SPRINTER VAN LIFE INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST SKYE WALKER
Here on Bearfoot Theory, one of my goals is to show you that freedom from a traditional 9-5 is possible with passion, dedication, and creativity. Further, there are endless ways not just to make #vanlife work, but to blend vanlife with a successful career.
Meet Skye Walker, the artist behind the #sea2seamuraltour who is a perfect example of this. Skye lives full time in his Sprinter and has been traveling through towns all across the country, adding some color to communities on his “Sea To Sea Mural Tour.”
The backstory: Early this year, I stumbled on a Sprinter Van with one of the sickest wrap jobs I’ve ever seen. The van, belonging to Chris Benchetler, was adorned with trippy mountains and more noticeably (to me), a Grateful Dead skull. Now some of you may not know, but I have a Grateful Dead bear tattooed on my foot, and that’s where the name Bearfoot Theory comes from. Designed by Chris and, as it turns out, Skye Walker, this van caught my eye. I reached out to Skye and learned he does a lot more than design vans.
I’m excited to share this interview with Skye Walker where we talk about his art, his Sprinter Van, and his exciting life on the road.
Before your #sea2seamuraltour, you didn’t have a Sprinter Van. What gave you the inspiration for living and working out of a Sprinter while traveling the country?
Before the #sea2seamuraltour I was living in Cardiff, CA and working as a full time commissioned muralist, artist, and designer. I traveled a lot for mural projects for a variety of clients all over the USA and overseas as well. I always wanted to do a mural tour but wasn’t sure about how to do it or the best way to do it.
My good friend, Chris Benchetler, who is a world class pro skier and also a talented artist, built out a sprinter van with his friend Scott Smith for his GoPro film ‘Chasing AdVANture’ and it turned out amazing. I collaborated with him on the art for his van called @thestealthymarmot which was a blast. It wasn’t until last year when he had a premiere of his show at the Evo store in Seattle, that it clicked in my brain: I should get a sprinter van for my tour!
Photo Credit: @ohsokosey
So what exactly is the #sea2seamuraltour? Who are your clients?
This tour is all about creating art and connecting with people and places that I may not go to or get to visit across North America. While I’ve set up and am still setting up murals in advance with clients, I’m also connecting with non-profits as well as schools to work with young adults and kids and hopefully educate people on the importance of public art. My clients vary quite a bit normally, and they range from Whole Foods Markets to the Boys and Girls Clubs to small businesses, restaurants and passion projects. But being mobile, instead of flying to locations, gives me the freedom and flexibility to go to an area that wouldn’t necessarily be on my radar and meet amazing humans in the process.
People are also generally very willing to help make connections, introduce you to other contacts and friends and be apart of the process. Sometimes, to my amazement, some people go above and beyond to help make things happen, which is awesome because when you’re in a town for a short period of time, it’s hard to pull a mural together.
Photo Credit: @ohsokosey
Take us on a tour of your current Sprinter Van, @vango_go. What do you like the most about your build? What would you change if you did it over again?
My van was built out by my friend Joey Fandel of @noblecampers, and my other friend Johnny Wood @woodsoffroad built my bumpers and my roof rack. This van was a dream build for sure, but it never would have happened without the help and ingenuity of those guys. When you get inside VanGO (@vango_go) you are greeted with a very minimalistic design, one that I feel keeps it very open and roomy while utilizing the space properly. We have a few different kinds of beautiful wood finishes and a cozy wood ceiling so it feels like a mini cabin.
I have a sink, 10-gallon water tank, ARB fridge that holds all the food I could need, a modular bed and a small pull out desk so I can get work done along the way.
I have two solar panels on the roof; one that powers all my LED lights, fridge, fan, water pump etc. and the other is a Goal Zero panel that powers my Goal Zero Yeti lithium-ion battery that can power up all my gadgets and such.
The back of my van is the garage that has more space than I imagined. I have my mountain bike, instruments, adventure gear, clothing and room for extra paints when I have them. My two Aluminess boxes on the back house my paints and paint gear, so that stuff isn’t stuffed in with the rest of the gear.
I don’t know that I would change anything really. The only drawback I see is that we didn’t add shore power, so all the items in the van are run on solar, which can be tricky sometimes when the sun isn’t around. Joey did such a killer job on the interior it’s hard to find fault or anything to change at all!
Photo Credit: @awanderologist
Read our 7 tips for designing your own Sprinter van floorplan
Is the 144″ big enough for you and all of your supplies? Or do you wish you had more room?
The 144” is perfect for me. I’ve also fit like 6 adults hanging out in the van talking and chilling and it never felt cramped. My friend Chris has the 170,” and that is really nice for sure to have that extra bit of space. But to be honest, I make it work and it really feels like home. Plus, I’ve been in some tight situations in some cities and was grateful my van wasn’t longer.
Most memorable camping spot or experience of all time with @vango_go?
