Who hasn’t painted in their vehicle, or at least thought about it? But things can get cramped in there. Amanda Williams built an easel that helps her paint in unfavorable weather from the relative comfort of her car.

“My steering-wheel easel was initially made because I had taken to using a small sketchbook with simple media such as pen-and-ink, watercolor, and graphite,” says Williams. “I had painted plein air with oils for years and had no idea that even a few drops of rain would spoil a picture on paper. I just didn’t think of it.

“I had added sketching to my art practice because life was very busy and I wasn’t able to get out to paint as often as I wanted. A small sketch only takes a few minutes, very little equipment, and not much stress. The sketches are also great for later works in the studio, which extended my time even more because I could use them as reference and paint at night. Being so quick, several watercolor drawings can be made in the same amount of time it would take to make just one oil painting. It was a real turning point in my art practice.

“The first winter I got quite a surprise when I was chased inside by a light shower of rain. I could still draw in cafes, of course, but the subject matter I enjoy the most is out in the streets. I had the sketching habit well ingrained, so was quite disappointed.”

The steering-wheel easel as it looks from the front
The steering-wheel easel as it looks from the front

She continues, “It only took half an hour to make the steering wheel easel. If you look at the pictures, you will see the materials I used — a Masonite panel that I had already sealed and cut to use for an oil painting, some offcuts of stretcher bars, and a couple of old drawer knobs. Any wood offcuts would work fine. It is mostly held together with a combination of wood glue, a few staples, and some screws that go through the drawer knobs.

“I imagine most steering wheels are a slightly different, so some measuring followed by trial and error, plus a few adjustments will get it made. It doesn’t need to look pretty, but it does need to fit so it doesn’t move. Mine has freed me to paint in almost any weather. Although I do recommend parking under a tree most of the time, because a wet windshield is difficult to see through, it can get steamy, and hot conditions are definitely uncomfortable.”

Williams adds, “What surprised me more is that I felt safer. There are no curious onlookers as there are out in the street. Personal safety is less of a concern, so I can be out in the evenings to draw nocturnes. Or in busy streets and car parks, where shyness would have held me back.

“I also get very comfortable — a drink in the cup holder and music from the CD player — many hours go by. I often move the car to find a different view. I have been using the steering wheel easel for over two years now and notice that many of best drawings have been done in those odd moments when I am waiting in the car for my children to finish school or arrive on the bus, or I saw something unexpected while out driving. I can stop by the side of the road at any time I have a few minutes to spare. Being kept waiting becomes an opportunity.”

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