Window means GO

I JUST GOT A NEW WINDOW (and the left windshield pane replaced) at long last!! As simple as it is I’m super excited because that felt like a big roadblock for moving forward with anything at all. I dropped the truck off with Able Glass Services just a couple blocks away, and picked it up the next day, easy peasy after a bit of a wait for the weather to be good. 

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Much plan, many helps!

Much plan, many helps!

I have had an awesome week of talking to very helpful people about my designs. Bert Green of SolarMill, Thom Stanton of Timber Trails, Shaylen Broughten of SABarts and her husband Chris, and Matt Blair of B&C Creations. I'm just going to keep linking to these folks again and again because they just keep being super handy with advice and assistance <3

Right now all of this is crystallized in my brain, so before it disintegrates here's a big info dump of everything I learned and will be applying ASAP.

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Business Crush #2

I found a new ROLE MODEL! A family friend did me a big favor and took me out to meet Jamie, proud owner of Virginia Beach's only MOBILE SIGNAGE SHOP. Jamie provides vinyl lettering and graphics services out of his 1989 Chevy Grumman step-van, and has been doing it that way for 25 years. Very recently he acquired a new truck, and is already ahead of me in the renovations process to outfit the second work vehicle in his tiny fleet. 

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The Husband is in the House

Big doings in the past week or so! I've found a home for the Metal Husband (although to be honest I think Metal Baby is a more appropriate name) and gotten it parked there for the time being ~indoors~!! Very Fancy.

As we all know, Winter is Coming (specifically it's coming tomorrow morning, better put on your snow pants Richmond) so getting the Metal Baby under a roof is a big deal. 

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Pinterest and the first sketches

Pinterest and the first sketches

For the last 3 years or so I've been making a Pinterest board for a possible future tiny house. For the last year, I've made a separate one just for the Mobile Studio. Now it's time for me to sort through those boards for actual useful information. I'm going through them image by image and link by link, editing and making a physical list of key ideas.  If you'd like to see the board, take a look! 

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Schemes and Tangles

It's hard to keep all of my different lines of thought straight. Sometimes I feel like it's a very direct process (buy van, make repair plan, do repairs, wow!), and sometimes I wade too deep into the strong currents of possibility. The sweet spot in between involves keeping a lot of strings separate and ready to braid into one plan. I like both of those metaphors so I'm keeping them, but the strings one is more helpful right now. 

The strings I'm holding at the moment (in no particular order) are:

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Giant List of Features A Mobile Studio Must Have

I won't make an actual layout until I have a vehicle, but I do have a list of features that will have to factor into that layout. Some are more important than others. I'm thinking I'll break this down into separate blog posts to collect ideas for each feature. 


  • Everything has to strap down in some way for transport. 
  • The more I can see what I have, the easier it will be for me to use it. (Aka stacking everything in boxes is not an option) This has to be a functional, active space, not just storage. 
  • Ideally this space will be tall, whether I find a truck that tall or extend the roof. 8-10 feet on the inside is my goal. 
  • I want to maneuver within the city - drive on all streets and alleys, park in odd places (not just bus stops or empty parking lots). This means a short wheel base more than a short vehicle, but both are best.
  • This will be my full-time studio - comfort is pretty important, because otherwise I'll avoid working there. 
  • Since I'll be parking in weird places, I want to be 'off-grid' or independent of any hookups to function. 


Work Surface: I need as much work surface as possible, enough to spread out a couple of projects at once. I know that long is more useful to me than deep. I'd like to have it flip down, too, in case I need the floor space more than the table space. With that in mind, I'll always need a little table space, so I'm thinking a 70/30 split in the surface would be nice, if I can keep it flush with itself. That way I can lay down one part and keep the other up for Stuff.  I imagine it'll be a table-top of some kind with little legs propped against the wall. If the legs could telescope or rest at different angles, I could even have the option of a drafting-style table. 

Computer: I am seriously considering keeping my iMac in the Studio. If I'm really going to be using this as my full-time studio, I need to be able to do digital as well as traditional-media work there, which means Photoshop and full access to my hard drive, not to mention the best photo-editing capabilities I can get. It'll mean that security will be a big deal, but I think it'll be worth it. 

If I have a fold-down desk, I don't want the computer sitting on the desk itself. A wall mount would be great for flexibility of space, as well as safety of the computer itself (I THINK). I'll need to do some research about computers in moving vehicles, and the best way to secure them in a risky location. Maybe a lockbox of some kind that can go over it?? Obviously I'll shut it down when I'm driving the van. A little space for computer accessories will be necessary too, then. Keyboard, mouse, tablet, scanner, and maybe a printer. 

