As I mentioned in a previous post, being on the road as an artist brings a couple of challenges. As I also mentioned – this is a huge motivator for me! I thought I’d write a little post with three practical solutions made up on the road.

So first one! One of the main questions I had to consider when knowing I had to do an exhibition while being on the road is how to deal with frames. My van is not very big so the space is limited. I would say that 50% of my van is used for the daily life and the other 50% as a studio. Bringing frames/already stretched canvases with me would more likely turn that into 80% to 20%, so, to have a reasonable amount of space to live in without going bananas – this was not an option.

When I traveled in Greece last year I went to a carpenter around the area and asked them in body language (and some help of a German speaking friend who could talk to one of the guys who happened to know a bit of German) if they could build me two frames for two paintings I had to ship to Spain. Being in the same spot for a longer stay and only needing it for two paintings – that was a good option. But this time it would be significantly more pieces and I wouldn’t really know where best to do this when moving towards the exhibition in Copenhagen and still wanting to live in my van.

So the first thought that popped into my head was the scroll of parchment. But trying this out with sticks found in the wood I realized they needed to be absolutely straight for the canvas not to get wavey. Which would require a bit of work if I wanted to use natural material found on the road.

This is when I quickly ran into the idea of bamboo as I was strolling on a beach and saw some sticks flushed up on the shore. Taking them with me to the van I tried my first paintings framed with bamboo, and it worked out better than I imagined! The practical thing about bamboo is that they are hollow, which means I could simply slice them and slide the canvas into the cut. Voilà! Solution for the framing! It doesn’t take up much more space than the flat canvas and I could still easily stack them.

bamboo frame vanlife artist

bamboo frame vanlife artist

bamboo frame vanlife artist

bamboo frame vanlife artist

Vanlife tips for artists number 2! The next obstacle I had to think about is where I would let my paintings dry as I work with oil, which can takes a couple of days before it’s dry. My solution to that was to braid a net in macrame and attach it with little hooks in the ceiling. So when not used it’s easy to take it down without a rack taking up a lot of space.

drying net painting vanlife tips artists

Third tip! Then to the environmentally friendly way to wash my brushes without flushing the paint water out in nature. There might be a few different ways to deal with this, but what worked for me this time is to wipe off most of the paint on a cloth (or probably my sweater), then always keep (the same) water in a little container where I wash of the worst of the oil paint with a soap based on olive oil (which I can highly recommend cause it preserves your brushes for longer use!), wipe them again, then take the soap and clean water in another container to clean the rest off. Then pour that water into the dirty water if needed! You can use a pretty minimal amount of water for this so the container never ran full for me.

So, conclusion is that there's a solution for everything. A question I'm often asked is how I manage to work on the road without a proper studio, and quite frankly I think it's a matter of mindset and determination. If you want to do it you can do it. I've really found plenty of ways to paint from the van but also from outside of the van - I've had pop-up studios a little bit all over the place by now! For me it's a wonderful way of combining my cravings for nature and adventure with my need to create!