On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day

I've always been one to move around. By my high school graduation I’d lived in several different houses. From Hawaii to Washington D.C. to Chicago, new surroundings were just another factor of life.

The constant change in scenery gave me a constant influx of images—a well to draw from as I painted and sketched as a kid. Later, when I settled permanently in San Francisco to pursue art full-time, I realized how completely vital travel was for filling this well. Without a supply of images and moments and emotions, I couldn’t paint. Travel immediately became a regular part of my studio practice.

On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day
On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day

After living in San Francisco for three years and using rental cars to take trips, I purchased a Subaru. I've had it for an entire year now and have already racked up over 20K miles. I’ve been everywhere from Joshua Tree, California to Lake Alberta in Canada. And even if I'm not going far I count on my car as my weekend escape from the city. A change in scenery is something I crave often.

Last month I put all I’d learned from traveling to the test with a short trip I made with Subaru. We drove to Mount Tam, just an hour outside San Francisco. Though we had a much lighter carload than what I usually take, it was fun showing off my packing skills and my favorite spots to paint outside the city. I took the colors, sights and sounds from this experience back to the studio to work on pieces for The Open Pass: A RANGE group show presented by Subaru. The main idea behind the show was to invite creative Subaru owners to explain the abstract space between our urban and outdoor identities—the intersection of environments between nature and city.

On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day

Road Materials

Paper and/or canvas.

Pastels tied up in a bandana to protect them

Small paint tubes - I've started keeping these in my cooler I got from the flea market. Keeps my materials from overheating

Two water bottles, one for drinking and one for painting (clearly labeled!)

Brushes, pencils, markers and erasers


Paint rags to clean up mess or make marks

Pallet paper or plastic wrap

On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day

Working with Subaru on this project got me thinking about how I travel. Whenever I leave on a trip I take supplies with me and stage makeshift studios along the way—which isn’t the easiest endeavor. I pull over to paint, sometimes just on the side of the road or at a campsite. I use the side of the car as an easel, lay plastic out on the ground or even use a campsite picnic table. If I’m on a hike or in a place the car can’t reach then I’ll take a sketchbook and record impressions. Nature dictates the experience to me—I’m just there to observe.

On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day
On the Road: Painting As I Travel | Heather Day
On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day

Over the past year I had to get smarter about supplies for the road. I’ve learned to prepare in advance in the studio. If I’m returning to a particular place then I start washes of paint and select colors I think I'm going to crave on the trip. Plus I think about space. Oftentimes I car camp, so one half of the car needs to store art supplies and the other for sleep—I keep a sleeping bag, cushy mat and pillow behind the driver’s seat. There always seems to be enough space, but planning really counts. It’s really when the journey begins.

 Thinking about travel brings me to new realizations. The more I travel, the more perceptive and efficient I become. The more I paint, the more experienced and open-minded I become. I can’t help but enjoy this fact about how time passes. Things change; you grow—as does your work. At the end of the day, art may seem to be composed of sweeping strokes and grand plans. But it is the attention to detail, the searching for images that fill our wells, that makes it so fulfilling.

"The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in Northern California." –– Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

On The Road : Painting As I Travel | Heather Day

Find out more information about The Open Pass: A RANGE group show presented by Subaru can be found here. If you're curious about the specific Subaru that I own, you can find it here and visit the Subaru website, here

A word on partnerships: With the objective of remaining true to my art and lifestyle, I only agree to partnerships with companies I respect. Therefore, I’m thankful for companies like Subaru, who are involved in bettering communities, and support my practice as an artist. I want to be as transparent as possible out of respect for my readers and in accordance with the FTC law of 2013. All content and opinions are my own. For more information on my views please read my open letter regarding partnerships.

Written by Heather Day. Edited by Kate Holthouser. Photos by Kat Borchart.