The car studio

How do I paint from my car? What does my setup look like? I’ve been promising this post for a long time and I finally found a photographer willing to take some quick photos of me sketching (well, fake sketching in my driveway). Several things to note before you read the post in its entirety: the car is not always this clean and my palette is not always this dirty. But this is a good week because the car was just washed. As for the palette, a cleaning is a bit overdue, as you will see.


I am sometimes asked if I sit in the driver’s or the passenger’s seat. Well, as you can see, it’s the former, for two reasons. One is that I use the steering wheel as a support for my sketchbook. Secondly, I am right handed and that gives me easy access to the palette and water container.


So where does the palette go? I have a good setup for that. I take my brushes out of their sturdy holder, and that flat container goes under the palette on the passenger seat. This keeps the palette flat so the water doesn’t flow into the pigment wells, and prevents it from sliding down the sloped seat too.


As for the water and brushes, they sit conveniently side by side in the car’s cup holders where I can reach them easily. Some might ask if this makes for a messy car. Well, despite the dirty palette, I am actually quite a neat painter, so there’s not too much watercolour in the car.  There are sometimes water splashes but those are easy to wipe up. (What you will find though, is remnants of my lunch since I often paint on my way to and from school.)


So what’s different in the winter? 1: The clothing. This car painting setup seems pretty easy to do in late September when the weather is warm but imagine doing this in the middle in the winter with a puffy jacket on? It becomes a little more difficult but not impossible, though I often end up with paint on my jacket sleeves. 2. The temperature of the car. I warm it up before I get in, and by the time I reach my sketching location it’s pretty toasty so I can paint for some time without getting cold. Of course I turn off the engine while I sketch, but turn it on periodically to warm up my feet and use the car heater/fan to dry the washes.

There are some days that I can’t paint in the car, but those are infrequent. When the thermometer goes too low (-20C), the washes crystallize on the palette even in a preheated car, and then I have to paint indoors. And on days when it’s raining so hard I can’t see out the front window, I find a nice café and sketch from there. (Let’s agree not to talk about the time when I painted from the car with the wipers on and drained the battery.)

So that’s my setup. Nothing complicated, really. If you any questions about this, I’d love to hear.

83 Comments on “The car studio”

  1. Janet says:

    Hi Shari
    I am left handed, so I guess what you do won’t work for me.
    Still have fond memories of Montebello, and am doing really fun painting with ink and watercolour. I enjoy your blogs. All the best. Janet

  2. Bob Callahan says:

    Delightful, Shari. I also love to sketch in the café. I use my small 12 color Schmincke half-pan watercolor set and a few Pentel water brushes. Moleskine watercolor pad. I go through a lot of napkins. I’ll have to get a photo of my setup. And everything fits into a safari jacket.

  3. Dee Ludwig says:

    Thanks so much! My car has fabric seats, so I will need to cover the seat somehow . I too have run the battery down, so I try to remember to run the motor anytime anything is the radio or lights!
    Again, thanks!

  4. Angela Williams says:

    The set up is really good Shari. Those of us who are also right handed but have right hand drive cars find sketching in the drivers seat a tad awkward unless the car provides a handy spot for paint and water between you and the door!

    • Ah, Angela, after being in Ireland this summer, I did think about the right hand drive. I guess that only works for lefties like Liz Steel, right. You’ll have to get a holder on the door of your car for the water and brushes. How about that?

  5. Thanks for giving us the behind the scenes info! Hope the cold weather holds off for a good little while!

  6. So fun reading about sketching while in your car. In the winter I usually paint with pastels and I bundle up and use “hot hands/feet” packs but wondering how it will work out with watercolors. I guess I’ll find out! You are giving me some ideas.

  7. Your setup is similar to mine. In the winter I have brought along a blanket just in case my legs get cold. lol And I have my fingerless gloves just in case.

  8. laurie Paci says:

    Gad Zooks, Shari – And here I pictured you in the back of a big van with shelves and a heated coffee mug! This just shows what level heads you Canadians have ( I live in Florida with lots of Canadians, they are my favs). I was curious about it and so glad someone asked the question – now I have NO excuse for not painting more often, Kindest Regards, Laurie Paci 🙂

    • Hi Laurie, You made me laugh. What you pictured sounds so complex. My setup is pretty simple, although I do sometimes have coffee with me. You have the opposite problem in Florida. It’s probably often too hot to be in the car, right?

