Stephanie Artuso is a visual artist. She has a fluffy dog, loves her mornings as much as her coffee…and, let’s see…what else can I tell you about Stephanie? Oh, yes. She lives part of the year in a school bus.
I found her on Instagram, and her inspired squares stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t wait to introduce you to her. Let’s tag along her delightful life, shall we? Welcome, Stephanie!
Good morning! I’m Stephanie Artuso, a visual artist, dog mom, coffee lover, interior design enthusiast, out-of-the-box home dweller, currently an organic farmer, and Jill of all trades. Because I define my life in many different ways, every day in my life operates a bit differently. There are some general things that remain constant. Coffee, walks with Uka, my five year old, fluffy, mixed breed boarder collie, cuddles with my muse’s daughter Gia, time spent creatively, and lots of daydream/plan-making chats with my fellow farm residents. I’ll start at the beginning.
I am a morning person. I believe this comes from having grown up on an island where there wasn’t a high school. Being on time for a ferry first thing in the morning was very important.
I have the most of all kinds of energy in the first part of the day — creative, physical, all of it. I go back and forth between starting my day with a run, writing, or being in the studio. Mornings for me involve a glass of lemon water, and then a coffee.
I love coffee. I go to bed at night looking forward to waking up to the process of coffee: the brewing, the smell, the first sip. Coffee on a camp stove, sitting outside, was a big part of my motivation to live in a bus. It sounds insignificant, but having to put in a bit of extra work — getting water from outside, lighting the stove, nothing too strenuous, but just more involved then pressing a button — is a huge part of my life philosophy about simple living. I feel more connected to my life and natural surroundings when it requires more thought and effort to do the little things that we take for granted.
Whenever possible I buy coffee from small-batch local coffee roasters. My favourite is Red Roaster from Gabriola Island, but seeing as I presently reside in the interior of B.C., just out side of Lillooet, I only get it when I’ve made the trek to visit family and friends.
I am being greeted by late blooming sunflowers and filtered morning sun these days. Mornings like this I will eat oatmeal, and will turn my attention to creative pursuits of some sort. It’s all about planning and ideas in the morning. Mapping out how to put into motion whatever I am working on. I sit at my little table on the bus, and write.
Lately, what has been on my mind most is a project boat my boyfriend and I bought. It’s a 1950s wooden power boat called The Reel Thing, and it needs a lot of work. I love interior design projects. I learned so much converting the school bus into a home, and it’s an addiction now that I have — the desire to turn things into homes.
Next I wander down to my studio. It’s in the back bedroom of an old trailer, and it’s the most perfect place to make a mess.
I moved on the farm three years ago, when some friends who were purchasing it together invited me to be part of the garden project. When we moved here, there was a big open pasture previously used to grow alfalfa. Now it’s a certified Organic farm, producing a wide variety of heirloom vegetables and flowers.
Last summer we attended three farmers markets, and created a growers co-operative with some of the neighbours called Rainshadow Growers so that we could work together on sales and transport, as well as unite a community of farmers instead of competing. It’s a very satisfying lifestyle, but a lot of hard work. I’ve realized that I am not cut out to be a farmer. A gardener yes, but a farmer no. It takes a certain kind of obsession, constant thought, planning, trouble-shooting. Something that I don’t have. I have too many other ideas, and I like to wander too much. Farming doesn’t afford much of a life outside of the farm.
Renovating the bus was very inexpensive. I was lucky because I got a lot of help, and had access to off-cuts from a saw mill for all the lumber I needed. The initial cost of buying the bus was $1400. The bus was retired from a river rafting company. Then after that, I think I only spent a few hundred. I had an art show around the time that I started the project, where all the pieces were for trade, so a few people offered time spent helping. Every thing else is stuff I had or thrifted.
My lifestyle costs about $1000 a month. I don’t like talking about money. Part of the way I live is a statement about not playing into our society’s obsession with money and things. I measure what my life costs me by what comforts I am willing to go without to have the time and freedom to pursue art and other things in my life that bring me joy.
