There is a way to be "normal" now...see for yourself!


Maria Mariottini and Doug Wood are overlooking the work of two students: Maria Stone and Joe Vallee*

During the COVID-19 pandemic the daily questions we all face is "when will normal return" and "what can be we do today?"

We all benefit from being outside, taking part in a creative and educational activity, feeling a part of a community and experiencing all this in a "safe" social distanced environment. But, finding such an activity or experience is not easy.

According to The Conversation US, "In a recent article, we showed that greenspace programmes are successful in improving mental health due to seven interacting factors:

  • feeling of escape and getting away
  • having space to reflect
  • physical activity
  • learning to deal with things
  • having a purpose
  • relationships with programme leaders
  • shared social experiences

"Using these components we created a new framework for greenspace programmes for mental health that showed exactly how positive outcomes can be best achieved."


Patricia Sticha and the other students begin each class by creating and filling in a grid with a different design in each square*

Creating the Class
Bucktown resident Maria Mariottini, with a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, is committed to the value of arts and community and had an idea to address the here and now of the COVID challenges.

Producer of the Bucktown Arts Fest for 20 years and working to complete her Masters in Educating Adults, Mariottini and Doug Wood got together to create something to address the challenges of the time.

Wood, the primary designer of the gardens and the Coordinator of the Wicker Park CREATE Series, and Mariottini laid out a syllabus and marketing plan for "The Garden As Inspiration," an outdoor art class at the Wicker Park Gardens.

Addressing the seven factors discussed by The Conversation US article, the class's added bonus is that it is bringing some funding into Wicker Park Gardens. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the Garden's spring fundraising plant sale to be canceled.

The Class
The 8-week drawing class explores the forms and textures in the 10,000 square feet of the Wicker Park Gardens located in Wicker Park at 1425 N. Damen Ave.


Wood answers questions from Trevor Grant and Katherine Nicholl during the third assignment in one class*

The first session was an introduction and tour of the gardens led by Wood. Students were guided to view the garden from a designer’s perspective: groupings, textures, color scheme, and height were pointed out as starting points to develop a keener eye for seeing the backbone of the gardens. (See Graphic)

Each following session focuses on encouraging students to expand their skill in seeing and drawing.

"The exercises we practice help us learn to draw better. They also engage our senses and open our eyes, to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the gardens. In every class, I relearn the garden. It is an endless resource for visual delight and visual learning," says instructor Mariottini.

The materials for this class are a basic blank notebook and pencils and/or charcoal. The students goals are to fill their notebook with observations that will fuel ideas and aspiration for their development as an artist.


Students share their work and discuss different approaches*

The class progresses through various drawing techniques, such as contour drawing, gesture drawing, looking at positive and negative space and "upside down" drawing.

Each week, students begin with a quick drawing exercise then proceed to focus on one element of the garden employing a different drawing technique. They sit by the garden and experiment, drawing with the technique focused on for that week.


With a wide range of skills, all students engage in each assignment as do  David Kats, Caitlin Costello and Leah Root **

Student Reactions
The 10 masked, social-distancing students appear to be thoroughly enjoying their class of escapism and learning about observation, reflection, physical activity, learning new things, having a purpose, having relations with others and sharing social experiences.

"Every Monday evening, I look forward to taking the "Garden as Inspiration" art class at Wicker Park. The art class uses the 10,000 sq. ft. of meticulously groomed gardens as both a backdrop and point of study for the nature drawings we create," says Claribel Rodriguez, student in the class and Wicker Park Supervisor.

"Doug Wood, volunteer master gardener and designer, and Maria Mariottini, art instructor, created a delightful educational program which allows students to learn about the plant genus and species while practicing different drawing techniques.

"My favorite part of the class is understanding how paying attention to detail and challenging myself to draw the intricate details of leaves translate into beautiful artwork!"

"The WP drawing class is a bright spot in a chaotic summer," says Leah Root, Wicker Park Resident and former President of Wicker Park Committee.

"The class relaxes your mind and the garden setting is unbelievably beautiful. I always feel peaceful and happy when I leave the class. Learning to draw is an added bonus."


Panoramic view of the garden along Damen Ave. with students dispersed along its edge***

Photo credits: *Elaine Coorens, **Maria Mariottini and ***Doug Wood



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