The challenges working as an Artist and Crafter on a boat

On deck on our barge Skutsje

Introduction

Is it cold in Winter? What do you do when it floods? We get asked this a lot. The answer to the first question is no, we have heating, and the answer to the second question is when the water rises so do we! In fact, although these are the most common questions we get asked, the weather and the river are not the issues that affect the art and craft side of our business at all. 

Storage and work space

The main materials I use are casting plaster, acrylic paint, PVA sealant, resin, and pastel pencils; Alongside these, I also use an array of paper types for tracing and pastel painting, and for gift cards. So my biggest enemy is condensation, closely followed by available storage space. 

Our lovely old boat was built in 1909 as a cargo boat. She was then converted to be a pleasure craft in 1954. However, she is not insulated……well not yet; hence she does get her fair share of condensation in the Winter. 

Dutch barge
Our Dutch barge Skûtsje.

All my art supplies have to be stored in the forecabin (short for forward cabin). This is located at the bow of the boat (the front end!). As with most spaces on a boat, it is an irregular shape and is about  4ft in height, so the only way to get in is on your knees. Everything has to be stored in plastic boxes  to help battle the damp issue. But that’s not all, my art supplies have to share the space with a lot of other belongings, so careful planning is needed in order to fit everything in.

Art materials stored in the fore cabin
As you can see the fore cabin is a very small space that we can only access on our knees

When I say damp, It’s not a dripping wet kind of damp by any means, it’s that sort of damp that you don’t notice when you’re in it, but if you store a cardboard box in there and return to it some months later, you’ll find it is wilted and soft, a bit like a family bag of crisps that have been left open a bit too long. 

All of my artwork is created at our galley table. The exceptions to the rule are the product photographs. These are taken using my photography lightbox on the saloon’s coffee table. Any work involving the computer is also done in the saloon or on deck if it is a nice enough day.

painting a ceramic bowl
Me painting a ceramic Christmas bowl at the galley table

Combating the condensation

We do have some space under the saloon floor for storage as well, next to our water tank. This does stay completely dry, so we store our tissue paper, paper bags and cardboard postal boxes under there. All of these can be stored under the steps section, which are easy to remove to get to them. In an ideal world it would be good to store all of the materials there, but apart from the steps section, it would mean removing the floor boards every time I wanted something, and it is such an upheaval it is easier to store in plastic boxes in a more accessible place like the fore cabin instead.

All the plaster blanks are cast using silicone moulds and once cast they then need time to dry out completely (usually 24 hours) before I can paint them. I place the cast blanks on pieces of cardboard on the galley table. The cardboard helps to absorb some of the moisture. In the Winter, I still put them on cardboard but put them nearer to the stove on the log shelves, or on the coffee table in the saloon area overnight.  

A similar process is applied after having painted and coated them with resin, except this time they sit on silicone mats rather than cardboard so that they don’t stick.

These processes came about because I had a few disasters to begin with. The first time I applied resin I don’t think the blanks were dry enough before I painted them and the wet leached out of the plaster through the paint and ruined the resin layer, hence the reason I now leave the plaster to dry for 24 hours before doing anything with them.

Second, putting them in the saloon area during winter means that the temperature stays fairly constant for the 24 hour drying period, because the stove is on all night. We don’t have any extra heating in the galley at the moment, so the changes of temperature over night there is more extreme. With a more extreme changes in temperature, minute bubbles can appear in the resin whilst it is curing turning it slightly milky in colour, this ruins that lovely glass like effect that you get on the surface. 

Once finished, they are then packed away in boxes according to season. This makes it easy to take out the right items to take to craft fairs or do inventory updates when needed. For this process I usually lay all the pieces out on the bed, as it is the biggest expanse of flat space we have. 

stock laid out on our bed ready for the Christmas Market
Stock laid out on our bed. Getting ready for the Crafty Boaters Christmas Market

Despite all of the challenges, we manage to have a plan that works on the boat and we wouldn’t change our lifestyle here. We do have some further plans for the future, as we have recently started renting a small storage unit on what was a farm about 1/2 a mile away. Once we have that up and running we plan to have space in it for a workshop area, part of which will be to store all of our marine things, and for Martin to start renovating our rowing boat. The other part will be some drying shelves and a small workspace for me. This will hopefully give us some of our boat space back. 

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