  9. Thank you so much for showing your setup. I sketched on the passenger side today it was awkward as I am right handed. I have just moved to Washington State so will go through my first winter soon. I have a similar palette. I do think I need a towel to protect the passenger seat because I am a klutz at times! I have also found I need to lift my sketchbook up when on the drivers side . A piece of foam core and bull dog clip in the car can help. Thank again for blogging about your setup.

  10. Jodi says:

    fun to see and amazing at the same time!

  11. Barbara says:

    Hi Sheri
    Thanks for you post….I have done this a couple of times as well….it is like a travelling studio! I have the same palette as you. I have a problem with the colours mixing on me if they are fresh and I have not let them air dry overnight….do you have any suggestions? It is hard to keep the palette flat when doing plein air sketching. Thanks!

    • Barbara, I try to let the palette dry for a few days before I go out, and I only use small dabs of paint. I use to overfill the wells but I don’t do that any more. As for keeping the palette flat, I use that brush carrier which helps a lot.

  12. cathy mcauliffe says:

    Easier to clean the palette than the car!

  13. Raynald Murphy says:

    Shari, My car painting setup is about the same as yours, however to solve the uneven palette possible spills I lately have been mixing my paints on a coroplastic sheet cut out to fit squeezed tight between the two front seats. So where do I place my water cups? To solve that problem because my corrugated plastic sheet now covers the cup openings, I brought with me on this painting trip a water container bought at mondou pet store which not only colapses flat but is made of a rubbery substance which I hope will stick to the seat regardless of its slant. I’ll let you know if it works on my next facebook post. It’s 10 degrees or so in Gaspésie these days so I most probably will like Shari be painting from my car.

  14. Paul says:

    Thanks for sharing your car studio setup. I noticed you have a Cocotte-Equipment bag and wondered if you would share more information about which model and how you use it (I assume?) as your art bag. I could not find any reference to it in your Blog. Always love to see your work and I really enjoyed both your Craftsy classes!

    • Good spotting Paul. That is a Cocotte bag that I bought this summer before going to Ireland. I will certainly do a post about this since I love the bag and how it works. It’s new so that is why it’s not on the blog yet. Glad you like the classes.

  15. Jean McCauley says:

    Quite clever!!!

    On Sat, Sep 24, 2016 at 3:05 PM, The Sketchbook wrote:

    > Shari Blaukopf posted: “How do I paint from my car? What does my setup > look like? I’ve been promising this post for a long time and I finally > found a photographer willing to take some quick photos of me sketching > (well, fake sketching in my driveway). Several things to note befo” >

  16. Happy Car painting this fall, Shari! My problem with car painting is 1) every so often, I will lean too hard on the steering wheel and honk and scare myself. 2) Even more often, I forget to turn off the lights and end up with a dead battery 😦

    • Suhita, surprisingly, I haven’t honked at myself yet. But I have killed the battery at least three times and almost slid into a ditch once when I forgot to put on the hand brake. That was a scary one.

  17. Bill Fagan says:

    I love it! I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while now. It is conducive to Chicago conditions.

  18. nikiraa says:

    Thank you for posting. My car studio is similar, but I keep my paints closer to me and it slides sometimes, mine is smaller. 🙂

  19. Great sketches of you in action. I always move the seat way back since I don’t rest my support on the dashboard. I do find splatters of paint in strange places in my car. lol

  20. TR Duncan says:

    probably vodka for water would work in -20C… although I guess rubbing alcohol would work as well.

  21. Kate Steel says:

    Hi Shari, love your posts. My set up for the car is similar but being a right hand drive, in Australia, I am forever going across my work. I use a small screw top jar in one of the cup holders and I find that easy to use. I also take a small towel to sit over my handbrake between the two seats so I don’t drop water or paint everywhere.

  22. kns says:

    Hi Shari, love your posts. My set up for the car is similar but being a right hand drive, in Australia, I am forever going across my work. I use a small screw top jar in one of the cup holders and I find that easy to use. I also take a small towel to sit over my handbrake between the two seats so I don’t drop water or paint everywhere.


