Share it if you’ve earned it: TU professor’s GIFs foster community during pandemic

By Rebecca Kirkman on April 22, 2020

Assistant professor Lynn Tomlinson’s series of animated merit badges highlight the (big and small) achievements of people staying at home to stop the spread of COVID-19

Professor Lynn Tomlinson sits on her couch with an iPad and stylus in her hand

While sheltering at home during the novel coronavirus pandemic, everyday actions like getting off the couch or putting on pants take on new meaning.

That’s part of what inspired animator Lynn Tomlinson, an assistant professor in Towson University’s Department of Electronic Media and Film, to release a collection of COVID-19 merit badges in the form of animated GIFs.

“I wanted to make these badges because it’s hard to feel like you are helping out just by staying home,” Tomlinson says. “But the truth is, we are helping, and that is so important right now.”

Tomlinson, whose award-winning clay-on-glass animated films have been screened around the globe, made the merit badges as awards her friends could share on social media. “I post them and I say, ‘Share it if you’ve earned it!’”

Stayed Home

“Of course, we’re most grateful to the people on the front lines whose lives are at risk, but we’re also thankful for the daily efforts people are making for the common good: staying in touch with elders, taking care of their own well-being or making small sacrifices like canceling travel plans,” she says.

The badges she creates are inspired by her own family’s experiences staying at home together. She gets feedback and input from her children, including her daughter Lucy Saper, a freshman at TU. She’s also brought to life suggestions from friends on social media.

“They are changing as time goes by,” Tomlinson says, noting that the badge for one week at home felt like a big deal when she created it, and now she’s working on one for week seven. As weeks passed, she added a badge for cutting your own hair. “Sometimes they’re silly, like putting on pants, and some of them are more meaningful, like requesting an absentee ballot.”

Attended Class Online

For Tomlinson, focusing on a project like this during the pandemic has several benefits. For one, it can be therapeutic. “When you're doing art and focusing on the task at hand, you get into a flow where all you're thinking about are the shapes and colors,” she says. “There’s also a personal reward when people appreciate it, that it resonates with other people.”

It also has helped her connect with her students, who are working on their own projects. “I can relate to their need to keep up momentum and struggling at times to find motivation,” Tomlinson says. “By having a little task that I’ve set for myself, I can share in that idea of what it takes to keep yourself motivated. And the feeling of accomplishment when you get something done.”

Made a Mask

To create the animations, Tomlinson uses Procreate on her iPad. Simple designs, like “Got Off The Couch,” take as little as two hours, while more complicated animations come to life over multiple days.

“It’s a technology that's new to me, and with each one I’m learning a little more,” she says. Some of her students have adapted class projects to use the same tool. “It’s another way we can learn together.”

Tomlinson hopes the merit badges create community during a time when it’s easy to feel distant. “Sharing them creates a feeling of connection to others.”