The Woolseys: Back on the Road

Interview with Sean Woolsey by Ian Elliott

IE: Sean, not too long ago you toured around the U.S. with your wife in a VW. What is it that draws you to the road?

SW: It is the adventure of the unknown mainly. The perpetual pursuit of new landscapes, different cultures and various ways of life has always intrigued me and led me to travel and experience them firsthand.


IE: You just got back from a road trip, right? It’d be rad to hear a little more about the length of your trip and where you went?

SW: Yes, my wife and I did a smaller trip (10 days) up the CA coast mid spring. It was amazing to see the seasons changing and flowers blooming as well as to kick some sand around between our toes. The trip was an inspiration trip for an upcoming art series where I’ll be incorporating photos of the natural environment in my art work on sheet metal. I will be using some of the photos that I took as inspiration, whether it be color palettes, textures, negative space, etc, in my upcoming CA series of work. We hugged the coast the whole trip, and went as far north as San Francisco. Most of our time was spent in Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Montana De Oro, and Santa Barbara.


IE: When you prepare and pack for a trip, do you have a particular strategy? Has that changed at all, as you’ve taken more tours in your VW?

SW: I am a pretty simple packer. You find though that you can always be simpler. Literally, the last couple trips, we shipped clothes back because we over packed; we found ourselves wearing the same clothes day in and day out. A wise friend who has done a lot of traveling told me once “Lay out all your clothes, and put half back in your closet. Lay out all your money and bring twice as much.” I have found this to be extremely true.

As far as strategy, the most crucial element of our adventures is our vehicle, an ’87 VW Westfalia van, and making sure everything is buttoned up before hitting the open road. It does need some TLC, and requires some knowledge and pretty constant awareness as you travel. Before a trip, I always make sure the sink works and has enough potable water. I make sure the burners ignite and there is enough propane. I’ll always kick the tires a bit, to ensure the pressure is good. I’ll run through the engine and check that the coolant and oil is filled, the auxiliary battery and power inverter works, that we have spare belts, tools, etc… Oh, and an emergency kit is critical; you never know what’ll happen. I have learned that when driving a 25-year old vehicle, anything that can go wrong with it just might; so you have to be prepared for anything. But it is a choice for us, driving our Westy, as it makes us slow down a bit; at the Westy pace, we really get to appreciate things that I think if we were driving a faster, more reliable modern car we might overlook.


IE: Of the things that you pack, what are some of your must-bring items?

SW: Our must brings definitely depend on where we are headed and what the agenda is. But we surely never leave without: chairs, headlamps, ice chest, matches, books, journal, whiskey, cards, compass, propane, camp stove, pillows, a good hat, a couple knives, spare parts for the van, and a positive attitude.


IE: Since we’re talking about packing and the whole preparation phase of a trip, I’m just curious, what about when you’re ready to go? Can you describe that feeling of when your foot hits the gas pedal and you make that first turn out of the driveway…

SW: The work that I create is fueled off of what I see and experience; I am constantly reminded of this. I have even written on the outside of the door into my studio “Through this door enter the happiest people on the planet.” This serves as a reminder to me that I am so honored and delighted to see the things that I can on these trips, and when I get back from them I am so filled with inspiration that it pours out of me in the studio. It is essential fuel for my creative mind. At a certain point, though, that fades away and I need more encounters in the natural world. And on the other side of my door (leading out) it reads “Wildness is a Necessity” a favorite John Muir quote of mine. This serves as a reminder that when the creative well runs dry, or sometimes even when it isn’t, it’s time to get back in nature and experience as much as I can; my art deeply resonates with my connection and relationship with nature.


IE: In every memorable adventure, there’s always something that goes awry. While you where on the road, did you face any mishaps or unexpected challenges?

SW: Knock on wood, we have not faced any huge challenges. Our van died though on our cross-country trip literally right when we got to the east coast. It turned out to be amazing though; we bought a tent and rented a car and went to Amelia Island for 3 days while it was getting fixed. We had no plans of ever going there, let alone had we ever heard of it, and it proved to be one of the most beautiful and memorable places on our trip.


IE: That’s awesome, Sean. To run with that thought for a sec, when you’re out on the road, I imagine you must encounter some pretty compelling people, locations and local goods. Can you tell us about one particular person, place or thing that caught your attention?

SW: Yeah, some good and some bad. Luckily though, the traveling type is generally a pretty convivial and friendly bunch. We have made many friends on the road and some we still talk with from time to time. One couple that we became friends with we met in Marfa Texas over the summer, and camped with them. We shared our food and drinks, and just had a great time with them and their Australian Shepherd. They were on a weekend getaway from Austin, and we were actually going there next and stayed with them for a bit at their house.


IE: Now that you’re back, how would you describe some the more valuable lessons you gleaned from your trip of the California coast?

SW: Life has a weird way of showing us things at different times for different reasons, but I think they are always there waiting to be seen. Perhaps our eyes are just more keenly focused, due to a new subject matter, when we’re traveling. One just has to take the risk and the time to do it, but it is always worth it. So the most profound lesson is that you just have to go; otherwise, you’ll never go anywhere.


IE: I have to ask, where are you off to next?

SW: Im in the studio for a while as I just got back, focusing mostly on this new series of artwork inspired from our travels. But when wanderlust knocks at my door, I tend to answer it.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.- M. Twain

See more of Sean and Sara’s travels in this previous WC post.