The artist’s guide to the zombie apocalypse

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Last night, I was plagued by zombie dreams. I don’t know how much of my all-night undead-a-thon was influenced by reading coronavirus updates, and how much was just my everyday tendency to dream about zombies, but I woke with a clear purpose. Rather than focusing on the real-world threat of COVID-19, I’ve decided to lighten the mood a little with another artist’s guide — to the zombie apocalypse!

I watch a lot of zombie movies, basically anything that isn’t too cringingly B-quality. (Side note: I’m wary of anyone who claims to love B movies. Who knows what else they’ll lie about?)

When I dream about zombies, the dreams generally aren’t scary — rather, they usually consist of totally unrelated social situations, and the zombies are just sort of there, milling around. Sometimes they try to attack, and I vanquish them like it’s regular, or I problem-solve to contain them or shut them out. On the rare occasion, there’s a pulse-spiking moment, as happened last night when Zombie Lois Griffin tried to bite me from behind, and the in-dream sensation of someone (albeit a cartoon someone) leaning in and breathing on the back of my neck was so realistic that it shocked me awake with a gentle snort.

Anyway, I’ve spent my share of time thinking strategically about the zombie apocalypse, and never more than during real-world viral outbreaks.

How would an artist approach a zombie world?

I wouldn’t call myself a survivalist. To survive a zombie apocalypse, I would have to get creative.

Strategy 1: Think like a plot master.

I think if you asked an average group of people what their first goal would be immediately following a zombie outbreak, many would cleverly state gathering supplies would top their lists.

Any writer with a grasp on plot lines will tell you that these people are eaten first. The character who secures reliable shelter while others panic and run around like zombie fodder will still find plenty of food and tools after the initial chaos has died down (literally). I mean, think about it. The mass of people looting frantically while the first wave of zombies is at its freshest and most spry is going to be thinned out pretty quickly, leaving most of the supplies untouched.

Strategy 2: Think outside the boards.

I don’t know where everyone’s getting all these wooden planks with which to board up their windows, but let’s be real. If zombies can break a window, they can probably break through a barrier of nailed-together wooden boards. What does this tell you? The wood isn’t really for strength, but for visual concealment.

Instead, my painter’s mind goes to — yes, exactly. Slap a few coats of black acrylic paint onto the insides of your windows, and you’ll have much more opaque window coverings than a bunch of planks with cracks between them.

What if you don’t have paint either, you ask? Well, you’re on your own.

Strategy 3: Think like a method actor.

Now, I’m not an actor by profession, but the arts tend to commingle quite a bit, and in this case, I can think of a pretty solid hybrid technique to combine painting skills with my first foray into serious method acting.

Start by painting yourself up like a zombie. Think, your best, prizewinning Halloween costume. Then, wander around your shelter moaning and tripping over things until you’re sufficiently confident that you’ve assimilated the thoughts, emotions and behaviours of a zombie. When you’re fully in character, go outside and join a zombie horde.

Best case scenario, you are then able to move about unharmed, giving you much greater access to supplies and the option of migrating. Worst case scenario, you get turned into a zombie.

At least you’ll already have gotten some practice.

The pandemic is showing us the value and potential of social media

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Imagine the COVID-19 pandemic without social media.

Mere weeks ago, apps like Facebook were still a guilty pleasure. It was hip to deny the distraction of scrolling through other people’s trip photos on Instagram. Twitter was little more than a squash court for self-important crusaders.

COVID-19 has brought new importance to the connectivity social media provides us. I realize there are people who have never used it, and no amount of pandemic isolation will convert them. However, those who have used it reluctantly, raise your hand if you still think it’s a waste of time. Anyone?

Sharing posts about how we’re all coping with isolation and the extreme potential for boredom and mental health challenges is a great way to feel less secluded. Before the novel coronavirus, posting photos of one’s meals on Instagram was considered narcissistic and gratuitous, but now that many people have been forced to cook more, it’s become a wholesome way to share in our collective experience.

Social media also connects us in real time. In the absence of physical proximity, the video call has become the new family dinner, the new ladies’ wine night, the new gathering of friends. I’m an outgoing person, but I’m also an introvert who enjoys my space and independence, and yet I’ve found myself shooting out video calls to friends and family without reservation.

