Mobile methodologies


Dear Artist,

Mobile easels include everything that goes by land, sea or air. My friend Toni Onley used to paint from the cockpit of his amphibian Lake Buccaneer. Floating studios permit the marvel of drifting — silent, Zen-like contemplation and rendering along waterways. There’s nothing like a rowboat or canoe — tethered or not. A small custom unit can be made to fit a kayak — the “Keasel” — where water-based brush swizzling is a piece of cake. A few years ago I built an “Art-Dog,” a mobile paintbox I towed behind my bike. I actually patented the unit but no one was interested. If you want to paint using a trail bike, set the kickstand and paint facing backwards.

All Terrain Vehicle as mobile studio. In the deep bush, getting off the ground is useful — with ticks, ants, and other pestilence in evidence.

All Terrain Vehicle as mobile studio. In the deep bush, getting off the ground is useful — with ticks, ants, and other pestilence in evidence.

There’s nothing wrong with the family car. The back seat is the cocoon of choice on rainy days — on sunny ones you might try standing up in the moonroof with the paintbox and other stuff in front of you on the roof. Make sure you’ve come to a stop if you decide to paint behind the wheel. Small hooks or screw eyes in the back of the canvas permit bungeeing to a nicely angled steering wheel. Ultimate comfort comes with a motorhome, where setting up at the picture window can give a new view every day.

For really remote, nearly inaccessible terrain, nothing beats a quad. ATVs improve bush travel and open up areas previously only suitable for hiking. A stable painting platform when you arrive, the only downside is the racket they make in getting there. I’ve noticed when other people drive them in the wilderness the racket bothers me more than when I’m making it. Yesterday, in western Ontario, I drove 75km to a precious place that would have taken several days to hike into. There were six of us quadders in the party, so if any tree-huggers got exercised I had help in fighting them. As it was we saw no one but a solitary moose, and he seemed blasé to our passage. The paintbox was bungeed to the carrier rack and I faced rearwards to paint.

Monet Painting in His Floating Studio, 1874 Oil painting by Édouard Manet (1832 - 1883)

Monet Painting in His Floating Studio, 1874
Oil painting
by Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883)

Mobile workstations are only limited by an artist’s imagination or inclination. Odd-ball transport gives unique material, new perspectives, as well as adding oft-needed variety and opportunity. Apart from that, they add even more fun to an already fun job.

Best regards,


PS: “Today I drifted [in the floating studio]with Camille on the Seine at Argenteuil. The views materialized and dissolved and I was as contented as a cow in her stall.” (Claude Monet, 1874)

Esoterica: The basic mobile unit is the paintbox. Some artists prefer comprehensive ones with everything but the kitchen sink. I take a Spartan approach. I’ve done a lot of backpacking where lightness counts and where a cigar box with a few basic colours and sawed-off brushes works just fine. You may be a little embarrassed about it, but you’ll really get off on a certain smug feeling you get when you arrive at a remote location, open your tiny office, squeeze out and produce something of value.

062408_robert-genn-photo4 The rear rack on the ATV makes an excellent platform.

The rear rack on the ATV makes an excellent platform.

This letter was originally published as “Mobile methodologies” on June 24, 2008.

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When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again. All the rest is humbug. (Edouard Manet)



  1. The back of an SUV with the hatch up works great, even in the rain. If it gets too hot, a reflector over the hatch door creates nice shade. I set up my easel under the hatch and sit on the “tailgate” , the cross supports on my easel hold my palette and extra paint, turps, etc. are beside me in the back of the SUV. I paint on toned canvas which is VERY helpful if you cannot find a shady spot for the canvas. Looking at a bright white canvas in the sun skews your view of the scene. For really sunny days, I use a very dark blue ground which helps keep the scene in proper tone. For some reason, I do not like to paint on a white ground.

  2. All of these suggestions are good until you are 85. So try them while you are still young while contortions are possible and painless.

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Featured Workshop

Permission to Paint Expressively Series (Session 1)
June 27, 2022 to June 30, 2022

image001 (2)Permission to Paint Expressively Series   Session 1     

June 27-30, 2022

Join Ellie Harold for “Expressive Painting: Color from the Inside Out.”  Do you struggle with color? For chromophobics or anyone who would like greater freedom in their use of color, this workshop focuses on activating and applying your innate color sense. Content, process and lightly structured exercises allow you access to a wider range of color expression in the safe space of Ellie’s studio, located only 3 blocks from Lake Michigan near Sleeping Bear Dunes. “Expressive Painting: Color from the Inside Out” has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! Details and registration at
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Featured Artist

Coming late to the wonderful life of an artist, Art found me through great instruction from Nancy Lynne Hughes,  and extending workshops from such International figures as Jean Pedersen, Frank Moir,  Mike Svob and Gerald Brommer. Each of these fine artists have left their stamp on my work for which I am eternally grateful.

There are two elements in my  artistic development that contribute to my work daily:

–   I fell in love with water medium early,  and will continue to learn from it for as long as I paint. No one really masters watercolour; it remains a thing apart, and therein lies its beauty.

–   About six years into painting, I discovered alternative watercolour surfaces (canvas, board and collage), with the result that I rarely paint on paper any more. Each surface presents different challenges and different rewards, and I find myself shifting from one to another according to the mood and subject of each piece.


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