Obviously I haven’t completely checked out! I have a cell phone, I drive a vehicle, I pay rent on the farm, so I do have to work. But I try to only take on jobs and work that can put my heart into. This way of living comes with financial instability, but that’s a sacrifice I make easily and I always manage to land on my feet. Knock on wood.
I do a lot of commissions for people who have seen my art at shows, friend’s houses, or online. It’s rare that I have a collection of finished pieces, but when I do, I try to get them up on Etsy. Lately I have been working on a collection of food-shaped necklaces that are finding homes around the necks of DJs.
I am all over the place with what I am creating. On any given day I am working on four or five projects. Paintings or appliqué. I have also designed some logos, tattoos, shirt designs, and stage decor at festivals. I take a lot of photographs, although I would not call myself a photographer by any means.
The bus came about naturally, as I didn’t want to live in the house with everyone. I have always wanted to live in a bus (or a camper, a Yurt, a boat, a tree house…) and I was in a position where I had somewhere to park it and work on it. What I love most about the bus is the light. All the windows make me feel like I am outside.
I have a power cord running to the bus for lights, I have a wood stove for heat, an outhouse, and access to the washroom in the house. In the spring and summer I have water from the gravity-fed irrigation lines. Glacier water right to my door, and an outdoor washing station. When the weather becomes too cold, I usually head to Vancouver Island to visit with family and friends, or I travel. I am a bit nomadic in the winter.
I think I have always just been an artist. It’s part of how I have defined myself for as long as I can remember. A teacher in elementary school once wrote “It’s fitting that Stephanie’s last name starts with ART.” I have always been creative, and have felt like art, design, and making spaces beautiful were my highest pursuits.
By lunchtime I stop by the house to check in and visit. My muse and her daughter are usually in the kitchen. Cara, my muse, is a friend I met in our early twenties at a yoga teacher’s training. We’ve orbited each others lives since then, and I was honoured with the invitation to be at the birth of her daughter, Gianna Prairie, in January. Gia is the beautiful baby model that moonlights on my Instagram occasionally. She has her own little corner of the bus for times when the two of us hang.
The afternoon is for being social, going for walks, taking Gia for an hour or two. I’ll have lunch in the house, usually, seasonally from the garden. This is the best. There are lots of people around the farm, both visitors and people who live here.
I don’t leave the farm too often when I am here. There is a grocery store in town, and we all share the duty of stocking up on the things we need whenever anyone goes.
I am not big into cooking. If it’s only me, I would live off oats, rice, salad and fruit in a range of different combinations. I am boring with food. I will eat the same things over and over, because it’s easy and I am usually busy in my mind creating other things…paintings, necklaces in the shapes of food, mobiles…
Most of my life is personal time. I’ve managed for the last few years to make a living by only taking on projects that feel important to me, so in that way, nothing too often feels like it’s not personal. My life doesn’t cost a lot. I try to be as minimal so that more of my time can be spent on doing work that is satiating versus financially beneficial.
I end my days early. I like to be in bed around 9:30 with a book. The pendulum swing of feeling extra alive in the mornings is that evenings are when I feel very low energy.
Emotionally, this is the time of day I struggle with the most, whenever there are things in my life that are bothering me — missing people, worrying about projects, concerns about anything at all. To combat this, I have a calming routine of a soothing face wash, a few lines of reflection in my Journal, and a good book. The last thing I usually think about these days before falling asleep is how excited I am to start my next home project – the boat — and how thankful I am to have met such an amazing partner-in-crime to work on it with.
Glacier water. Can’t you just taste it? And how about the school-bus-turned-lovely-home? It’s pretty magical, don’t you think? Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing yourself with us today!
As for Stephanie’s approach to life — “My life doesn’t cost a lot. I try to be as minimal so that more of my time can be spent on doing work that is satiating versus financially beneficial.” — it’s like a breath of fresh air, isn’t it? Could you handle the simple life? I’d love to hear your thoughts.