Two Kansas City Artists Quit Jobs, Sell Stuff, And Travel The Country By Airstream

Aug 27, 2015

Cicadas sing the rhythm of late summer as plein air painter Patrick Saunders and his wife, photographer Kimberly Saunders, sit at a picnic table beneath the shade of a tent — the living room in their new life together.

Patrick and Kimberly sold their Union Hill condo last month and bought a 16-foot Airstream Bambi. The two artists are now living in an RV park with their cat just outside Platte City, Missouri. They're wrapping up a few final projects before heading to a plein air event in San Angelo, Texas.

'Living a bigger life' 

As they sit together beneath the canopy, Patrick pulls out a paint brush to coat archival masonite boards with a thin layer of gesso. He says he's excited to start this new chapter in their life.

“I feel like we’re living a bigger life now than when we lived at home,” says Patrick. “At home, you just kind of stay indoors and now we have everything around us.

"I had a great studio with north-facing light for color, but this is better. Now the light is constant in the the tent outside all day. I prefer to paint from life and travel to different places and experience them firsthand.”

After finding some success competing in plein air events around the country, Patrick says they plan to follow the plein air circuit in the new trailer. Between events, they’ll camp at national parks and keep friends and family updated through their new blog.

Kimberly says she also envisions a full artistic life on the road. “I think that I could be valuable to some stock photography agencies because of our mobility and because of the environments that we will be in,” she says. “So that’s my plan. I’m excited. It’s a big change, but it’s an adventure.”

By following plein air events, Patrick expects to maximize time doing what he enjoys most.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR

Making art as a product and art for art's sake

Patrick began his art career working as an illustrator for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. 

“I learned a lot there, but when you create art specifically as product, it changes what you’re doing and the fun goes away," he says.

"I left Hallmark looking to do something else and I went into advertising. Now there are a lot of great people in advertising, but it’s a completely impersonal business —at least for me. I was, once again, creating a product to satisfy someone else.”

After ten years in advertising, Patrick says he was through. When he announced to Kimberly that all he wanted to do was paint, she was immediately supportive. In fact, everyone close to him was supportive.

“The funny thing is I expected my mother to ask me if I’d lost my mind,” remembers Patrick. “She said, ‘What are you waiting for? Go do it now.’ And that was all the inspiration I needed.”

Creating a lifestyle based on letting go

At first, Kimberly says she thought the transition might be more challenging. But within the first few hours of unpacking, she was hooked. “It was almost instant,” she says.” I just love this. I don’t want to go back to a sticks-and-bricks life.”

Letting go of objects and living a tiny life has been surprisingly satisfying.

“For me, it’s more about the lifestyle,” says Kimberly. “I just find the more I let go of, the better I feel. The less I have, the less I have to maintain. The more my time is my own and the more control I have over my own time the more alive I feel.”

'This is our office now'

Kimberly watches from the door of the Airstream as Patrick uses a metal dish in the tiny sink to wash gesso from his paint brush.  “I feel like we are living life for the first time in a long time, really living," she says. "As opposed to sitting in cubicle or in an office for decades. This is our office now.”

“I wish we’d done it years ago," says Patrick. “It’s so relaxed and yet we get a lot done. And we feel closer to nature. We both feel like kids again. This is the best I’ve felt in years. I sleep soundly and I am ready to go every day."