living room. Every morning, I drink my coffee and eat my breakfast in the chair while looking out at the Susquehanna river. It is such a peaceful and comfy place to start my day.
My placement is with the PA Council of Churches as a political advocacy staffer. My day is filled with zoom meetings, emails, developing projects, and partnering with various non-profits across the state. I typically set up my laptop and work in the living room or bedroom. One of the benefits of working from home, is that you get to wear your pjs most of the day.
My favorite part of the day is having the chance to go to CrossFit 717. I joined the gym over the summer, and it has allowed me to make some close friendships and get fit. The gym is a very important element of my self-care routine and allows me to step away from a screen, release stress, and interact with other people.
In college I sometimes made dinner but had the comfort of a meal plan but since graduating, I have had to learn to cook more on a regular basis. At first I was hesitant, but I have since really enjoyed learning about food and different recipes. My favorite cooking activity is baking treats. You can ask my fellow housemates, it’s not uncommon for me to be making cookies at 10PM.
8PM-11PM: Netflix and Bedtime
Besides the gym, my favorite thing to do is watch tv and movies. I love starting new shows or watching a critically acclaimed film. As a house, we enjoy watching different tv series and movies together. Our last show and movie were The Queen Gambit and Borat.
One of my goals for 2021 is to start going to bed earlier because I have a bad habit of watching Netflix till midnight.
Hopefully, I am asleep by 11PM and getting well rested to start the next day.
With every new year comes a time of reflection. For some this reflection is new and authentic, for most it is a repeated task and habit that signifies another calendar year. Sometimes it is full of regret, sometimes it is full of ambition. Resolutions for a new year have been a long time tradition of many, but more recently there has been a movement towards picking a word to focus on for the year or finding other nontraditional ways of working towards a better self in the new year. Some choose not to do anything, and some try to do too much. There is a balance and a way for everyone to find motivation and hope for a new year, it just may take a little failure to find.
With reflection also comes a vision. By looking back and analyzing the past year, you may find the things that were enjoyable and make a goal to continue those. You can also identify the things that were difficult, harmful, or unpleasant. When it comes to finding a resolution to address those negative aspects of a previous year, the possibilities are endless. You may have a vision for what you want your year to be, but can’t quite land on a way to get there. It can be overwhelming to try and find just one thing to commit to when there are so many ways of improvement on which to focus. For someone like me who tends to overanalyze and sometimes overcommit, the entire month of January can be wasted just trying to land on the perfect resolution.
This year I am letting and encouraging myself to focus on smaller tasks. Although I would love it if I could go to the gym every morning, or make a home cooked meal every night I just know that those things are not going to happen consistently for the next 365 days. Instead, I am going to try to be willing everyday. Willing to go outside, willing to say yes to God’s plan, willing to say no when it’s not right, willing to meet someone new. This past year was one where old habits were altered by the complete change of pace that we all experienced in our day to day lives. Instead of trying to fix one of the many bad habits I formed in 2020, I am going to focus on being willing. With this word in mind, I hope that my days will be filled with more joy and my mind will have more peace. I hope that I will find myself in new places and relationships and also enjoying the slower pace I grew to love in many ways. I hope that I do not get overwhelmed with the idea of being willing, but am able to adopt it into my everyday thoughts and actions.
For the Sycamoreans, this new year is different from the last. The break of the holidays was refreshing and enjoyed, but returning back to the lives we have built here in Harrisburg does not come without challenges. Adjusting to young adulthood, as we all are no matter at what stage, can be strange and hard sometimes. The hype of the new year and excitement for a clean slate can be confusing when you jump back into the same routine as the previous few months. Although the coming of a new year signals a time of transition, the Sycamoreans still have quite a few months left in this year of service and time in Harrisburg. I think that this is almost a point of opportunity though. With the concept of a new start in the year of 2021, we have the opportunity to change our work habits, our home routine, or to improve our functionality in some way before the conclusion of our time here. The state of our country and world is still alarming and brings many challenges, but I hope that with the consistency and return to something familiar we are able to continue to grow through these next few months and be willing to accept the change that may come.
