Back in April, when sourdough starters and watercolors ate up our Instagram feeds, and the most fortunate of us still felt like we were killing a few weeks at home, hobbies were a way to fill time. Seemingly everyone bought dried beans and guitars. Anyone with a needle and thread was jumping in to fill the holes left by a national mask shortage.
The backlash, of course, was swift and fierce: plenty of people were so paralyzed by fear and stress that putting brush to canvas felt like an unthinkably Sisyphean task. Not to mention, hobbies were for the privileged. “Stop Trying to Be Productive,” instructed the New York Times. Somewhere between Tiger King and The Vow, quarantine stretched into a semi-permanent state of reality, and the hobby talk died down. Picking up a new creative pastime already feels like a sort of relic from the halcyon days of 2020.
But some people did start new projects, and kept at them. It’s no secret that pursuing a challenging activity that’s not what you do for work promises all kinds of psychological benefits. And the conditions of our current reality still might make hobbies a promising source of well-being—the pandemic is still with us; scanning the news of the day is still a recipe for a firmly clenched jaw. So GQ talked to five creative people who stuck with their pandemic hobbies to find out what they’re still getting out of it.
I watch a lot of movies, and starting in March I wanted to be doing something while watching a movie that wasn’t so active that I couldn’t still focus on the movie. Painting was a good way for me to just sit here making small movements while having the movie in my vision. I had a tiny little easel and acrylic paint set I got for Christmas a few years ago. There’s this wizard on a wall in my neighborhood that I’m very obsessed with, and someone had vandalized it, so I joked that I would make a new one. I did a little tracing and just went for it. Then I realized how easy it is to paint over mistakes, so I decided to get a little more abstract. I had all these other canvas panels, so I asked friends what I should paint and got a lot of suggestions. Eventually I had made enough that I decided this was something that was fun and I felt confident about, so I made it my go-to present for friends’ birthdays. I didn’t want it to become another thing that I’m doing for the internet, so now it’s this really lovely thing to make something that I can deliver to someone else and have this moment of connection with them.
Eventually I needed more paint, so I bought a very cheap set that I didn’t really like, and someone slid into my DMs and was, like, “This paint sucks!” They gave me advice about which ones are the best but expensive ones, which are the intermediates, which are the worst ones that are still acceptable. I got some Liquitex-heavy and Blick artist’s acrylics and used them for that ACAB painting and was very much, like, These are the real deal for sure. I’m always very excited to learn by doing, so getting to see the difference in the paints and recognizing what makes good paint and bad paint was very fun for me. I could’ve very easily just read up on it, but getting to see it for myself was very helpful.