Meet Wilma – A Studio?

I often blog and talk about what I want to do as an artist but rarely share what I’m doing to achieve my goals. Before I start this post I want to introduce you to “Wilma”. Wilma is a 2007 Jeep Wrangler my wife and I enjoy when we need to get out of town and head for the hills (cue the Iron Maiden tunes). We purchased her bone stock, got her some new shoes, a frame chop front bumper, a winch, and some other goodies. She is our mobile fortress of solitude in an ever-annoying, busy, albeit noisy world filled with countless responsibilities and overwhelming adult issues. Wilma is our escape from reality more than you may know.

My 2007 Jeep Wrangler, Wilma – © Michael Warth

Grab a tasty drink, find a quiet place, and read on if you’d like to know more about what makes me excited to be making art and what a decade-old Jeep has to do with any of it.

One would think my love of dirt, and interest in off-roading would have had me owning Jeeps many years ago but Wilma is my first Jeep and she was purchased used in 2013. I have no idea why it took so long to buy one since I have always wanted a Jeep. In fact, my love of Jeeps can be traced back to the day my older brother decided to push me in my pedal car style Jeep from the top of a bewilderingly high hill at a campground we often visited. I was young, probably 3-5 years old. Honestly, I don’t even remember the day, but to hear him tell it, dad was pretty mad and the park rangers probably got a giggle watching me fly by the ranger station at the bottom of the hill and waving hello with a big smile on my face. I was hooked!

Nothing like being on a dirt trail in the woods – © Michael Warth

I can’t remember a time in my life I didn’t enjoy playing in the dirt or making art. It only fits that I would try to combine my love of off-roading and making art into a way for me to chase a dream. I have come to realize the best way for me to work as an artist is through travel, taking that dirt road to the perfect place to paint, make a photo, or simply blog about the day. Let me qualify that last sentence because I’m far from wealthy, I don’t have unlimited resources or even time to travel the globe. So, no, I’m not off on some extravagant expedition in South America over 4,000 miles from home with a team of adventurers blazing a trail through the deep dark jungle. In fact, I’m writing this post about 8 miles from home at 12:38 am in a parking lot. But, I am in the Jeep, I have my cameras, my Mac, and the iPhone is pumping tunes through Wilma’s speakers. I technically have everything I need to write this post and make supporting stills and video to go with it.

Working from the Jeep, or even away from home, I’ve found that I am much more inspired and excited to be doing something. When I’m at home it’s just too easy to worry about something that needs my attention or something as minuscule as whether or not the grass needs mowed. Let’s be honest, that Klondike bar in the ‘fridge isn’t going to eat itself and I can get distracted with food. Knowing that I can make art with a few well packed bags and Wilma getting me to those great locations, is really quite satisfying.

Which in a beating-around-the-bush sort of way, brings me to the whole point of this post. My wife, Lisa and I enjoy off-roading a lot. I take a lot of photos, I often tell her I want to come back to a particular spot to paint when we are on the trail. I enjoy telling others about our adventures, and well, it just makes sense that I start working more as an artist with a vehicle driven adventure model in mind. I often think about how fun a trip to Moab, Utah to paint, draw, get photos, do some video, and of course do some wheeling in a Jeep would be.

The essential art-making gear all bagged and ready for an adventure – © Michael Warth

I’ve been working for some time now on how to pack some camera gear, audio/video, plein air gear for painting, some stands, and tripods for hitting the trails and making art. Even the part about what to pack is quite time consuming since I run a lot of different scenarios through my head when deciding if something is truly needed. For now, the basics are packed in a few bags and take up a space equal to 40”L x 24”W x 12”D.

For trips longer than a day or the fact that I always keep trail tools and recovery gear, I will also need room for a cooler, a tent, clothes, etc. and the space in a two-door jeep fills up fast. She’s [Wilma] not a Unimog or custom designed off-road expedition RV. However, I’m convinced the minimalist in me can pull this off whether we are off on a day-trip, or a multi-week expedition to the land of arches and canyons.  The goal is simple, be able to make art and be location independent, travel by Jeep, and share the adventures with others.

After crossing the creek and climbing the bank, there was a deep hole we got stuck in. After pulling some cable, the Warn winch came to the rescue. © Lisa Warth

What does all of this really mean though? In the most basic form, I would say I’m trying to be an adventure artist. One who travels, documents the day, paints pictures along the way, and writes about it. I will probably always have a home studio to do paintings that simply take more time to complete. I may even have a proper studio/gallery outside the home one day. For now, I see myself working more from the road (or in most cases off-road), doing paintings en plein air, documenting my travels with video and stills, writing about it here on the blog, and simply inspiring others to get out and enjoy adventures of their own.

