In October 2020, the pandemic was clearly not going to be over soon, and it was wearing on us.

My three kids were doing remote learning from the house — Flannery, a college freshman attending classes from her bedroom; Faith, a high school sophomore experiencing the trials of remote learning as part of the special-education community;  and Fiona, our eighth-grader, who was able to lean into her friend group through Minecraft and Roblox.

This was not a happy time in our house. Everyone was stressed out and our Wi-Fi signal was inconsistent. We were heading toward Thanksgiving, and it looked like our holiday was going to be sidelined. It was.

As a way to unplug after long days on Teams video calls, I began watching YouTube videos of watercolor artists. After watching some interesting videos, I pulled out the watercolor paper and paints that I bought years ago and used rarely. After a few sessions of dabbling at my kitchen table, my interest was piqued. I started to seriously experiment, watching how the water and pigment would flow through and on different types of paper.

One day, I painted a couple of maple leaves that had turned a nice orange-red color. The painting was boring and uninspired. I used the bottom of my water cup to trace a few circles on the paper.  Using a YouTube trick, I painted the circles to look like spheres. I decorated them with red triangles — my impression of the coronavirus and its oppressive presence. I didn’t like that painting, but something about the “planetary” look of the spheres was compelling to me. I started to use that motif as a way to experiment with different types of paint and more expensive grades of paper. 

Before too long I was on a roll and my “corona cloud” paintings were stacking up on the kitchen table. I started to give some of my paintings away to friends and colleagues with the friendly admonition to put them in a prominent place in the house to “scare” the virus away.  A “scare-COVID,” if you will.


Between that lonely Thanksgiving and isolated Christmas, I spread some of my favorite COVID-cloud paintings through the kitchen and living room.  There was one, in particular, that I liked with a red cast to the planetary COVID shapes.

I called it “Angry COVID Cloud.“ Mysteriously, it went missing for days. I turned the house upside down, looking for it. Finally, my wife asked Faith, the sweet, funny kid who has Down syndrome, if she had seen the painting.  She walked across the room, reached behind the TV and pulled out the painting and said simply, “Here it is.” 

Maura quizzed Faith about why she hid it. “Your dad has been looking all over for it!’”

“I hate coronavirus,” Faith said, looking at me with a combination of irritation and eye-roll.

My daughter was grappling with the pandemic in her own way. I was experiencing my own pandemic fatigue, too.

So on Dec. 20, 2020, I painted my last COVID cloud. Or so I thought.


I started 2021 with the optimistic idea that vaccine availability would lead us to coronavirus fading from the news and would not spoil our travel plans or limit our socializing. 

Because Faith has an extra chromosome, her immune response is such that she is considered high-risk. We were grateful she was able to get the vaccine early, even before many of her contemporaries 

In the spring through early summer, we carefully moved away from wearing masks indoors. I began painting landscapes and cloudscapes — subjects that are endlessly fun and frustrating with watercolors. 

Paintings, paper and brushes would be left in piles on the kitchen table. Sometimes, Fiona would quietly sit next to me and knock out a fantastic landscape or a quirky illustration in 15 minutes, then disappear.  Faith would paint only under duress and as part of school assignments.  Her singular COVID painting captures the mood of the last two years. 

The summer travel we managed led me to different subjects — mountain scenes, beach scenes, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool at night

Summer’s optimism started to erode as news reports of the delta variant became more frequent in August. COVID statistics across the United States and the rest of the world started to get really bleak. The fall felt a bit like a repeat of 2020. As we headed into the holiday we looked for boosters, wore masks when prudent, and hoped for the best. 


One week before Christmas, COVID barreled right into our home. Flannery, back from college, came down with a headache and fever. The next day she tested positive for COVID-19.  Within days, friends from separate families told us their college-aged daughters had tested positive as well. 

We canceled travel plans to visit extended family. With a daughter isolated in the basement, the virus threatening the rest of us and tension rising, I had to find a way to make light of the situation. I picked up my paints and revisited my COVID clouds.

Recognizing Faith was not enthusiastic about the subject matter, I decided to mix in one of our little jokes. For weeks, I had been teasing Faith, a chocolate ice cream fan, about getting a jar of pickles for dessert. I know, a lame Dad joke.

It seemed somehow apropos to include a pickle in the new paintings.  The painting was titled: COVID Christmas with a pickle on the side. 

When I showed Faith my new painting and asked what she thought, she responded with characteristic understatement: “I’m not crazy about coronavirus.” When I showed her the pickle added just for her, she rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and said in an exasperated voice, “Aww, geez, Dad!”

Faith still doesn’t like coronavirus.  She doesn’t like pickles either.  I’m memorializing both of them, and our pandemic journey, in water and pigment.