For a long time, I’ve appreciated social media for what it is: a series of platforms for engaging with others, whether personally or professionally. I have had countless conversations and arguments with those who have insisted it’s simply a waste of time, or even an unhealthy addiction. The current state of things is strong evidence in favour of my stance.

While there are potential pitfalls, social media is also a comfortable arena for the sharing of information. Especially during such challenging times, people tend to protect their mental states by opting out of reading, watching, or listening to the news. In rapidly developing situations such as viral outbreaks, important and even life-saving information can trickle down from news outlets and through the interconnected chambers of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, there will always be false information that spreads like bushfire on parched land, but with so many eyes on newsfeeds, these reports seem to be pretty efficiently discovered as faulty or fictitious, further narrowing reliable resources on a given topic.

In pre-COVID times, the ability of social media to keep us informed was a questionable feature, but I’ve never before had so many discussions by Facebook Messenger on the state of the world, and each individual’s — and each household’s — thoughts, feelings, and boundaries relative to a world event.

Social media is keeping us all together — families, friends, communities, and even artists and their audiences.

One of the professional activities I depend on is reading to a roomful of people. When it comes to recording video media to share online, I’ve been dreading the inevitable for years. The thought of talking to nobody as though I were talking to somebody has always made me cringe, but with the limitations set by the pandemic, my perspective on creating and sharing video content has evolved. Whereas I previously thought of talking into a recording device as grossly self-congratulatory, I now view it as an essential way to reach people and contribute to global wellness through the celebration of literature.

And, of course, no small helping of sarcasm.

Embracing winter solitude


It’s my first winter as a homeowner, and it’s the stormiest winter in recent memory. In other words, I’ve been spending a lot of time shut in with my new-found peace and quiet. I’m not used to such serenity. For the most part, the only noises I hear are the ones I make, or that my partner makes, or our cat makes. He travels for work, and her meow is very small, so small that sometimes she opens her face and no sound comes out.

So, it’s very quiet in my house, and it’s got me thinking about how we spend time with ourselves, in our homes, and specifically about how we entertain ourselves.

The sort of weather we’ve had in recent weeks has an isolating effect, or ice-olating, if you will. Any form of travel is hazardous. Last week, the ground was so thoroughly ice-slick that I had to boil water to thaw a path out the front door.

Lately, I’ve been holed up for days on end, and although many folks still need to get to their places of work, I know I’m not the only one hibernating through the worst of the winter onslaught. I also know that being stuck at home, especially alone, can elevate feelings of depression and frustration.

In our tech-based society, we often try to combat loneliness with easy-to-digest entertainment — TV, movies, video games — anything that makes noise and distracts us from the ticking of the clock. (Oh right, the clock. For some ungodly reason, I have two clocks that tick in opposition. I haven’t yet bothered to take the batteries out of one.)

But what if, instead of constantly trying to mask our solitude, we embraced it?

Something fascinating happened when I decided not to put a TV on the main floor of my house. Guess what happened. Just guess.

That’s right — I started to watch a lot less TV. We didn’t get rid of the TV. It’s in the basement. I simply no longer have a TV in my main living space, waiting to distract me from myself.

I think that what we believe soothes our loneliness in fact hinders our ability to be alone in the first place. Don’t get me wrong — I am not claiming any superiority, here. I am still wont to put Netflix on my iPad while cooking and doing housework, but my comfort with being alone has significantly increased since designating a separate space in the house for television and video games. It now seems like more of a hassle than a quick entertainment fix to get myself all set up in the basement for a TV show binge, and a lot easier to slap my iPad case shut in the middle of a show, when I’m ready to do something more productive.

I’ve been reading more, which can be difficult when you have an aversion to quiet. I’ve always been a reader — a passion for reading is nigh indivisible from a passion for writing — but in recent years it’s been more challenging to stay focused. My attention span has increased along with my tolerance for silence and solitude, a tolerance which I forced upon myself in the layout of my home.

TV shows and movies are wonderful things, but with increasing investment in fictional characters, we seem to become more alienated from ourselves. I’m a self-identified independent introvert, and I feel like, by distancing myself physically from my television, I’ve taken a step forwards in reclaiming the joy of my own company.

