The magic combo for a successful mobile lifestyle is nailing the art of simple living and finding a way to fund your travels. The Harteau family has mastered both. The secret ingredient? Art.
Emily and Adam Harteau, with their two-year-old daughter, Colette, hit the road from California in their Volkswagen Westfalia in October 2012, aiming for Argentina. So far, they’ve motored through Mexico, the Andes, and into the Amazon, finding inspiration for their own work – Adam is a photographer and mixed-media artist and Emily is a fashion designer – and a creative way to keep the van gassed up.
Having grown up traveling with his family in a salvaged, reconfigured school bus, and later settling into a hand-built cabin in the woods, Adam makes paintings, drawings and collages heavily influenced by travel and nature, but cast with a postmodern aura. On the road, he focuses mostly on photography, building a stock of images to later be manipulated by hand into collages, reminiscent of the feel of a particular moment and place.
But Adam and Emily also put their artistic sensibilities to work for them, hosting online 24-Hour Bazaars-becoming virtual personal shoppers in the artisanal markets they find along the road-to help fund their travels. AJ caught up with Adam to get the scoop on his road-inspired work, family life in the van, and how they keep the wheels rolling.
Do you have a home base somewhere, aside from the van?
We sublet our house back in Los Angeles, which has an attic full of our crap!
You’ve got a smart way of keeping gas in the van; tell me about your 24-Hour Bazaars.
We’ve always dreamed of opening a boutique with curated finds from around the world, traveling and bringing unique items back to sell. We came up with the idea to sell cool stuff, usually straight from the artisans who make it, and create a PDF catalog to e-mail to customers. They can get on the e-mail list by e-mailing email@example.com. Once the e-mail is sent, shoppers have 24 hours to make their selection and pay, which they can do directly on our website. Then we ship directly from whatever city we’re in.
What are the challenges and perks of van life with a small child, and what lessons do you think she’s learning from it all?
Having a child poses its challenges whether your are traveling or not, so why not hit the road with your munchkin? Emily and I have always been travelers, so there was no need to stop once Colette came into our lives. We didn’t adjust our lifestyle for her, she is adapting to ours. Obviously she has her own opinions and sometimes that can be a challenge, but a totally worthwhile one. This trip is just as much for her as it is for us. Colette is a little sponge and is learning Spanish with her English and meeting little amigos from all over the globe. This is shaping who she is as a person, building her confidence and planting the seed of global understanding. She’s having amazing experiences in the real world with her family. What could be better for a kid?
How does your life on the road affect your artistic style?
Before we departed, my drawings were looking like travel journals and my collages tripped-out landscapes from far-off places. I was cutting mountains and oceans out of books with X-Acto blades, daydreaming of creating my own images to cut up and draw on from my own travels. My mind was on the road, but my body in the U.S. Right now, my body is in Peru and I have been fortunate enough to gather visuals from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. My style hasn’t changed much, since it was developed for life on the road.
What kind of artistic mediums do you carry with you in the van?
Right now I’m deep in photography mode, so the camera gear is always out. I’m building an image library through my photography that will be used in print, collage, drawings and mixed media paintings. I have a couple small boxes of supplies that includes dried pigments, ink, watercolors, pencils, pens, various paper, and scraps from our travels. I built a flat file in the van that holds paper up to 39 x 25 and I’m currently building new cabinets with special art drawers.
What were your goals as you set out on this journey?
Our goals were to create art, to be together as a family and to explore the world. So far so good. Our route will take us through most countries in Central and South America. We left on October 26, 2012, planning on being gone for a year. It’s looking to be much longer than that!
Follow the Harteaus at ouropenroad.com and on Instagram @ouropenroad.