At the start of the pandemic, Coffman
was thrown from her routine.
She was used to a daily schedule
of school, followed by several hours
of crew practice and homework,
then dinner, then bed. Suddenly,
that was gone and Coffman was
spending time alone in her room,
on her bed, and, like most teens,
staring at her phone.
School was different, seemingly
unorganized, and Coffman’s habits
followed suit. She lost motivation
and felt untethered. And then in
April, she decided to paint her
feelings in her painting class.
Coffman painted an Edward
Hopper-esque picture of adults
from her family, seated around the
kitchen table. The overhead lighting
is harsh and unsettling. “It’s more
of an outsider view of my family and
it shows the stress we felt and the
overarching anxiety,” she explains.
“I could see the tension around me,
back in April, we had no idea what
was going on. I painted this in the
height of the not-knowing.”
As time went on, Coffman
became more comfortable with
discomfort and with being alone. She
realized that her busy schedule had
never allowed her any alone time,
which, she discovered, was something
that she actually enjoyed.
Her usual activities had always
dictated her schedule, so Coffman
created her own schedule. She
started getting up at 7 am to work
out. She began journaling. And at the
start of the school year in September,
she started writing things down in
her planner to stay organized. Things
came together. So did a plan for her
senior portfolio class.
The class, taught by Shaker Heights High School art department chair
Karen DeMauro, requires that students create a series of five pieces. “I
encourage students to use their art to express their feelings and their
passions, even in a typical year. It’s a chance for them to find their voice,”
Several students opted to use their portfolio this year to show their
range of feelings over the past year. Emie was one of them, and her
portfolio illustrates her transformation through quarantine.
In the first of two self-portraits she painted, her skin tone is bluish
and her expression is pensive. A busy background of yellow, orange, and
red triangles conjures up feelings of anxiety. In the second, everything
is flipped: Coffman makes a silly face, her skin is a sunny orange-yellow.
The triangles remain because some anxiety is still there. But the color has
changed, just like the intensity of her emotions.
Thanks to her painting class last year, portfolio class this year, and the
isolation of 2020, Coffman realizes the impact that art has had on her life
and the role it can play in expressing herself. And without the physical
presence of her peers in art class, she now relies on her own feelings to
determine how she feels about her work.
“I’ve become a lot more confident in that regard,” she says.” Plus, she’s
had more time to dedicate to painting during remote learning. “It’s been a
weird feeling to sit on my bedroom floor on my own for three hours instead
of the usual 50-minute period, but I like being able to paint for longer
periods of time. You have the opportunity to talk to the teacher if you
want to, and you have the freedom to work on your art when you want for
however long you want.”
Coffman has also decided that she wants it to continue to be a part of
her academic future, with a possible minor in art in college. “I can definitely
see art being a part of my career,” she says.