WESTMORELAND — In the corner of his room at Maplewood Assisted Living on Tuesday, Bob Seaman sat down at his drawing table and began to outline his next doodle.
“Sometimes I’ll just start with a shape,” the Long Island native said, “and then it’ll grow.”
Tuesday’s piece was no exception, with various lines and figures intersecting across the page.
It had no real direction yet, he said that morning. But by the end of the day, it would transform into one of the doodles he’s created amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Doodles,” as the 88-year-old artist refers to the daily drawings, belies their detail. But whatever you’d call them, they’ve kept Seaman busy.
And in some cases, they’ve also helped him process his feelings about the pandemic, especially since he moved into Maplewood from his home in Keene just weeks before its effects were felt in the Monadnock Region.
“We went into lockdown pretty fast [here], and we even couldn’t leave the rooms to go to the dining room ... so one of my thoughts I had was, ‘I’ve gotta do something to keep myself busy or I’ll go nuts,’ “ he said.
Soon after, Seaman began to share his work with loved ones over email to give them a serotonin boost. His daughter, Robin Hayes, then started to post the drawings on her Facebook page.
“Then people started asking, ‘Hey, can I buy this?’ or ‘Can I get a print of this?’ “ said Hayes, 53, of Keene.
She started an Etsy shop to sell the originals, prints and notecards, with half of the proceeds donated to local charities, such as Hundred Nights homeless shelter in Keene and Amazing Grace Animal Sanctuary in Sullivan.
Now, Seaman has created 479 doodles — pencil sketches finished up with ink and watercolors — and about 800 items had been sold as of Tuesday.
“Robin does all the work,” he said with a laugh. “I really just sit here drawing pictures.”
Seaman grew up in a family of artists and has been putting pen to paper since he was a toddler. But it wasn’t until he was 60 — after careers in the U.S. Army and in real estate — that he decided to pursue his passion professionally.
“I finally couldn’t stand not doing it full-time, and toward the end of my real-estate life, I was really depressed and I didn’t want to get up in the morning,” he said.
With painting his forté, Seaman — who was the 2018 recipient of the Ruth and James Ewing Arts Lifetime Achievement Award — picked up work for various publications, such as magazines and greeting-card companies.
And though he never stopped creating, his daily doodles have given him another sense of purpose.
“It’s been such an interesting little journey to take on at this late stage,” Seaman said.
For his daughter, it’s been the only way she could connect to her dad, with visitation restrictions and other safety precautions put in place amid the pandemic.
“We didn’t get to see each other for over a year, so this was our daily contact,” Hayes said. “... The greatest thing is he’s not doing still lifes. All this stuff is coming out of his head like every day.”
Seaman draws inspiration from various places, from other artists’ paintings to an image he conjures up while reading a good book. Some are realistic, some abstract, and others resemble a New Yorker cartoon.
It can be difficult to create something new every day, Seaman said, but the biggest challenge is keeping the images uplifting.
“It’s very easy to go dark,” he said, noting the movement of people against the COVID-19 vaccine, “... but that isn’t the purpose of the doodles, so I try to be light.”
But overall, he’s glad to be lifting people’s spirits, with no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I’ll be sad when I have to stop, when I can’t do it anymore,” Seaman said. “... But I’m sure I’m gonna draw as long as I can.”