High Counter Surface: At first I considered this a 'want' because of limited space, but I know I'll go crazy if I don't have some kind of secondary surface to for temporary throwing-stuff-down, as well as a few standing tasks. This will probably be a counter-height surface ≤ the size of my work surface, worked into the storage shelves or something. 

Storage (small stuff, design): This will need to be near the desk, handy to reach when I'm sitting and working. Currently in my Immobile Studio these things are arranged aesthetically on a lot of small shelves next to my drafting table.

This obviously won't work for the Mobile Studio - I'm thinking small shelves with baskets, or small drawers. RV people have a lot of solutions for stuff like this - cabinet doors that fold up or clip closed or slide away... Possibly I could get some reclaimed stuff from old RVs. I foresee a lot of bungee cords in my future. 

Storage (paint): This is the bulk of my storage needs, but pretty simple to figure out.  I have five kinds of paint: Gallons, Quarts, Craft Paint, Misc. topcoats,  and Misc. Acrylic.

  • For Gallons, Cobalt Studios does big paint perfectly - shelves deep enough for exactly one gallon of paint. 
  • This is fine for Quarts too - they can stagger almost two-deep at that shelf size. I figure if I set up a bar or bungee cord across these shelves, they're good to go for travel and visible storage. 
  • Craft Paint fits nicely in the bins I have for them now, so the bins just need shelf space (and another bin since I'm in over-flow mode right now).  
  • Misc. Acrylics also has a good system already - a big medical bin that's easy to take out at a job site and rummage through (divided into sections for color).  
  • Misc. Topcoats is the most awkward. Seeing the different kinds is important (it's hard for me to remember what I have and what each does), but they're all wonky shapes and sizes. I'll consider it unsolved.

Storage (Mural): Stuff I will NEVER use in the studio doesn't need to be handy inside the studio space. This stuff includes extension poles, dropcloths/tarps/etc, scaffolding, ladders, extra work lights, extension cords, my misc. outdoor supplies box, big buckets, and maybe a few more things. 

Ideally it'll be easily accessible from the outside, the roof, or near one of the doors. I'm also considering a 'shed' division for the back of the truck - sort of a muckroom, ext. access kind of space. 

A window: I've got to have some natural light to not feel like a crazy box lady. Most of these vehicles have at least one, but some don't have any, which will mean punching a hole in the wall. I'm also considering skylights. 

Window covers: For as many windows as I have, I'll need covers for them too, for privacy, temperature control, and security. Many blogs I've read recommend covering windows from the outside for maximum safety so that they don't even really look like windows, but I don't know if that's necessary. If I cut windows into the walls, I can keep the negative space of the cut and use it as a cover... But I think something opaque on the interior will be just fine. 

Sink: I HAVE to have a sink. It's the first real challenge I'm giving myself - most everything else is just a matter of putting things in the right place and maybe hooking up to a generator. I can't operate in my studio without a sink, and having my own wash-place on-site when working on a mural would be truly amazing. This means I'll need a water-tank or water collection system or both - not sure how the plumbing of this will work yet. Best-case scenario I have a deep-sink with a drying spot next to or above it. It shouldn't be right next to my work surface (splatters), and it would be most handy right next to a door or window. A little hose attachment will probably come in handy too. 

Heating/AC: I have no idea how this will work yet, but I have had a studio with no heat or A/C for the past two years and it just makes me not work there. Not acceptable. 

Regular electrical outlets: I'm working on a list of things I'll need electricity for, but there will always be some odd thing I need to plug in, so handy outlets will be important. This is another big utility question - generator? Inverter? Eh?



A lot of windows: I need A window, but I want LOTS of windows. The trick is that wall space will be at a premium for storage (I assume).  Possible places: in the doors, over the desk area, skylights, long thin windows just under the shelves (let in light, don't get blocked by stuff), over the sink.... Or I could do like this truck and just replace a whole wall with plexiglass: 


Toilet: This is not really a need, but it's a pretty big want. This is still totally unsolved at this point, but I know I am not very interested in a a black-water tank. I'll probably go with something a little crunchier - composting toilet? Bucket with excellent lid? I don't expect anyone but me to have to use this thing. 

Comfy sitting/napping spot: A good half of my work is just sitting and staring into space, and sometimes that requires a soft chair with pillows and a blanket. I would imagine that this would be a conversion from something else - maybe a pad I can lay on the counter surface and treat like a window seat or napping spot. Even better, I could covert something in the driving area to a sleeping spot. I foresee many occasions where sleeping the night in the studio would be very very convenient. 

