Who hasn’t, at one time or another, fantasized about selling everything they own and hitting the road, traveling and painting? Patrick Saunders is doing just that.

Lead Image: The Airstream trailer that is now home to painter Patrick Saunders and his wife, photographer Kimberly Saunders. Photo by Kimberly Saunders

“It is indefinite. It could be forever. It probably is forever.”

Saunders is not holding back on this venture. He and his wife, Kimberly, are planning on traveling throughout North America with no itinerary except a desire to hit key plein air events and competitions, and an aversion to cold and difficult winters. “We’ll do the plein air circuit during warmer months, but we’re not locked into any one place,” says Saunders. “We are both artists, and we like change and like meeting new people and experiencing new places. It’s not a complicated thing, but ‘stuff’ really didn’t make us happy. It is all about the experiences. The Airstream is great, and it becomes a prop, because it is classic Americana. It will make for some very cool compositions. We love to travel, but we like to wake up in our own bed.”

“The Sun Breaks on Point Reyes,” by Patrick Saunders, 2015, oil on panel, 12 x 16 in. Photo by Kimberly Saunders
“The Sun Breaks on Point Reyes,” by Patrick Saunders, 2015, oil on panel, 12 x 16 in. Photo by Kimberly Saunders

The couple embarked upon their journey on October 15, after wrapping up some commercial art jobs they had in Kansas City. “It was 20 years to the day that we met,” Patrick points out. They made their way to Texas, where Saunders participated in the En Plein Air Texas event; now their plan is to camp along the Rio Grande during the winter, eventually landing in Florida for a March event. Saunders has commissions to work on, some from a while back and some he has received since he hit the road. Kimberly is busy, too, snapping photographs along the way. Her approach to photography matches up well with Patrick’s painting schedule. “She is a very different photographer,” says Patrick. “She doesn’t spend most of her time clicking the lens. She spends a lot of time studying what she is going to photograph. We speak the same language, so we can support each other and make each other stronger, but we don’t compete because we work in different media.”

Saunders painting on location. Photo by Kimberly Saunders
Saunders painting on location. Photo by Kimberly Saunders

Patrick Saunders is documenting their travels well, fully utilizing social media. Their journey has a name: Plein Air Streaming. He reports that some of the most pleasant surprises have been the people they have encountered. “I don’t think there’s a person yet who hasn’t said, ‘You are living the dream, and I wish I could do that.’ So far it’s been fantastic. The people are incredibly friendly wherever we stay.” Saunders qualifies that a bit — they are interacting with fellow campers. “This group is more friendly than the people in ‘sticks and bricks’ homes,” he says. “On the road people will just come up and chat with you, and that’s great because you learn so much from each other. Don’t miss our home, and that’s a bit surprising. And we continue to downsize.” He also points out that roosters make for great alarm clocks — something that was not a daily reality back in Kansas City.

“Cornet Creek,” by Patrick Saunders, 2015, oil on panel, 12 x 16 in. Photo by Kimberly Saunders
“Cornet Creek,” by Patrick Saunders, 2015, oil on panel, 12 x 16 in. Photo by Kimberly Saunders

The painter says he can’t think of many downsides to the lifestyle, although Internet connections are surprisingly spotty. The duo doesn’t stay within city limits much, preferring to seek out campgrounds, deserts, and beaches. “We are going to chase 70-degree weather,” says Saunders. “We grew up in the Midwest, so we have seen enough harsh winters to last a lifetime.” The Saunders are equipped to “boondock,” or live off the grid. They have solar panels to recharge the Airstream’s battery. Patrick sells his paintings or ships them off to a gallery as soon as possible to keep his art materials from getting unwieldy. “I don’t believe in keeping my own art,” says Saunders. “A teacher early on said, ‘Sell your painting if you get an offer because a year from now you won’t love it, so let it go.’ The painting itself, the final painting, is not what is important. It is the experience.”

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Editor PleinAir Today, Andrew Webster
Andrew Webster is the Editor of Plein Air Today and works as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.

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