Two hundred and five years ago this April* the largest volcanic eruption ever recorded occurred. On that day, Mount Tambora in southern Indonesia blew its top. So much ash was thrown into the atmosphere that global temperatures dropped dramatically. Due in part to that, the following year became known as the year without a summer. Many thousands died as a result.
A happier result was some great art.
Because of the lack of modern day communications in those days, few understood what had or was happening. Besides the record cold, heavy snows, and frequent rain, the sky was often yellow. Sunsets were noticeably dramatic and there was a persistent red fog off the east coast of the United States.
Some speculate that the eruption was the reason many of Turner’s landscapes took on a yellowed hue.
Turner, Chichester Canal.
The weather forced Mary Shelly and Lord Byron, among other writers, to sequester themselves indoors at a villa in Switzerland. To better pass the time, they had a contest to see who could write the scariest story. Shelly’s submission was Frankenstein. Lord Byron wrote Darkness.
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space . . .
Lord Byron, Darkness (1816)
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Study of a Branch (1817).
German artists Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, and brothers Ferdinand and Friedrich Olivier decided to see who could make the most precise drawing of the previous fall’s leaves.
Friedrich or Ferdinand Olivier, Two Withered Leaves (1817).
Outside Your Window
Today, due to the Coronavirus, many are confronted with isolation, boredom, and fear. Some are forced to stay indoors, and all are asked to keep to a safe social distance.
What if, as was the case during the year without a summer, creatives used this time to produce great art? What if you used this time to improve your skill at drawing?
One idea is to spend some time every day drawing something you see outside your window. If your view is limited or uninspiring, choose an item in your fridge or closet. Regardless of the subjects, turn off the TV, computer, and phone. Give your eyes and mind a digital break.
Friedrich Olivier, Shriveled Leaves (1817).
What if you used this time to form a memory drawing habit?
There are countless ideas.
- Purposefully think about the route you take to work or school. Each day draw a different section of that route.
- What does your house or apartment look like from the approach? Don’t look first, but try to draw it from memory.
- If you’ve drawn something outside your window, on the following day try to draw it again from memory.
More formally, find drawings in books that you own and use them as memory drawing subjects. In the beginning, keep to the contours. Do the drawings on tracing paper (if you have some), and try to do them in the same size as your subject. That way you can more easily check your results.
For many, 2020 will be a year without a spring. Be safe.
*This article was written during the 2019 Covid lockdowns.