Lauren Simkin Berke's Workspace

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday March 10, 2021

I began teaching in the MFA in Illustration program at FIT this past spring, so my late winter and early spring was already a test in a much changed schedule. In mid-March, in one week, I had to create a shared digital space that my students could access. I needed to learn how to use video conferencing tools, how to create video demonstrations, and adjust curriculum to accommodate various limitations based on what tools and materials students had access to. Teaching one class went from being a part time job to unofficially becoming a full time job, and I barely had time to eat and sleep, let alone work on personal projects

I am a solitary person, and the isolation other people were experiencing as new was very close to my pre-pandemic normal, though anxiety related to things as simple as grocery shopping was certainly new, and being afraid of the air is not a reality I had previously imagined. It is fair to say that when everyone was newly in their homes all day, every day, the biggest change for me was that my neighbors were home all the time as well. I had been used to the quiet that comes from everyone else going to their offices.

Over the summer I had time to start developing several book projects, which I am in the process of trying to find publishers for. It's hard to know how different the timing of all of this might have been if we were not in a pandemic. My first picture book, Were I Not a Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry came out this past October, and I am hoping there will be more picture books in my future.

This fall, while working on potential projects for this and next spring, I started a series called "Travelogue" [left] which has continued over the past few months. I translated a small doodle of two figures in silhouette into a rubber stamp. I then used the stamp to place the figures on multiple sheets of paper, then drew environments around them.

At first these were places I wished I could visit: Michelangelo's David in Florence, Storm King north of NYC, the Lincoln Memorial in D.C., etc. Then I started creating fictional environments that I stamped the figures into. The first batch of these drawings were used as the images for my 2021 planner, and my New Year's mailer. I think the full project will likely become an exhibit, though that is yet to be determined.

My FIT class recently did the project that came out of the "Travelogue" series, and their work has been amazing to see. As I teach more, I suspect there will be more of these parallel parts of my work. As I experiment, and futz, and plot, some experiments will take larger form, and then I get to witness how the same process can evolve in the hands of other artists, and that is pretty exciting.