Monday, January 16, 2012

School Bus Art Studio

When I was a little girl I saw an article in the Sunset Magazine about creative play houses. One of the featured playhouse was an old schoolbus.

 I promised myself that when I had kids I would acquire an old bus and convert it into a playhouse for my own kids. When we bought our first home with a large yard I started to scout the junk and salvage yards but the lowest price I found was about $600.00, which was $500.00 above my meager budget. I kept my eyes peeled for a low cost bus and then a few months later when we were on a walk near our home in Cedar City, Utah I spied an old 1962 Bluebird school bus behind an apartment complex. I found out who the owner was and called him and asked him if he'd sell it to me. He told me he was just happy to get the bus off his property and that I could have it. I thought I'd won the lottery. So for $50.00 in towing fees I had the old engine-less bus towed a few blocks to my home and carefully maneuvered into place in my back yard.

The kids and I spent the summer gutting the insides and scraping, sanding, power washing and painting the bus with some mistint paint we'd gotten from a paint store. The girls chose a pepto bismol pink for their interior half and my son chose a steel grey-blue for his half near the drivers seat. It was a big project and the whole neighborhood was in on the fun and when it was finished the old metal walls rang with the sounds of dozens of neighborhood kids running through and playing every sort of imaginative game and adventure inside. There were slumber parties, birthday parties, puppet shows, pirate adventures, and sometimes they even pretended they were at McDonalds and would give me food orders through the drivers window and I'd bring out goldfish crackers and Koolaid and they'd pretend they were out to lunch. It served it's purpose for many years until I moved to a new town nearby and then I paid the same tow truck driver to move the bus to my new larger property in New Harmony. 

There it became tool and garage storage since the little cabin was so tiny and there was nowhere to put the many tools needed for yardwork and renovations. It fell into a sort of chaotic dusty filthy mess as stuff accumulated and the space was forgotten. Then last year I decided to renovate it and turn it back into my own space again since the kids are grown and gone. I wanted it to be a great art space for arts, crafts, sewing or just a fun place to enjoy reading books and bask in the abundant natural light that came in from the banks of windows on the North and South sides.

My husband got some mistint paint from the paint store and after power washing and scraping the old loose paint I started rolling and brushing on the primer and top coats. I went with a light color to repel heat and for durability but decided to create a fun scene on the front. With three grandbabies and more on the way I wanted to bring out the fun childhood play place aspects and use that broad expanse as a way to create a theme and mood in the playground side of my yard. I just love the diversity that comes with children of the world represented in a big unified adventure and I also love the sun so decided a rainbow and somewhat juvenile theme would give it an informal fun look. I gathered up a bunch of old paint and went to work sketching the design in crayon on the side of the big bus. It took several days throughout the summer to complete because the metal would get so hot that I'd have to wait until the afternoon shade was on the bus to work. I'm short so could only reach to the bottom of the windows without having to get on a ladder for the rest of the sides and top. I often felt like a cat on a hot tin roof. Paint dries very quickly on hot metal.

There's a little bit of silly playfulness in most artists so I decided to give Google Earth a little nod by painting one of my favorite parodies on a biblical scripture. "If any lack wisdom, let them ask of Google" Insanad 3:16.  Next time Google Earth has their satellites fly overhead and take pictures of my place they'll have a little thankyou note for all the amazing things they've brought me in my research and information searches. 

Once the exterior was finished it was time to gut the inside again and get it ready for a fresh paint job. I removed all the old junky furniture, old tools, costumes, broken toys and things from the past 20 years of storage collection and then scrubbed the walls, storage bins, and floors with soap and water. I scraped off any loose gunk and swept out all the mouse droppings. I had enough of the pale blue to use as a primer coat on the inside and then I mixed a little of that with a gallon of a mistinted yellow that I had from another project. It was a pretty nasty putty color but all I had so I brushed and rolled it on. I had about a quart of a butterscotch glaze left from another project so I rag rolled it over the putty yellow and it really helped make the color pop and glow with warmth.

It was a rather bitter sweet day when I covered the kids old hand written messages and rules of play that they'd scrawled on the walls years ago.
"No Gorls Aloud" and "Don't be loub" were on the boys side and the girls had listed some pretty strict rules about cleaning up after playing that seemed to have been summarily ignored by most of the former inhabitants. I sat bawling as I reminisced over the years of fun and adventure this tin can had seen and all the great fun my kids had brought me over the years. Oh well, now those words are buried but the memories will stay in my mind forever.

Then it was time to start laying out my books, art, and storage furniture and other items I planned to use for work surfaces. I've still got some re-vamping to do but so far it's a very comfortable space and gives me plenty of room for projects. It's quite cold in the winter because there's no insulation and right now I'm using a little electrical heater but I may someday buy a small wood stove and chimney and have my husband help me install it. I've got extension cords running down the interior walls and carefully tucked behind shelves to hide the cords. It'll do for now and gives me plenty of outlets to plug in glue guns, lamps, and the sewing machine.

I've been listening to podcasts on my computer and to NPR as well as just a ton of music from our CD and tape collections. Our Wifi reaches just fine out here so I can surf the net, watch a Netflix movie or whatever suits my fancy while I work on various art projects. In the summer it will be quite warm but by then I'll be gardening and working outside most of the time anyway.

With the drivers seat gone there was a metal ledge housing the old heater apparatus so I built some plywood covers and glued them on with construction adhesive, then covered them with a tough upholstery fabric to hide the OSB. I cut another piece to cover where the old pedals were and disguise the rough hole where the old gear shift and transmission had been removed.

The front windshield was cracked but made a great display place for seashells and other fun treasures. I hung some icicle lights across the top that dangle down and create a very romantic glow at night and illuminate the shells and float balls that I've collected.

It's a wonderful place to create and just relax (when it's not too cold) and is now my second favorite place on the property, next to the garden. I hope you enjoyed learning about the bus. Come on by. I have enough glue guns and gooblys for everyone.


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  2. So awesome. I just love the creativity that oozes from this entire post. :) The next time I drive south I'm going to stop by with my girls because I'm sure they'd LOVE to see your bus (as would I).

  3. What a delightful place your old bus has become, a reflection of your amazing artistic creativity. How I would love a tour of your bus and your gardens, and your quaint little cottage.

  4. Wow Nabeel, I really wanted some spam for auto insurance. Thanks for posting!

    Amber, feel free to come by. The playground is really fun too.

    Shirley, it is a really great space. I'm hoping to build a deck off the back with some slightly less steep stairs. I hope someday you can come visit too!

  5. I have some of those shell mirrors in my bathroom. They really are beautiful.
    I remember the day when I figured out how to open the bus from the back door by turning the handle really hard. I remember trying to turn the steering wheel so hard and having my friends check to see how much the wheels turned. In retrospect I think any turning was all in our head, but boy we tried to turn the wheel hard.
    Side note: the paragraph that starts with "There it became tool" is a link and it is colored black, FYI. Thus it is camouflaged with the background.

  6. Well that is weird isn't it. I had no idea it did that. Blogging is fraught with glitches.
    I'm glad you have some good memories of this bus Brian. The day I started to paint over the pink and blue that was there when you were kids was a sad day. I really really loved having this for your playhouse when you were kids. It was so unique.