Campus News

Paintings, pedals and paper flowers

The next installment of The Well’s Pandemic Hobbyists series shows how employees across the University have responded to the current crisis with creativity and commitment.

One side effect of the pandemic is that people are investing more time in their current hobbies, taking up new pursuits and learning new skills. I picked up my knitting needles. (You can read about my Pandemic in Pink Sweater here.)

When The Well put out a call for University employees who have been particularly prolific, creative or dedicated in their pandemic hobbies, we received an overwhelming response! Here’s another installment of Carolina’s Pandemic Hobbyists. We’d love to hear your stories, too. Please email them to me at and put “Pandemic Hobbyist” in the subject line. Thanks! And happy hobbying.

Access all stories in the Carolina’s Pandemic Hobbyist series.


Jonathan Earnest, lead academic coordinator, Student Affairs, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Art became an interest of mine in grade school. For the longest time, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to be a cartoonist or an animator. Prior to the pandemic, it had been a couple of years since I’d done any serious painting. However, there was no shortage of news stories in 2020 that prompted me to pick up a brush.

I previously never sold any of my work, but then I read more about art activism and how artists use their talent to promote good and influence change. I began accepting commissions, requesting in exchange that people donate to Black Lives Matter and other organizations supporting communities of color. During the Georgia runoffs, I also asked them to support Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action organization and the campaigns of Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Most of the requests have been local, but in the past month I’ve shipped art to four different states and counting.

This is a three panel series I started in June and finished in September about the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, inspired by a protestors t-shirt. The news articles in the backgrounds of Taylor and Arbery repeat, “No justice, no peace,” while the background of Floyd replicates the Incalculable Loss Project that Adrianne Benzion and Jessica McEwan released in May of 2020, replacing the NY Times front page illustrating deaths from COVID-19 with the names of black Americans who were killed by police violence; three panels, 16x20 each acrylic on canvas

Jonathan Earnest started this three panel series about the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery in June and finished it in September. The image was inspired by a protester’s T-shirt. (Contributed photo)

In a year like no other, 2020 has helped me to find new meaning and motivation for painting. On a personal level, art can be therapeutic when you find ways to express yourself in and through it. On a wider scale, it can support individuals, communities and causes. Art can inspire, motivate and advocate. It can move people to tears, and it can move people to act. I hope to continue to grow in my talent with this newfound purpose.

Painter Jonathan Earnest in front of a portrait of actor Bea Arthur.

Earnest painted this portrait of actor Bea Arthur as a gift. (Contributed photo)

Building audio effect pedals for electric guitar

Brett Piper, external relations, computer science department, College of Arts & Sciences

During the pandemic, I’ve taken up making audio effect pedals that are used with electric guitar and other instruments to change the sound. I built my first one in August. Each one involves assembling the components and creating a circuit by soldering them to a pre-made printed circuit board and connecting it to switches and input/output jacks inside an enclosure.

The illustrations on the decals are inspired by Latin American culture.

The illustrations on the decals are inspired by Latin American culture. (Contributed photo)

Once I finish assembling and testing a pedal, I connect the input to a guitar and the output to an amplifier and play music. The pedals have varying effects. For example, some distort the sound, some add repeats and reverberations to give the appearance of playing in different spaces, and some alter things like pitch and volume to add a feeling of movement.

I also designed and applied the decals that decorate the enclosures. I was a Hispanic studies minor at UNC (Class of 2013), and all the decals are inspired by things from Latin America.

Since my wife works 12-hour shifts at the hospital and I obviously can’t go anywhere, it’s been great to have a hobby that I can get lost in for hours at a time and that makes another hobby (playing guitar) more enjoyable. It’s also nice to devote time to something where I learn things, improve skills and come out with a tangible result when I would otherwise probably be bingeing TV shows.

Brett Piper has been making audio effect pedals for electric guitars.

Brett Piper has been making audio effect pedals for electric guitars. (Contributed photo)

Gardening and paper flowers

Christina Riegel, ResNET assistant director, Information Technology Services and Carolina Housing

I’m a bit plant obsessed, so during the pandemic, I have really upped my (already big) gardening habit. I also started making paper flowers.

The main driver for the increased activity is our upcoming wedding. The wedding was originally scheduled for September 2020, but we decided to postpone it because of the coronavirus. We did not want to put our guests, the people we love the most in this world, in a dangerous environment. A wedding is supposed to be a happy and fun moment in our lives, not something scary. I’m making the most out of the gift of time by growing more greenery and making decorations for when we are able to celebrate safely.

Christina Riegel has been growing more greenery and making decorations for the wedding she had to postpone because of the pandemic.

Christina Riegel has been growing more greenery and making decorations for the wedding she had to postpone because of the pandemic. (Contributed photo)