Vermont Arts Council

Art in the Time of Covid: Gin Ferrara

In the weeks leading up to the pandemic, Gin Ferrara of South Burlington was already practicing for the isolation we would all soon enter. Recovering from a serious head injury at home, she developed a daily drawing practice, a creative routine that would continue to anchor her when she emerged from recovery only to retreat back into lockdown.

As the pandemic progressed, Gin’s daily practice grew from drawing to include inking and then painting. She began sharing her artwork with friends and, savvy to digital means of connection, with a wider community through the online communication platform Discord. Gin’s daily practice became so integral a part of her life that she realized she needed more for space for it, so she applied for and was awarded an FY22 Artist Development Grant to support the cost of renting an art studio. In her grant application, Gin described herself as, “an artist both returning to my craft and finding my visual language for the first time.”

A green square with the text, "I'm learning how to work with what I have and do my best to make a positive impact as a person and an artist. Part of that means being honest about what is challenging and supporting each other.

Prior to this drawing practice, Gin mostly used her creativity for her work in community education and communications, helping young people and nonprofits tell their stories through video and media. She is currently the community engagement manager for the Media Factory in Burlington, where she does outreach, designs curricula, teaches workshops, and even helps organize community arts projects like Crowdsourced Cinema VT, in which Vermonters all across the state remake scenes from a feature film (2021’s film was Jurassic Park).

Gin shared her thoughts on art in the time of Covid.

How has the pandemic challenged your creative practice and/or business?

My personal pandemic experience began a couple of months before the state lockdown when I suffered a serious head injury. I was home recuperating for a few weeks, and most days passed in a blur. The only thing I managed to do each day was take a photo of myself and then draw over it on my iPad (using the app Paper by FiftyThree). This daily drawing practice was a little spark that kept me going. 

I was only really out in the world for a couple of weeks before the lockdown – in many ways I already had practice at staying home. Daily drawings were a way to mark time, express frustration, and connect with people. Eventually themes emerged, and I found a new visual style, drawing characters with wide open eyes, often wearing face masks. They take everything in and also have a shield up, keeping their distance. 

When the weather warmed up, I started drawing and painting outdoors (to be honest, it was the only space I had to work), and I began to work larger. That’s when I realized that my art practice was not just daily therapy, but an integral part of who I am and have always been.

An image of busting milkweed plants held by a person whose head is off camera.
One of Gin’s milkweed-inspired pieces.

How have you found strength or support since the pandemic began?

Beyond my daily artmaking, I became much more connected to my environment, spending much of my time year-round going for walks with friends and family, or solo. On one of these hikes I first had a really powerful encounter with milkweed plants bursting with seeds, which are now one of my major inspirations. In the winter I cross-country ski in the Intervale with a friend or two weekly. I’m known for stopping mid-ski to take photos of the snow, the sky, the silhouettes of plants. I am also part of a group of women who get together once a month or so, generally in person around a fire – those gatherings are so important, but very weather dependent!

Last winter I also got into connecting online with Discord–creating one server to play games and chat with family and friends, and another to share art challenges like Inktober and Adobe Illustrator daily projects. I’ve stayed connected to people by having multiple tools for interaction–as a verbal processor I NEED to talk to people for my emotional and mental health as much as I need to create on my own.

Sharing my art online and at local shows has been really exciting as well. I’ve met some great people, reconnected with old friends, learned more about the local art community, and gained confidence in my work being appreciated by others.

What are your plans or hopes for the future?

Gin Ferrara standing in a gallery room with a wall of small pieces of artwork behind her.
Gin at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery’s Small Works exhibition. Photo by Joey Palumbo.

Initially I had a really hard time thinking ahead–life seemed too unpredictable. Getting a grant from the Vermont Arts Council to support having a studio outside of my home has been a tremendous help in imagining a future. Play is a big part of how I learn, and having my own studio space to play has been HUGE. I can explore new ideas, revisit old ones, and put all my work up on the walls to see where I’ve been and decide where I’m going.

Since moving into the studio in October, each month I have planned a community engagement project or limited edition art sale–in November I did a fundraiser for a local youth space, in December I held two open studios. I’m really interested in taking my daily drawings (also called tinysketches) and doing a Postbox Love project, sending tiny sketches to people in the early part of the year, from one person to another. It’s like valentines, only for showing love and care beyond romantic relationships.

To be honest, I actually hate mailing packages, but have been getting better at it, and I know how amazing it is to receive something in the mail, especially now. I like the idea of being an ambassador to help people connect and feel good. I see it as part performance, part traditional drawing and painting.

What are some ways people can support your work right now?

Ironically, since my day job is community engagement, I haven’t found the motivation to set up a website. Folks can follow me on Instagram at @ginferrart or purchase my limited edition work at my Etsy shop: I’m currently working on a mailing list to share news, ideas, and inspirations monthly. Interested people can sign up for that here.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Regarding the pandemic: I’m not a fan of the “everything happens for a reason” way of thinking. Hard things happen, and if we are lucky to live long enough, hard things happen a lot. That said, I am a fan of Tolkien’s line for Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” I’m learning how to work with what I have and do my best to make a positive impact as a person and an artist. Part of that means being honest about what is challenging and supporting each other. Pretending that the pandemic isn’t an incredibly traumatic experience for most people is really denying our shared lived experience. The way forward needs to make room for grief and care. I’m optimistic about the future as long as we keep being real.

View Gin’s ongoing portfolio on Behance.
Visit Gin’s Etsy shop.
Sign up for Gin’s mailing list.
Follow Gin on Instagram.