Walls & Floors that I can beat up on: tacking things to the walls, flicking paint onto the floor, wiping paint everywhere, spraying stuff on the floor, writing on the walls, etc etc etc - these make a comfortable studio. It's a 'want' because I'll beat up whatever I have anyway, but there are some design options that could make things more replaceable or lend themselves to pinning and painting and writing. 

Again, Cobalt Studios has a great setup for floors: a soft composite of some kind covered by thick, very absorptive rag paper. You can practically clean your brushes on it, walk comfortably and stand for a long time, and replace a lot of it pretty cheaply. I will probably settle for cheap plywood or something. 

The walls.... I dunno. Wood is really nice for all of those things I want to do, but I've gotten some dissuasion from people thinking the movement of the vehicle will crack and splinter anything that's not welded on. I'll need to research that myth, and what materials would be cheap and effective for my wall- and floor- needs. This will depend heavily on my vehicle though. 

Flat-file: I've survived this long without one, and I can certainly keep going, but dayum a flat-file would be handy, and very secure for driving. 

Outside access: All these food trucks have me thinking that some outside access to my inside setup would be very convenient and feasible. Recently I've been working out of the trunk of my PT cruiser, and it's super handy as a work surface. Since the Mobile Studio vehicle will almost certainly be much higher off the ground than my PT, it might be enough to use the floor of the Studio as an outdoor work surface. Maybe part of the wall hinges up? More on this once I know the vehicle. 

Microwave? Hot plate?: I pack leftovers for lunch a lot. Heating those up would be nice. 

Awning: for those hot sunny days or drippy rainy days...

Unsolved Questions (bolded above):

  1. Research computers in moving vehicles. What is the best way to secure/protect an iMac?
  2. Is there a best way to make my topcoats storage visible but secure?
  3. What even is Heating? A/C? How how how??
  4. And water? What is that? How how how??
  5. And electricity? Generator? Inverter? How much power do I need and what's the best way to get it?
  6. What's the most low-impact low-profile way to have a toilet on-board?
  7. Walls and floor - material and construction? 

Step-van Swoonlist

First you should know that I am NOT actually super 100% sure that I'll end up with a step-van. I'll write about my vehicle options and ideas soon, but this post is just for my Craigslist swoons. 

Okay, so I've been prowling around Craigslist for a while screenshotting step-vans that look good. Up till now, I haven't been prepared to act on any of these, but they're a good example of the range I'm looking at.  Although most of these are probably not available anymore, they're some good leads to jumpstart my search in the next month. (Sorry, some of the pictures are obnoxiously cropped, but the goal was to capture a reminder + something searchable for later)

I was surprised to find that step-vans tend to fall a little higher on the price scale than small RVs - I could dependably find likely RV suspects in the $2-6,000 range, but the step-vans are usually closer to 5-10,000 for something in decent shape. I suppose it's because they're more flexible and built to last, which are two big draws for me. Also a lot of them come with food truck equipment, most of which is useless to me. Maybe I can find a restaurant around here to go in with me for the food parts??

Some of the pre-installed equipment is pretty attractive to me though, enough to get it on my swoonlist. Any shelving or cabinetry or work surface that's welded in seems very handy; step-vans are all big metal boxes by default, so anything welded in is as sturdy as it gets for rattling and rolling on the road. Another big winner is large backdoors. I've seen a lot with very narrow doors, or the rolling door. I haven't decided on a 'best door style', but a large entryway is ideal. Of course, many are just on here because they have a nice ratio of price-to-age or price-to-odometer or etc.

On Craigslist, I've been looking around most of Virginia and DC. I read on other blogs all the time about how "we finally found our baby in Arkansas and jumped in the car to go pick her up!" .... but combing the entire US sounds kind of insane. I'm willing to travel to find the ~right~ vehicle, but I'm not sure of the other best places to look. 

If you're reading this and have any advice, definitely throw it my way!

Find A Mechanic

Okay, so for about six months I've been poking around Craigslist and miscellaneous other online resources looking for cheap trucks. I've found a LOT of interesting leads, but I keep shorting out because I really need to talk to a good commercial vehicle mechanic first.

I've gotten a couple of names for local mechanics from friends, but others have told me there's no point talking to them unless they are familiar with commercial vehicles. Dang. I'm still going to give the recommended guys a call just in case, because not only do I not know a dang thing about cars, I also am not used to working with mechanics at alllllll. It would be so nice to talk to someone I already know has great references from people I know. 

My only current lead for a recommended commercial mechanic is Seredni Tire, 5302 lakeside, 804-266-2700. Ask for Al or Roger. I can do that.