I try to go outside every day, especially now that I’m working from home. So when it snowed, I walked along the river as dusk fell. My housemate Kyle, a native Californian who has rarely seen snow, decided to join me. An intense snowball fight ensued. After we finally called a truce, I noticed how beautiful Harrisburg is on a snowy evening. We are lucky to live along the Susquehanna River, which hasn’t quite frozen over but seemed muted. The bridge was lit up for the Christmas season. The still-falling snowflakes looked lovely against the dark sky. It was freezing, but it was worth it.
The following evening, the house decided to make a snowman. We actually made two snowmen in the schoolyard behind the Sycamore House. The snowmen do have stick antennas, so perhaps “snow creatures” is a more accurate term. I admit I was a bit sleep-deprived at the time, which is perhaps why I kept throwing out weird ideas (such as adding antennas to our snow creatures). Regardless, I’m very proud of our snow creations.
Afterward, the snowball war resumed. Sometimes living in an intentional community means mercilessly hurling snowballs at your housemates, and that’s okay.
My placement this service year is at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School; I teach Social and Emotional Learning. This past week, we transitioned to teaching entirely in a remote setting due to the rising number of Covid cases and growing public health crisis in our region. All students and teachers were working from home and connecting via Zoom calls.
I was anxious to begin teaching virtually, not sure what the dynamics of my all-too-familiar classes would be like anymore. I doubted I would be able to maintain the same rapport with my students and that the relationships I had poured into and nurtured these past months would wither. I feared that the distance would take a toll on all of us very quickly and that the children’s education itself would suffer. There is no denying that virtual learning is tough on students that are used to the structure and support of a classroom day in and day out.
Fortunately, those concerns, for the most part, did not come to fruition. It was a relatively smooth transition and students were very cooperative and gracious as we adjusted to this new reality. There were only a few technical glitches (my volume spontaneously stopped working in the middle of my Kindergarten class and I was talking to silence for a good 15 minutes!). I credit all this to the part-time virtual learning we had already grown familiar with this school year and all my colleague’s tireless efforts in preparing for this transition. Our dean cautioned us that these next few weeks we will experience some “growing pains” as we get accustomed to the new style of teaching, but I feel we are equipped to push through.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad this week; I miss seeing my students and fellow teachers in person. I look forward to the day when we can be together again. In the meantime, I ask for prayers for the school and our country. I hold out hope that this will only be a temporary way of life.
(The picture I included was taken when St. Stephen’s was still operating in-person, and only half of the class was streaming in virtually. However, the photo still illustrates what my workplace looks like now- that is, staring at a screen and seeing into the living room and bedrooms of my students!)
Time for more art! As one can tell, my passion is in portraits:
Kaylee Sharp, a friend of mine from New York. Attention was paid especially to the texture of her scarf and how it would help inform an otherwise very flat set of shapes. I am still rather fond of this one.
This is a live drawing I managed to catch of a friend years ago in community college while she was on her phone. I rarely get chances to do live drawings, mostly because I am not very fast at drawing yet and it is difficult for me to ask someone to sit down for a few hours and not move much.
A portrait of Captain Richard Winters as depicted by Damian Lewis in HBO’s Band of Brothers. This was and still is one of my favorite war serials ever and I found the story of Easy Company captivating enough that I bought Stephen Ambrose’s book on which the show was based on. And of course, drew a study of both a tactically brilliant and ethical Army officer. Learning perspective was important for this one.
One of my first ever paintings, which I did in a high school art class using watercolor. I felt that an exploding volcano was quite striking, yet very different than the usual sunsets and flowers other students did. (I was very much a contrarian at the time – I refused to take Spanish language classes in high school because I considered it too “common,” which is the exact opposite reason why you’d want to learn a language). In retrospect, I did the best on the explosion itself and the clouds in the background, but not quite as well on the lava flow in front, which lacks depth and ambient light on the chunky obsidian floating along.
