Monday, April 13, 2020

Guest Artist: Karen Colson, & "The Lost Continent of Quarantine" Sketch

My friend Karen Colson from Carlsbad, California, has been sheltering in place for the past month, like the rest of us, and documenting her experiences on the pages of her sketchbook journal. I first met Karen during my Tuscany workshop in 2016, and she's one of my favorite artists. I love her style and color choices, but most of all, I appreciate her insight and the passion she brings to her work. She has a unique take on life, and her sketches always open my eyes to a different way of looking at the world.

When I saw Karen's most recent sketch, I knew it needed to be shared with a wider audience, so I invited her to be a guest Everyday Artist and tell us about what inspired her to create this incredible sketch and what her process was.

The Lost Continent of Quarantine 
Artwork and commentary by Karen Colson

When Leslie asked me if I would be willing to share my page and process, I was thrilled!

In this time of corona virus, we are all coping in so many ways, with so many stressors. We may have different reactions to things, but each feeling and experience is valid and valuable. Working on this page helped me to get my thoughts and feelings out of my head and body, and on to the page. I felt a lightening of my spirit when I finished the sketch. I hope that if you decide to try something similar, it will provide to you a respite from all the bad news.

Click to enlarge & see all the details of the Continent of Quarantine

The original idea was sparked by something I saw online, where someone had "mind-mapped” their experience of dealing with general anxiety. That idea inspired me to do something similar. I wanted to focus my “map” on the lockdown, and thus “The Lost Continent of Quarantine” was found!

1. First, I spent a couple of days brainstorming. I made a list of geographical terms, some on land, some off shore, which I could illustrate on a map. (such as lake, bay, river, forest, island, fog, etc.)

2. Then, I made of list of phrases and words related to my experience going through this strange time in lockdown. (fear, gratitude, frustration, solitude, creativity, etc.)

In hindsight, I think this step was particularly helpful for unloading some stress and tension that had been building inside me. Even when it is lurking around at an unconscious level, it is still taking a toll. For me, I have been experiencing a mix of positive and negative feelings, like a roller coaster.  I was feeling challenged to understand the ups and downs, not knowing what the next day will bring. Many of these things didn’t end up on my map, but that really doesn’t matter. Something about naming them and writing them down felt like a good session of self care to me.

3. Next, I started a new list, matching up geographical terms with my experience words and phrases. No rules here, I just played with what combinations seemed to fit together, to create an image.

4. Next, I needed to figure out what icons might simply communicate these image ideas.

The first one I settled on was the “Caldera of Cancelled Trips” because of all the travel I had been looking forward to in the next few months, which has necessarily been cancelled. I chose a suitcase, a passport, and an airplane symbol, falling into the caldera, to represent that idea.

My “Fence of Forbidden Places” is very significant to me. Personally, I depend on my hikes and walks in open spaces, connecting with nature, as my daily grounding. It is like food and water to my soul. I am having trouble adjusting to the closing of all those spaces here in California. For my map, I needed a way to visually represent that concept, and so the fence,  blocking symbols of nature,  evolved.

I decided on a compass rose design that is the virus itself… to symbolize it spreading in all directions on earth.

5. Once I had several of these image ideas worked out, I roughly pencil sketched my “continent” to fill the page, and began carving out its edges to accommodate bays, coves, islands, etc., that were on my idea list. Then I worked on placing the icon ideas that are on land, such as river, pond, abyss, caldera, etc.

6. When I knew it was all going to fit, I could begin to ink and color the page. I began with watercoloring the bodies of water and icons on land. I then stopped, took a photo and printed it out.  I could then practice in pencil on the copy, adding the lettering for the location names. This allowed me to adjust word placement, so that I could make everything fit and look balanced before committing to ink on the sketchbook page.

Early stage of the painting process

7. Once I was satisfied with word placement, I painted a loose watercolor wash of greens and ochres on the land masses, and, when dry, finished up with lettering the words.

Completed sketch

We are all sharing this strange new world together, yet we all may experience such different things. Leslie and I would love to see how your “world” looks and feels to you, and I hope that this explanation of my process can be of help you, if you decide to give this project a try.

Wishing you peace and good health,
Karen Colson

Karen's sketch was done in a 5.5" x 8.5" Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook. She did the initial layout with a pencil then painted it using mostly Daniel Smith watercolors. A variety of brushes were used - pointed rounds for details, and 1/2" flat for washes. Sketches were outlined with Platinum Carbon waterproof black ink and a Platinum Carbon fountain pen with EF nib. For the lettering, she used a dip pen and Rohrer & Klingner Sketch Ink (“Thea"-dark grey).


  1. How delightful, not to mention therapeutic. It's so very clever -- Thanks, Leslie, for inviting Karen to share this!

    1. I'm so glad she agreed to share her process. It makes it sound doable, doesn't it?

  2. What a fabulous piece!! Thanks for hosting her page- this was truly wonderful to see! And inspiring- both of you!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Roxanne. I figured it would inspire my readers as much as it did me. So creative!

  3. I love the variety of healthy ways to express life and feelings about life at this time. What strikes me the most is how much we all have in common. I think it is important to share that we are all having our ups and downs and to present healthy ways to deal with it. Thank you, Leslie, for this wonderful post.

  4. What a wonderful way of helping yourself and others deal with all that this "phase" of our lives entails!

  5. Leslie, it was such a great idea to host Karen as a guest artist. This sketchbook page reveals so much about Karen's struggles but I could identify with every one. This page sorts it out for us all. So very well done.


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