  23. miatagrrl says:

    Great to see your mobile studio! Very similar to mine — except in Seattle I don’t have to worry about my palette icing over! (And I, too, won’t mention the time I left the headlights on and had to be rescued by the auto club!)


    • Hi Tina. I have seen your great small car, if that is what you still drive. You may not have ice but I bet you have lots more rainy days that I do. As for the auto club, they know me well. I’ve called them at least three times!

  24. Soni says:

    Well, aren’t you something – you’ve solved the infamous Shari wintertime mystery! Thank you for doing all this – I tend to shake my brushes “clean” or swish it loaded around far too much but you’ve provided a good working basis to improve on. I will also get out an old console for that aisle gap in my car. One bigger problem is now to find weather that doesn’t require air conditioning! Appreciate it 😆🎨

    • I’m glad you liked it Soni. What is the wintertime mystery?? How I paint in the car? Or how I paint in the car with a puffy jacket on??

      • SONI MCFARLAND says:

        I’ve wondered for ages how you paint so neatly in a car ; now you’ll just have to pose in -20C with your puffy jacket on – preferably drinking Vodka instead of wasting it in a water container

  25. Celia says:

    As Anglea said above, in a right hand drive car this isn’t as easy! I usually swap to the passenger seat, or even better lift the back door of my estate car and sit in the back – the door provides a roof and I can spread out my sketch books and paints around me.

    • So many creative ideas have come from this post Celia. Sorry my working method doesn’t work for those of you in a right hand drive. But it sounds like you have some really good solutions. thanks for writing.

  26. Shrlley says:

    I use a similar set up – and as a lefty in a right hand drive car I too have the best studio set up!

  27. anne farmer says:

    Lovely post and nice to see you in person. Right hande, right hand drive in the UK – a bit more awkward!

  28. Monique says:

    THat’s how I pictured your set up..I am even shy to paint in the car:(
    Have to get over this..
    That is a Mijello palette? I like them..wish I had one w/ more wells:)

  29. Gil Zarins says:

    So cool of you to post this! Such a good actress, looks like your really concentrating on painting:)

  30. Julana says:

    Also good in extreme heat, for people with limited mobility, or places where sketching outside the car is conspicuous or physically risky (isolated, disease-bearing mosquitos, near traffic, abrupt drop-off, etc).

  31. Linda Murray says:

    Thanks Shari! Enjoyed your explanation and pics of painting in your car. I too, have never tried this. But I can see with your post I might just give it a shot. Really simple when you think about it. Don’t know if I could be as neat as you with swishing water and paint- 😊

  32. edmmuseblog says:

    Reminds me a music producer with his laptop)) good when your hobby is always with you))

  33. Phyllis Lewandoski says:

    I have the same palette! I’m in California so car painting should be easy all year long. I am the woman with the broken ankle. Im on the mend and headed for fall folliage tour next week starting in Boston. Hope to sketch the entire tour. Again you have the best blog!

    • Hi Phyllis. Great to hear that you are on the mend. And hope you have a great time on the fall foliage tour, and that you get so many great sketches while you are travelling. Have a wonderful trip.

  34. Lynn Holbein says:

    Thanks so much, Shari!! I’ve been waiting for these photos for a long time. There go my excuses for not painting!

  35. sue says:

    i loved this post, always fun to see artists at work. etc. As always love your work, keep on painting on. You have inspired me to bring my paints on my trip, I almost didn’t.
    thanks shari

  36. Srdjan says:

    That is way art should be. You are excited with something and if you don,t do it same time you will lose it. Congratulation!
    I am not so disciplined to take my studio with me, that is reason why often I bother myself with inspiration.

