Learning New Skills at Home

Homemade baked goods. Knitted scarves and caps. Paintings and sculptures. Terrariums and fairy gardens. Sewn masks, sometimesby the dozen.

Throughout March and April, my social media feeds featured images of the creative ways that friends and family were learning new skills. These posts often included lists of great works created during pandemics, other natural disasters and the Great Depression.

Social media sometimes makes me feel like I’m the least motivated person in my circle of friends. Surely these stories of greatness during a shelter-in-place quarantine were mistaken.

I turned to the internet to fact-check the motivational memes. They were true.
I learned that there was a 1606 epidemic that closed the famous Globe playhouse. According to historians, outbreaks were common throughout William Shakespeare’s life, so it is possible that he did write “King Lear” during the bubonic plague. Victor Hugo, Edvard Munch and Isaac Newton made good use of quarantines. Munch even named his work, roughly translated, “A Self-Portrait During the Spanish Flu.”

And there my friends were, posting their own impressive works. If others could make such clever use of the time, surely my family could do the same.

If you want to try doing, making or creating, there’s a YouTube video on the topic. The service hosts thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of “how-to” videos, ranging from professional productions to quickly shot smartphone clips. A lot of classic television episodes also exist on YouTube, including Bob Ross hosting “The Joy of Painting” and “The French Chef” with Julia Child.

My wife has been trying some of the Bob Ross techniques, painting with our daughters. Happy trees and dancing light are being captured through the eyes of two little girls with watercolor paints. They might like the videos, but we’re not about to let the girls try oils or acrylics for now.

There isn’t a lot of variety in “The Joy of Painting.” Instead of trees and waterfalls, I prefer watching Circle Line Art School and Draw with Jazza, two excellent YouTube channels.
Jazza is Josiah Brooks, a visual artist and musician. The Jazza channel has nearly 900 million views and 5.2 million subscribers. Episodes are 10 to 15 minutes long. Some videos teach an art lesson, while others review art supplies. You don’t need to be an artist to appreciate a comparison of $20 to $820 markers. The videos are quirky, fun and educational.

The 15-minute episode of art created for his son’s birthday was fun and emotional. Quarantined at home, Jazza and MJ dressed as the Mario brothers. They drew dinosaurs and more together. Our daughter also had a family birthday at home. These are difficult times, and that video reminded me how lucky I am to be a father.

Circle Line Art School features serious, detailed drawing lessons. Watching with my daughter, who has a passion and talent for art, we try to follow along. Eight-year-olds might not follow art book directions, but she eagerly follows the video lessons. She loves the optical illusion sketches.

If you have a child who loves Shopkins and likes drawing, then Mei Yu’s food art is a sure hit. My oldest daughter loves the Fun2Draw Kawaii art channel, with its cute animals and food-based characters. Who doesn’t want to draw happy toast and smiling donuts?

Drawing food leads naturally to wanting to prepare food.

One of my friends is baking a new international bread every few days. He finds his inspiration on Pinterest. He’s already an impressive visual artist, and his baking skills look equally exceptional on Instagram. It’s interesting how social media platforms interconnect. He also watches various baking videos.

We also had to try baking. We learned that over time, baking powder loses its magical powers to make quick breads and cakes fluffy.

Food videos on YouTube are plentiful. However, I recommend the Food Network Kitchen app to learn kitchen skills. The Scripps Network owns the Food Network, Cooking Channel and Food.com. The app includes content from all these sources. The app displays recipes alongside the video, a nice touch that makes following along easier than most YouTube videos.

After trying our hands at art and baking, we also decided to learn about music.
For the first time in years, I assembled my clarinet and demonstrated how it works. We began watching video lessons on musical concepts. Few good videos teach about music theory or how to play an instrument. Some of the animated videos are so bad that the girls giggled as arms seemed to separate from the characters.

I love technology, but the virtual world cannot replace everything. I now realize that the girls should get music lessons when that’s possible.

Videos cannot replace the presence of teachers and mentors. Hours of Jazza videos won’t make me a good artist, nor has the Food Network improved my cooking. The videos have helped us connect as a family.

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