DIY activities online classes MoMA Sourdough Starter bread baking art classes Bob Ross The Joy of Painting Michael Leviton Creative Writing Fender Play Guitar Lessons

Grandlife guide

The Rise of the Amateur

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DIY activities and online classes led by local artists and galleries to inspire your inner creator. 

If history has shown us anything, it’s that with the right amount of determination and, of course, a smattering of natural talent, anything is possible in the realm of creativity. And perhaps no city has championed the DIY ethic more so than New York. Take, for example, the downtown art kids of the ’70s and ’80s, who with more gumption than know-how were daring enough to try their hand at whatever sparked their interest, in some instances even finding themselves on stage with an unfamiliar instrument in hand and a primed crowd of faces staring back at them. 

During an interview with GrandLife in 2018, filmmaker Bette Gordon recalled the early ’80s in downtown New York as a time of creative camaraderie where those wanting to make some noise, whether through art, music, film, or whatever it was that got them plugged in and inspired, didn’t let a pesky thing like experience or money get in the way. “It was a very interesting time in the evolution of culture and the world of business and the support that you could get—people doing things for no money. There were these enclaves of do-it-yourself bands, you didn’t even have to play an instrument professionally. There was this kind of rediscovering what it meant to look at art: art as non-object, art as concept, minimal art.”

Now, with very real and necessary restrictions in place, we are curtailed from many of our usual pursuits and left living with fewer possessions as the virus disrupts global supply chains and transportation networks. Our improvisation skills are put to the test as self-sufficiency becomes a part of our everyday lives in a wholly new way. With this comes new opportunities for self-acquired knowledge, local artisanship and, in essence, a return to a type of do-it-yourself lifestyle. 

With this in mind, we rounded up some DIY activities and online classes led by local artists and galleries, plus one or two extras we stumbled upon on our digital explorations, to help you tap into your inner creator and hopefully learn a few things along the way.  

Baking Bread with Lexie Smith 

Lexie Smith (pictured above) brings together her two loves—art-making and baking—in the most compelling and genuine way. She has long been a “crusader for wheat,” forever exploring bread’s potential as a “social, political, economic, and ecological barometer.” With many of us taking this time to not only master recipes but to make what would usually be store-bought items from scratch, bread baking has become somewhat cultish, and Smith is here to help. The artist-baker is not only taking email requests ( for sourdough starter but also sharing her knowledge about how to build your own in a step-by-step guide published on her Bread on Earth website

Free Online Courses with MoMA

For anyone interested in learning about modern and contemporary art in an in-depth, hands-on way, these free courses from one of the world’s leading art galleries is a very good place to start. Lovers of fashion have the chance to take a closer look at what we wear, why we wear it, how it’s made, and what it means in the Fashion as Design course. You’ll have a front-row ticket to interviews and studio visits with a range of designers, makers, historians, and others working with clothing every day. What is Contemporary Art? will take you into artist’s studios and neighborhoods allowing for a deeper understanding of how artists work today. Other courses include In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting; Modern Art and Ideas, and Seeing Through Photography

Learn Guitar with Fender

Driven by the power of music to connect us, Fender is offering three months of free online guitar, bass, and ukulele lessons to the first one million new players who sign up for Fender Play. Now’s the time!  

Creative Writing with Michael Leviton

Writer, musician, photographer, and GrandLife local Michael Leviton has written a memoir that will be released by Abrams Books in June. In the meantime, you can catch him on Zoom each Saturday teaching Word Of Mouth Creative Writing Classes (pay what you want) from 1pm to 3.30pm. Follow Michael on Instagram for updates and for the Zoom link. You can also DM to join the email list. 

Learn to Paint like Bob Ross

Between 1983 to 1994, television’s master of DIY painting, Bob Ross, shared his love of the art form—expressed mostly in the form of trees, mountains, lakes, and skies—and homespun approach in his iconic show The Joy of Painting. For both the uninitiated and those eager to revisit Ross’s blissful tutorials, every episode (there are some 400 in total) is available to stream for free on YouTube

WORDS Edwina Hagon 

IMAGERY Lexie Smith,

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