At the start of the tour, I went to Yosemite and hadn’t been there in like 8 years. I camped for one night in an area that had a trailhead and you weren’t supposed to sleep in your car, but I was exhausted from driving and my friend Tierney Moses was with me (as she helped me paint the first mural on the tour in King City) so we crashed out in the lot of this certain area in the park. We had a campsite back at the entrance, but we just slept where we were and watched an amazing sunset on Half Dome and woke up to an epic sunrise behind Half Dome… it was truly spellbinding, I’ll never forget it.
Also, I camped at Grain Surfboards in Maine and surfed every day and painted a fun mural for them and got the local’s tour of their area for over a week, that was really awesome because I always wanted to surf in Maine in the Fall and that’s exactly what I was doing.
How much time do you spend working each week and how do you find a balance between work and play?
Working for me is always this crazy variable. Since I’m self-employed, I’m always working. Always lining up the next project, making connections and working on sketches and ideas. The tricky part when you traveling is stopping and making time to do those things, especially when you are in amazing locations and want to surf or mountain bike or sightsee instead of being on the computer plotting out the next week. But I just make it happen. If I’m driving long distances I’ll stop at coffee shops and check email, stay connected and keep the ball rolling. I call a lot of people while driving, which is efficient to get things nailed down. I try to sketch as much as I can but sometimes you’re just beat from driving, painting and going non-stop. I truly relish the days where I get to soak up where I’m at and not look at my email phone or have to do social media updates. I love sharing this adventure… but I’m very aware of wanting to be in the moments that are happening in front of me as they’ll never happen again.
What are three things in your van that you couldn’t live without?
- A magnetic flashlight which is sticks to my seat so it’s always handy (thanks mom!).
- My 2920 Sleep mattress… honestly, the most amazing thing I’ve ever slept on.
- A full water tank & of course, snacks.
You’ve created a lot of incredible artwork across the country. Which mural was your favorite or most memorable to work on?
That is always a hard question… they all have their stories and place in my heart. But I’ll say the mural I did in Lower Price Hill in Cincinnati, OH was pretty special.
Photo Credit: @sarahdee109
I was connected to Community Matters in Lower Price Hill and they wanted a 30ft x 18 ft mural in their neighborhood. A family friend, David and Patty Rippe referred me to Mary at Community Matters, which was great. I was on my way to Maine from Seattle, and I literally designed the mural the night before I got there. We had the kids and teenagers from the community come out and help paint the lower portion of the wall and sign their names into it which really made it special for everyone. I painted it in two days, in 100-degree heat with 100% humidity, so gnarly. Dodged a couple scary lightning and rain storms and finished it up and cruised on. But the kids, parents, teens, and everyone involved was wonderful and it really was an amazing and unforgettable experience.
Where do you find inspiration from? What is your goal with your artwork (in terms of how it impacts the communities you work in)?
I’m constantly inspired by nature, our environments and how we interact with them and affect them. I think adding murals into urban areas that are focused on natural environments with trees, animals, birds and connecting that to a human element can be calming, inspiring and hopefully elevate the feeling of the area it’s in. I’ve met some rad artists on this tour that do similar things with their art and it inspires me to see other creative muralists out there painting amazing pieces for the world to enjoy… that in turn gets me stoked to keep doing the same and striving to be better as an artist.
A mural from Skye’s Sea to Sea Mural Tour painted for the Keep A Breast Foundation in Nashville to raise awareness for breast cancer prevention.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about living life on the road? What about living and working as an artist, and what advice do you have for people wanting to do what you do?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that while there is a lot of stress and heavy political stuff going on in the country right now (and the world) people are still great. And, people everywhere are hurting in some way, shape, or form. So you have to be patient and compassionate and understanding as you travel in and out of peoples lives and communities. Life is hard and throws curve balls at us all. But even when people are hurting, they can still be so amazing towards others and open their arms and doors and be helpful, caring and really amazing.
Be humble when you travel and be open to everything you can like new experiences, locations, friends and adventures. But also take time for yourself because as you interact with many people on the road, you’re also absorbing a lot of energy which can be great but also draining. So you gotta’ take care of yourself. Keep a schedule, but also leave room for flexibility.
Photo Credit: @ohsokosey
And if you’re going to work from the road as an artist, it’s a hustle. You gotta’ be ready to bend and fold to do what you love as it will never quite come together as you plan it. When it does come together perfectly, it’s the best thing ever! But leave room for growth, improvements, and adjustments as it’s all part of the process.
Oh, and always have a couple little things to give away on the road as gifts. I believe in order for you take experiences away from the places you are enjoying, you have to leave a little part of yourself there as well.
Last question, where can people find you and follow your work?
- Web: www.skyewalkerart.com
- Instagram: @skyewalker_art
- VanGo IG: @vango_go
- Twitter: @iamskyewalker
- Facebook: @iamskyewalker