The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us.
The hollow hour.
Blank, empty.
The very pit of all other hours.
No one feels good at four in the morning.

The ominous picture painted by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska: four in the morning, the hour of ghosts, the hour which is neither early nor late—the bizarre hour.

But not everyone dislikes and avoids this mystical time of the day.

An artist’s home at 4.30 in the morning. Everyone is fast asleep. Or wait: someone is awake—and painting!

Chris Gambrell (@gambrell_) – a striking fashion illustrator and portraitist from Bristol, UK.

The soft strokes and bright, mellow colors of his paintings got me thinking: what is his secret to keeping the inner peace in anxious times like this? How does he keep his imagination and motivation quarantine-free when the whole world is practicing one or another form of isolation?

Enter Chris’ home, look around, dive into his daily routine and listen to his stories:
For me, the art of staying at home is getting up three hours before everybody else.

Secretly, I have enjoyed being able to get up at 4:30 every morning, with hot oats and a cup of English breakfast tea, followed by a neat, strong espresso. I work best at that time of day. The fresh, impressionable early-morning brain deals well with creativity, and I am able to put down the landmarks, which inspire me to produce more.

Since my work is affected by my mood, I have a routine of warmups to get me to the right mental place. This is often short-timed drawings on a page divided into small panels, something which I do not ‘treasure’ too much. I can then produce quality work and draw carefree until the first signs of activity.

With homeschool in session, me and the kids do a thirty-minute workout every day just before lunch and then try our best to replenish energy with some fresh nutrients.

Having the kids around keeps things fast and light, and the day soon nears evening. After a heavier meal prepared more thoughtfully than usual—because the cooking process has to be taken back a stage or two, depending on product availability,—the kids head to bed, and I can get on with working.


What’s been fascinating is seeing all of the different learning and working processes together in one place, weaving around one another; how we cut up the house to allocate zones for leisure, work and learning.

For me, it’s been an eye-opener: to reimagine spaces for different purposes. Now more than ever, the space in which I work has countless additional demands on it, and the day itself has to be cut into chunks, with time factored in for setting up, cleaning, workouts, making sure the kids are occupied and everybody’s happy.

The notice boards around the house have just had the whimsical jokes and long-term games erased and removed. Overnight, timetables and incentive charts took their place. For how long, who knows.

It’s taken a week or two to establish the new normality. We do what we have to do to ensure that we and others are safe and to ‘damage-limit’.

But, take five very busy lives, all with very different goals and needs, and squish them into the same place at the same time ‘all of the time’—and the need for routine becomes king.

Being aware of what is happening focuses and distracts me at the same time. But we have to carry on, and I choose to try and read the headlines and news in a more objective, fact-based way, trying not to dwell emotionally.

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