I wanted to make things more easily accessible so I would be inclined to maintain a regular routine of doing something creative every day.
If it’s not convenient, as it wasn’t before, I won’t do it. Simple as that.
Previously, I had to dig through cabinets and move things this way and that to get to a box of art supplies, and that was just a small part of the process. It took half an hour to get everything pulled out and set up to paint, and more often than not, ten minutes later, the weather would shift, or something else would intervene to thwart my creative time. Now everything is easily within arm’s reach, so I’ve got no excuses.
I was able to spend the holidays with my parents last year, so I took advantage of having access to dad’s tools, as well as his help. Everything was built using wood and supplies he already had, so I was lucky to have little to no expenses, other than other upgrades I’ll talk about in a moment.
We raised the bed about five inches, allowing maximum storage underneath while still being able to sit in bed without my head touching the ceiling. Inside the van, I created a storage cubby over the toilet to house various art supplies such as watercolors, pens, pencils, paintbrushes, and a large assortment of papers to work on. I also added a new slide-out table that stows away under the bed. Now it’s easy to access materials, slide the table out, and immediately get to work, even if it’s raining. I absolutely love the addition of the table. Before, I used a little folding table I had to pull out and assemble before each use. The new table is so much easier and more convenient, which is why it gets used far more often than I’d imagined.
On nice days, I set up a 4’ plastic folding table outside. It’s the perfect sized workspace that allows plenty of elbow room without feeling cramped. If the sun gets too hot, which happens in the Arizona desert, I pull out the awning and keep working. I had two Ikea folding chairs that I used in my previous home studio, and they somehow survived the mega purge of belongings that occurred when I moved into the van. I’d forgotten about them until I saw them at my parent’s house and was thrilled to be reunited. Even more exciting was discovering I could fit a chair at the back of the van so I would always have good seating for my outdoor workspace. It was an unplanned addition to the van that works perfectly, and even fits into the color scheme. Being comfortable while I work is right up there with everything being easily accessible – it’s more inviting and allows me to focus on creating.
The underbed storage area at the back of the van got a complete overhaul. The goal was to create space to store wet paintings. Painting with oils means slow dry times, so I needed storage to keep everything in place while driving (bouncing) along bumpy forest roads. We were able to accomplish exactly that, and even with everything in place now, I still have extra space left unfilled.
I’d found some lightweight metal drawers at a resale shop and bought them before I had any outlines of what the new build would look like. I have no idea what their original purpose was, but I knew the 5”x5” panels I had been painting on would fit into them perfectly, so it was worth the whopping $4 investment. I also found a treasure trove of small art panels at the same store and loaded up with as many as would fit into the van – which I also had no idea how much space I’d have when I bought them. I built space for them, though. They too fit in the metal drawers, so it seemed like a win-win. I’m excited to report the drawers work better than I expected, and they don’t even rattle while I drive! They slide in and out easily, which is great as I can remove the whole drawer and transport paintings to my outdoor setup.
We built two more drawers to fill all the space left behind the toilet and under the metal drawers. These also slide all the way out and offer enough room for larger paintings. Another happy accident was finding a perfect spot to store a small easel, paints, and mineral spirits so everything fits snuggly and securely. The brass drawer pulls, as well as the pull I used on the slide out table, all came from an antique cabinet in one of dad’s shops.
We made several other upgrades that aren’t so glamorous as building an art studio, but each attribute to making life in a van just a little more comfortable. I added new LED lights inside that provide SUPER bright light so I can see what I’m working on, no matter what the situation is outside. Thankfully, they’re dimmable. My auxiliary battery power went from one gel battery to two lithium iron phosphate batteries. That translates to nearly quadrupling my auxiliary power, which is superb! Auxillary power is fed by the solar panel on the roof, and provides power to the fridge, lights, fan, and allows me to power regular 110v items. I upgraded to an ICECO refrigerator, which I admit was probably an unrequired upgrade, but has so far been worth every penny. Mom used her sewing skills to alter a couple of my larger curtains. Paco’s food storage got an upgrade to better fit into the new build. I bought an Omnia Oven so I can now bake and roast foods, and got some larger pots so I can make soup during the colder months. Last, but not least, we installed airlifts on the van’s rear suspension to give us a softer ride. Every pebble on the road rattled us like a pothole before, which Paco has very strong feelings about, but now it feels as if we’re driving a whole new van. I highly recommend them to anyone who drives an older vehicle. They were fairly inexpensive, we installed them ourselves (thanks Dad and Dwayne), and the difference is definitely notable.
We’ve only been on the road a short time since finishing the new build, but I have already been cranking away at paintings. I’m re-learning how to be patient with oils, and am playing around with various styles. “Playing” is the key word – it means I’m having fun making art again, and that is essentially what the real goal of remodeling the van was about.
I’ll continue to add works to my Etsy Shop, as well as add designs to my Society6 Shop. If there’s something that catches your eye in any of my photos here, or on social media, by all means reach out. It’s not often I have a strong wifi signal to upload large photographs of works to online shops, which is why there aren’t a ton available in my shops now, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love for the paintings to find new homes.
Thank you to everyone who follows along with me and supports me on my travels. Know that I am deeply and genuinely grateful for each and every one of you.