And to top this all off, this is my latest project completed here at the St. Stephen’s chapter house! (I was graciously given a little room and a tarp to use there). This oil painting on canvas depicts a “Desert Ranger” from post-apocalyptic fiction. Namely: the Wasteland and Fallout series which themselves draw a lot of influence from westerns, post-apocalyptic literature (like A Canticle for Leibowitz), and 1950s Atomic Age culture. This particular painting started as a study but a friend of mine offered to pay for it, so I will be taking it with me to California and dropping it off for him sometime during Christmas week. The writing on the helmet says “Chiropractor,” which is an inside joke between us and something he wanted depicted somewhere.
This past week, the Sycamore House had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving before we all went out different ways for the holidays. The idea for the dinner was quite a spur of the moment and we realized that one cannot cook a full thanksgiving meal in 3 hours without a lot of help. To be efficient as possible, everyone took a job and got to cooking. To mine, and everyone’s surprise, none of the food burned or started a fire, and was perfectly cooked in the three hours. Our dinner was full of happy conversation and laughing over how crazy the past year have been.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to share some things that I am thankful for:
The opportunity to graduate from college in a time when everything felt unsure.
Finding the Sycamore House and being accepted into a nurturing space spiritually, vocationally, and relationally.
Having the opportunity to live with four young adults who share similar experiences and have become close friends.
To live in a house that faces the Susquehanna river, and being in awe of God’s creation every time I look out the window.
Working for the PA Council of Churches and having the ability to help others with my work.
Through the PA Council of Churches, meeting and working with organizations that are doing important work.
This year has been full of curveballs, and at times, I could not see the bright side to the situation, but through God, all things are possible. I am so thankful that we have a God who is steadfast and through every uncertain moment, he has been there. As we come to the end of the year, I know that the next year may not be easier, but I am hopeful and looking forward to what God has in store for us all.
I was accepted to the Sycamore House Service Corps around mid-October, and I moved into the Bigler House last week. I remember going through the motions of filling out the application, then filling out the paperwork, and then preparing to move. Then I got caught up in the process of moving in, getting to know my housemates, and also figuring out how to vote during this crazy election season. Today I began my service placement at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. It hit me that the process of becoming a Service Corps member is over. I did it. I’m here.
Today I helped a little kid make a paper airplane while serving in St. Stephen’s Episcopal School afterschool program. Last week, I enjoyed a Lord of Rings marathon with some housemates. I walked along the Susquehanna River. I explored Capitol Park and found a new favorite coffee shop. I skateboarded on City Island. I wandered through Harrisburg in an attempt to learn my way around. Each of these moments has reminded me that I made it here and that I made the right decision in joining this program.
This past Friday, we were to engage in an act of service. We took this time to volunteer at Kirsten’s farm in Dillsburg. It was a crisp fall day when we arrived on the farm. We were greeted by goats grazing in the grass and turkeys noisily gobbling from their pens. The gardens were bursting with fresh vegetables and rows and rows of corn served as a perimeter around the property. Kirsten welcomed us and expressed her gratitude that we came. Immediately, we went to work.
We tore down old, outdated plastic that had been draped over the greenhouse and then strung up some new, clean sheets. It was certainly a highly coordinated team effort and we were proud of our work once it was completed. I (Chloe) learned how to secure the plastic by tacking a metal rod to the greenhouse walls.
We also dug holes to plant elderberry trees. The trees were only in the beginning growing stages, so they resembled sticks poking out of the ground more than anything else. Kirsten offered for us to adopt an elderberry tree and we would be welcome to come back to witness its development over time.
Kirsten graciously donated some produce to us, a portion of her Community Supported Agriculture stock. We learned that Kirsten and her family are very active and invested in their community and have formed many connections with families in the area.
We ended our time on the farm by feeding and petting the goats. We found them to be fond, affectionate creatures who liked to nuzzle up against you.
Our day was topped off by a trip to Baker’s. With Kelsey having grown up in the area and I having attended Messiah, Baker’s was a staple. The cozy diner was fortunately still serving brunch, so we were able to treat ourselves to omelets, pancakes, and hash browns. It was a delicious meal and wonderful way to conclude our Friday group activity.