I’ve always been one to take solo walks out for coffee and errands, to take the time to reconnect with myself, but these are not the days for neighbourhood jaunts, unless you want to strap on a pair of skates. I don’t skate. I find it far more dangerous than it is fun. So, in the midst of our collective winter-imposed isolation, I thought it apt to share my strategy for happy house arrest.

Now, pardon me while I go pull the batteries out of one of those damned clocks.

Laura Furster is a Hamilton-based writer and artist. Twitter/Instagram: @laurafurster. Visit: Contact:


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Yaymaker: Growing empire or sinking ship?





The art party company formerly known as Paint Nite has rebranded as Yaymaker — the maker of “yay.” Yaymaker is meant to consolidate Paint Nite and its spinoff ventures, including Design a Sign, wherein participants design their own wooden signs, and Plant Nite, wherein attendees put some plants in bowls.

(To be honest, the name Plant Nite elicits in my mind images of potted houseplants growing to human size and terrorizing their owners. I may watch too many horror movies.)

My first column in The Spectator was about what I believed to be the self-limiting nature of businesses like Paint Nite, and the creation of Yaymaker might, at first glance, seem to contradict my prediction. I mean, they’re doing so well that they need a whole new name to represent all of their myriad offerings.

I don’t buy it. I think this recent business move illustrates the point I made nearly two years ago.

If the painting party business model were sustainable, I don’t think Yaymaker would exist. The very need to create more new party concepts demonstrates that the initial service offered lacks endurance, much like technologies invariably become obsolete as they’re replaced with newer and more desirable versions. However, unlike innovations in the tech industry, I don’t see this string of night-out class concepts going on ad infinitum.

Paint Nite instruction is not far off the concept of paint-by-numbers, and I can say this with authority because I’m a painter who once worked for a competitor. This is not meant as criticism of the experience of participating in a painting party. I had fun hosting them, and I’d venture to say that most participants have fun as well but, with the exception of a few who attend events on a regular basis, they don’t actually learn much about painting. If they did, I would imagine that far fewer people would enjoy it, since learning to paint is not all wine glasses and giggles.

Attendees often don’t end up with a finished product that they deem good enough to display, and sometimes the process is just plain disheartening because nobody can actually learn to paint in one booze-soaked sitting. While instructing, I spent time at the end of each event assisting troubled painters who occasionally asked me to fix or finish their work myself so that they could enjoy the end result a little more.

The painting party business model is not sustainable because it doesn’t offer a genuine learning experience or a valuable finished product, which leaves novelty as the key seller. While I’ve never personally instructed a sign-making or plant-bowling class, I’m confident that these offerings are much of the same.

Paint N — err, Yaymaker’s fallibility ultimately rests on the reality that nobody wants 50 crappy paintings, or 50 wooden signs, or 50 bowls with little plants and rocks in them, cluttering up their house. It’s super fun to make these things once or twice, but unless you’re a serious painter, or sign-maker, or terrarium-designer, there is a pretty hard and fast limit to how many of these items you have the space or desire for. I have garbage bags of teachable paintings in my basement. I’m a professional artist, and I don’t want them, either.

The reason why it’s fun to make these things a couple of times is that it’s a new experience. I’ve done a couple of escape rooms, and they’re really fun, but I’m never going to do the same escape room again, because once the novelty is neutralized, there’s no more excitement in the activity. Sure, there’s a variety of paintings taught by companies like Yaymaker, but there are only so many, and the same ones are taught over and over, especially the more popular ones.

Teaching the more popular paintings more often doesn’t make sense for a business looking to retain long-term patronage, but it does seem reasonable for a business looking to maximize short-term profit.

Even just renaming a business that already boasts a household name doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless that business is struggling to attract customers. My phone service is through Wind Mobile — by which I mean Freedom Mobile, but I never call them that. Wind’s rebranding, if I were to guess, was an attempt at distancing the company from the “budget” descriptor their name had become synonymous with.

A little inside bird told me, some time after my first column ran, that canvas sales were dropping. I’m not saying that painting parties will go extinct tomorrow, or in a year, or even five years, but I certainly wouldn’t invest in a franchise now and expect to be buying into a lifelong career.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the rebirth of Paint Nite and its offshoots as Yaymaker is a sign of a growing empire — I think it’s the first flare of a sinking ship.


Laura Furster is a Hamilton-based writer and artist. Twitter/Instagram: @laurafurster. Visit: Contact:


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