How COVID-19 Made Me a Better Artist and Teacher

By Dorrie Rifkin

IN THE BEGINNING (February 2020): My husband Sam, who’d worked for the NYC Health Department for 30 years, sat me down and explained about the coming virus. We would have to live like hermits, he said. The world would change. I would lose all my teaching jobs and workshop opportunities. And so it came to pass — the very next month, within a fortnight, I’d lost everything. Like many in similar straits, I began planning to retire. And I lost my passion to paint. But now — a year later — I never been busier. Here is how it happened.

TEACHING: I sensed opportunity to teach online. But it’s a specialized skill. I needed to learn how.
To teach via Zoom, I needed better specialized technical communication skills. I got help from my students, my techie and artist friends, and YouTube and Google. With this knowledge and a little time, I invented a new way to keep teaching. It was hard work. Zoom-teaching requires finding new ways to help students. While, for example, I can’t make a point by painting a little on their paper, I can enable all my students to see me paint, very close up, along with them; and I can electronically alter the images of their work, one-at-a-time, for all to see what a slight adjustment can accomplish. I also found that I had to prepare better for class: online and mid-class, the “window” for on-the-fly ad libbing is smaller. (But I still tell the same bad jokes!) My students also had to adapt. Key, for me, is their feeling they are in community with one another and their teacher. As they acclimated to Zoom, they stepped in and up to help one another — now in new, virtual ways. It’s emotional for me. Finally, the walls gone, my classroom expanded infinitely — we met fellow painters from all over the country. Yes, it’s work, but it’s also plain (if not plein air) fun.

watercolor painting of car
“Zoom!” (Class Project: 2 hr Session) by Dorrie Rifkin

LEARNING: It’s like a stay-cation.
To hone my own art skills, I’ve got at my fingertips a virtual Candy Land, chock full of yummy artistic opportunities. To be able to learn from masters and not have to travel to do it, is win-win-win — quality learning plus less grind plus time & money saved. The bottom line: Going out less means I’ve more time to paint, and the more I paint, the better I get (and the more fun I’m having). Who knew?

watercolor nocturne painting
“Nightime” (Class Project: 1pt Perspective – 3 Week Session) by Dorrie Rifkin

SALES: Pandemic or no, one has to make a living.
This has been my best year for sales, ever. Why? My guess is that folks have been refocusing on their home interiors and on decorating, and with the freedom and flexibility afforded by stimulus checks, have been giving back to us artists. All I can say is, thank you.

watercolor painting of barbershop sign
“Barber Shop” (Class Project: 1pt Perspective – 3 Week Session) by Dorrie Rifkin

THE SUM (but not of All Fears).
At a year after it began, my new norm is this: I have learned to go with the flow. I miss terribly my family and friends, New York City, eating out, theater and live music; and I grieve the enormous losses that I can’t begin to fathom. But also, I am thrilled to be vaccinated and grateful to those who did this for humanity, myself included, even if I don’t yet grasp what it means; I fill the void of sheltering-in-place with the warmth of my old and new students; I now use my library card; I have watched all of Mrs. Masiel; I walk five miles daily; I know the best ice cream stores hereabouts; and — best of all — I got back my passion for painting!

Student Paintings Samples

watercolor painting of figures
“Gift Certificate” by Wendy Thompson Shearer
watercolor painting of diner
“Diner” by Bridget Geiger
watercolor painting of museum interior
“Inside” by Susan Killen

About Dorrie:
Dorrie Rifkin is an accomplished watercolor artist and painting teacher. Her classes and workshops are popular in NYC’s environs and beyond. Dorrie’s  paintings have won more than 40 prizes in both international and national  juried shows, and are exhibited in private collections worldwide.  Her work has been featured in Watercolor Artist magazine and several  editions of Splash books. Dorrie is a signature member of the Transparent  Watercolor Society of America, and of the Northeast, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Garden State, New Jersey and Baltimore Watercolor Societies.

For more inspiring stories like this one, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


  1. I applaud Dottie for tackling and conquering the computer for on- line teaching and the tenacity to keep up painting. It is a new world for all us former workshop teachers who love the travel and opportunities and especially the interaction with so many artists. Hopefully, 2021 is a better year for us all – even those not so computer savvy.

  2. I am lucky enough to have begun my watercolor experience with Dorrie- beginning in-person, on to her fabulous Zoom classes, and now a combination of all her offerings. She is the most encouraging, creative, passionate teacher I could have imagined; and I now share her passion whenever I can. It was so special to read your interview and to know that others in the watercolor world can hear Dorrie in her own words! Thank you for sharing my teacher with the world- she is incredibly deserving of every accolade awarded her!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here