  37. Hola Shari. No es la primera vez que intento escribirte algún comentario. Vuelvo a intentarlo otra vez. Eso sí, tu blog lo miro desde hace mucho tiempo y soy un enamorado de tus explicaciones y pinturas. Hoy, una vez más, me ha encantado tu entrada sobre pintar o dibujar dentro del coche. Algo que todos nos vemos obligados de vez en cuando, especialmente un día de lluvia.
    No me extiendo más. Admiro tus dibujos-pinturas y me gustan mucho tus explicaciones.
    Un saludo, desde España. (espero que la traducción sea correcta)

    • HI Joshemari,
      Thanks so much for writing. I know some Spanish but not enough to fully comprehend your comments, so of course I used Google translate, like everyone else. What would we do without it?
      Your comments are very kind and I appreciate that you took the time to write. Sketching makes me happy and it’s so nice when I hear from people all around the world. It’s been almost five years since I started this and sketching has taken me all around the world, including Spain, where I taught several years ago. It’s a beautiful country and I hope you sketch it too. Best regards,

  38. Vicki Wood says:

    Hi from Nova Scotia.
    Thank you very much for posting this. I’ve wondered many times how you manage to paint through frigid Montreal winters. Just a quick question – you must need to at least wear thin gloves?

    I’ve been a 3-season wc car sketching for about 8 years and tried several approaches. The one I’ve settled on is to use a Thumbox from Judson’/ art supplies :×8-thumbox
    I adore this little thing and leave it in the car all the time. It’s rugged, only weights 1.5 pounds, I have a small car – honda civic- yet the thumbox lets me keep the whole set up in my lap.

    I flip the back against the steering wheel, I put my wc palette on it’s palette, which I pull out a few inches to make room for paper towels, and a 2 sm water containers. The brush case goes on the passenger seat, and that leaves the coffee holder free for coffee 🙂 I hold the sketchbook in my left hand and move it around as needed – but find it helpful to have the platform to balance it on as needed.

    PS – your Craftsy courses are absolutely wonderful. I’ve read your blog for years – total inspiration- and it feels like such an incredible gift to be able to take your courses.

    • Hi Vicky,
      Thanks so much for writing. I paint all through the winter, and I guess I am not the only one.
      Wow, I love that Thumbox. That is so cool. I’ve never heard of Judson’s. What a great setup. But from what I see, you can only work 6″ x 8″, right? Do you always work that small? I often work bigger than that in my car. I do love the fact that you have the water right in front of you so you don’t splash all over the car.
      So glad you like the classes on Craftsy!! Thanks for letting me know, and of course for following the blog too.

      • Vicki Wood says:

        Hi Shari,
        Thanks for your reply! No, I paint all sizes actually. You can have any size support you want. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I don’t try to insert the sketchbook in the easel slot ( which is made to accept a thin oil panel). I hold the book in my left hand and just lean it against the back, the same way you lean yours against the steering wheel. The box is is great because it provides some support underneath, as well as in the back. It also works great sitting outside, because I don’t have to reach down for the water.

        However, the depth of the box does place a limit on the size of your palette, due to a raised lip in the front. So your current palette would require a larger box. It appears you have a large car, so could accomodate a larger box. The key would be to measure how much room you have between you and your steering wheel. ( Or – one could modify the 6×8 box to accept the wider palette, by removing the raised lip).

        Thanks again, for such generosity in sharing your work with us. What you do with light is so wonderful that I’ve lost myself countless times enjoying your paintings.

  39. Shari, thank you so much for this post. I’m new to sketching, having started in September, and have no drawing or painting experience just lots of enthusiasm. I live in Central Ontario about an hour north of Toronto (Cookstown) and have been trying to imagine how I am going to be able to sketch out of doors now. We had heavy snow squalls overnight and I can barely see bits of red poking out that identify my car. Sigh.
    I love this idea! I’m left handed and think this will be entirely adaptable. I very much want to sketch the ice fishermen in Kempenfelt Bay in Barrie. There is lots of parking space, and now it feels possible.
    I came upon your blog in the usual round about way that blogs are found, while I was looking for online sketching courses. Your Craftsy course appealed to me but I was thinking I should wait until spring and I could actually sketch outside without freezing. Now I don’t have to wait, feeling quite freed up!
    Again, thanks for this and have a lovely day.

  40. […] I’ve learned from my friend Shari Blaukopf is – probably you should just paint from the […]

  41. Suzanne says:

    Excellent! Thanks so much. Painting from the car will give me lots of opportunities i might not have otherwise! Also loved the landscape painting class-dense instruction which i highly value.

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