Heather and her family travel in their wonderfully decorated bus, pursuing happiness and as much time together as possible. The inside of their home is filled with personal artwork by Heather herself, while the outside is a public mural where people are encouraged to participate in creating art. As advocates for their lifestyle, they use artwork to encourage conversations revolving around the importance of sustainable living and human consciousness. They are the Dragonfly Bus family.
Please briefly introduce yourself. Can you tell us a bit about your adventure vehicle and who lives in it?
Our bus is called the Dragonfly Bus because it drags up hills and flies down them. It is our family home and art gallery. Our family consists of me and my husband Leroy, our two children, and two blue heeler mixes. The bus itself is a 1953 Chevy school bus, 6800 series. It has a 235 inline six (aka stove bolt) with 4x2 transmission, which was all stock in the 50’s. During the planning process, Leroy proposed that we mount a van on top of the bus, so we now have a late 60’s VW Vanagon body grafted to the top of our bus. We live in it full-time and tour the US, making and selling fine art!
How did you get the idea to use your vehicle as an art canvas? What was the first piece painted on the van?
I think the idea to paint the bus was more of a slow progression toward the mindset that we wanted to engage people and try to be a positive force in motion. It started as the desire to show art but as we progressed in our travels, we noticed our way of life was affecting people in a more open and honest way. We need the freedom to experience our own creativity. Art is the only subject that, as a rule, has no rules. It allows the brain to exercise abstractly. By influencing everyone we meet to be more creative we are expanding the collective human consciousness.
The first painting that was added to the bus was lettering that said "Hathor Planckton art bus". The first time anyone outside the family painted on the bus was at Austin TX Hope Outdoor Gallery, where everybody was given carte blanche to paint a complex out door brick wall. We showed up while some muralists were gathered painting and we ended up hitting it off. We received a ton of great additions to the bus that day. The one piece that still survives from that event is the Big Blue Octopus by Daddy Otis.
Why did you and your husband, Leroy, decide to dive into a nomadic lifestyle?
Our nomadic lifestyle came naturally as we were both wanderers. We met on the west coast near Mt. St. Helen. We had a child and married right away, then decided to raise the family off grid. After a few years we wanted another baby and a larger home so we decided to switch out our RV for a bus. We received the topper and a wood stove, both in work trades, while we did a lot of traveling between New Mexico, South Dakota, and New England. My husband worked as a mechanical contractor and took jobs all over the states, fixing anything with moving parts.
You mentioned that you sell paintings and prints on the road to fund your journey. How do you feel the road has affected your art and creative style?
Throughout art shows, I’ve realized how much people vary and in return, I try to make art that touches people on all ends of the spectrum. When I'm headed to a particular area I might do some light research on something popular, like local heroes or landscapes. I also hang political imagery that invokes a conversation for engagement, regardless of political leanings. Often when we engage someone whose political views differ from our own we try put the idea forth that a healthy conclusion stems from a wide range of input and if we can reach each other with respect we can reach a balance. With all that said, I sometimes just need to blow off creative steam and make some free form expression. I also collaborate with our kids! My daughters both paint and have sold art too!
What is the most logistical advice you can give someone considering moving into a home on wheels?
Don't over complicate it and have the courage to do it. For the entry level, no-experience, aspiring nomad, I would advise getting a cheap RV. With the power of YouTube you can learn to fix what ever might break on the road! I bought my first RV on Craigslist for $600. I put so little into it I felt no reservations when I gave it away. Then ultimately, I would advise anyone to get a bus, as they are stronger in every respect and often approximately priced.
It seems like you and Leroy have found a way to include others in your travels, by letting them add to the decoration on your home. You take that art with you everywhere, and in a sense, are building this massive community around yourself. What is this like for you? How has it affected how you interact with people?
We get mobbed in public places, especially in small towns where there isn't a lot of art. The bus is a surprise for most people who encounter it for the first time. During art shows the door is open, there are paintings hanging up in the bus and I am usually painting on the bus or on the rooftop, engaging people and inviting them in for a free art show. Leroy, who is outgoing and gregarious, usually does the greeting and tells our story. We’ve also shared our journey on TV, radio stations, and newspapers, including the USA today and MotorWeek. We even drove through New York City and parked for a volunteer artist to paint on the outside of the bus in Times Square. All this interaction has allowed me to communicate effectively with people but especially with my partner. Through our deeper communication we have been able to articulate and manifest goals and work together really well. Leroy and I feel we have a purpose that is greater than our bus or art shows. It opened up a desire to make the world around us better in general, especially for our daughters.
Can you tell me a bit about your biggest message or mantra that you’re trying to communicate through your travels and art?
Mind over matter. We say this to people who ask how we got the van on top of the bus! There are a million ways to do anything. It's crucial to think critically and creatively in order to accomplish any task. We are all in this together, meaning that through mutual respect and volunteerism we can do anything. Lastly, original thought is the essence of genius and creativity is the catalyst for original thought.
Is there anything else you would like to add or share?
I would like to mention that we are focusing on pushing for legislation that makes nomadic lifestyles easier and more widely accepted. The rules of the DMV are punitive and discriminatory against anyone without a physical address. The constant accumulation of debt forces people to live single skill lives, consuming most of their time. There's no reason to not be diverse in all skill sets. So we have elected to opt out, which means we seek living at our own pace and choose what location is best for that throughout the year.
Follow the family's journey online!