Bridgewater artist creates pandemic-inspired drawings in yearlong project

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

BRIDGEWATER — After seeing a photo of people wearing masks leaving a cruise ship in Japan early during the pandemic, Bridgewater artist Pamela Sztybel decided to create a drawing based on the scene.

“I liked the picture, it visually struck me,” she said. When she was finished, she posted it online and made another one the next day.

Sztybel recently completed a one-year anniversary compilation of daily drawings — sometimes several in one day — on current events. She’s planning to put her more than 400 drawings, which can be viewed on Instagram and Facebook, into a book.

“It started on a whim, to draw a little sketch of the news every day for a year,” she said, adding she had extra time to work on them while on lockdown. “I gave myself a challenge in a sketchbook.”

Each drawing took about two to five hours to create.

“I’ve had plenty of whims before this,” said Sztybel, who also has a home in Manhattan. Due to the pandemic, she said she had to close her Manhattan studio and now lives year-round in Bridgewater.

Her whim, however, turned into a yearlong project. While her first few drawings are based on photographs in the news, the rest are illustrations or cartoons driven by the words in the headlines she read.

Like the rest of the world, she said she was strongly affected by the coronaavirus, and her drawings reflected that.

“I knew something serious was happening and I was wondering where we would be in a year,” she said.

Aside from the pandemic, Sztybel’s drawings are on politics, the presidential election and climate change. They reflect both national and international issues.

“It turned into a fun side project,” she said. “I drew whatever came to me that day.”

Szytbel, 64, who lives her husband Eliot Stein, has an degree from the New York Academy of Art and practices art full-time. Her work has been shown across the United States.

All the headlines of her drawings are taken directly from various news sources.

“I would pull the headlines from those sources and I would make a drawing that had to do with them,” she said, adding she had plenty of material. “... There was always something bizarre or shocking in the news,” she said.

She started getting a large daily following on social media, with people commenting that they looked forward to seeing her drawing of the day. She currently has more than 4,000 followers on Instagram.

“I realized fairly early on that even though the subject matter was so distressing, the drawings were making them feel better. That was very rewarding,” she said. “I gave them an outlet to make a comment about something they felt outraged about.”

In the fall, as the presidential election was heating up, many of her daily drawings reflected the election anxiety taking place around in the country.

“When it was decided on Nov. 7 that (Joe) Biden had won, I was in my car and I had already done a drawing in the morning, but I started getting a lot of messages saying, ‘You have to do another one for today.’ When I responded I was not home, one guy messaged me to pull over. ... I went home and did the other drawing.”

But Szytbel’s project didn’t come without challenges. She had to learn how to draw in extremely miniature form, such as an oval office desk with everything on the desk “smaller than a fingernail,” she said.

To accomplish that task, she used a very fine lead mechanical pencil for drawing and watercolor brushes for painting.

She said many her drawings also reflect her love of animals, and drew at least 100 different kinds of animals over the course of the year.

“They are very useful to make a point here and there that is more lighthearted than using human figures,” she said.

Having something to do every day, “a routine,” was helpful during a difficult time, she said, “when the world felt like it was falling apart.”

The comments Szytbel received on her work throughout the year were “so heartwarming,” she said. “I felt good I had touched so many people and made somebody smile for a second during a difficult time.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com