Some of my greatest memories are from the days I went camping with my mom, dad, and brother. I genuinely miss those days. I also enjoyed spending the whole day outside riding my dirt bike and coming home when the street lights came on – dirty, tired, and happy. I remember when I was younger and insanely content playing in the dirt with my cars under an old pine tree in the back yard for hours on end. Why did I grow up and think spending time in the house and not traveling would be better? When did I ever stop loving dirt? Wilma reminded me what it felt like to get dirty in the woods and come home tired and happy.

Those of you who get a kick out of going offroad probably already get this better than anyone else. However, to my artist friends, the painters and photographers, how much more inspired are you when you get out and travel? Again, my best memories come from travels. I’m happier going places, I’m inspired seeing new things. It just feels like I’ve finally realized my purpose as a creative. The evolution from playing with my grandpa’s old camera, to retouching images for others, to my days covering rock and metal concerts, to making pictures of bands for promos and pictures of booze for “The Thirsty Muse” project honed my skills and drove my passion to communicate via photos. All those years drawing and painting in the studio, working from reference photos, and getting out to paint en plein air taught me what I need to know when traveling and setting up the easel to paint.

I don’t necessarily consider myself a fine artist or photographer – in fact, I don’t feel like I fit into these groups in the purist sense. Some of my artist colleagues hate cameras and feel like a true artist only works from life. Some of my photographer colleagues see fine artists as starving old men locked in a studio making paintings of flowers. I love technology, I also love the traditional methods used by painters for centuries – I simply love to make pictures and the tools I choose to make them depends on what I want to do at the moment. The whole fine artist and photographer name-tags may be necessary to identify what I do, but I prefer to just be an artist who makes pictures.

The plan going forward is to find time to go camping, take day trips to the woods/forest/whatever and work from the Jeep. And by work I mean, do some spirited driving through the woods, on trails, and explore the roads less traveled while getting reference photos and painting a few pictures here and there. Pack a cooler and get lost with the hope to make a good story, and make some pictures. Or possibly just carve out a few hours in a dark and quiet parking lot after midnight to get a blog post finished. There is something quite satisfying about acting on the impulse to make art wherever I am, whenever I want. I no longer have to wait until I get home, or schedule a part of the day to lock myself in the studio.

I’ll continue doing some client work, license images to the people who need that one particular photo or image for their publication or whatever, and even do the occasional commission. My travel work, and art created on the road is the personal work – the work I want to be known for, and the adventure I want to find. It’s exciting for me, this whole idea of not needing a studio, traveling with my most important tools to make art, and meeting people along the way. Who knows, maybe National Geographic will finally call and invite me to become one of the chosen few and pay me to make pictures for them? I can dream can I not?

Interestingly enough, most of the artists I know spend every waking minute thinking about art. A lot of our daily decisions revolve around how the day will impact our art. For example, I know a lot of people see the jeep posts I make on social media and think, “I didn’t like this page to see off-roading”. But for me, it’s about getting outside to enjoy nature, explore, have adventure, make photos and video, and finding great locations to set up an easel and paint. 

This was the part where we weren’t stuck anymore and I realized the best time to film was already over. © Lisa Warth

Seriously, I can’t even go into a sporting goods store without thinking about how camping would or could improve my ability to make art. Really, it’s a bit of a curse at times. Have you ever went into a coffee shop and scanned the room for a good place to sit and draw? Or walked into a fast food place and wondered if you could get away with dropping the laptop on the table and started blogging?

In a perfect world, I’d travel in my Jeep a lot, make videos and take pictures to document the adventure, stop along the way and paint a picture or make reference photos for a studio piece, meet new people, and see the sites. I see the jeep as nothing more than a support vehicle to get me places I would otherwise not be able to see. A vehicle to get me and my gear out to that perfect spot to make a photo, a video, a painting, a drawing, or even a blog post.

For those of you who are artists, never underestimate how your lifestyle impacts the art you make. Make the process of making art your lifestyle. Add adventure, get outside, and enjoy life.

I could go into great detail of how I plan to market Warth Studios around my Jeeping adventures and the art I make when traveling but for now, I’ll spare you the agony of seeing me go on and on about the boring stuff. Just know that I am following my dreams to be an artist 24/7 and learning to do more with less gear weighing me down. I’m combining the things I love to do everyday into a lifestyle I can share with you. Along the way, I hope I make art you are interested in seeing. I hope I inspire you to travel to places you would never have considered. I hope to see you on the trail in a Jeep – be sure to wave!

The destination is all about the journey – © Michael Warth