One morning, a few weeks ago, we were sat in a McDonalds in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to use the wifi when a lady approached us… “Michal? Louise?”
Our first thought… ‘What have we done now?’
And then she said, “We’re travellers too. We saw your truck outside, and we’ve been looking at your website.”
She carried with her a big, beautiful hardback book of her husband’s paintings, called the Wandering Watercolorist, that she presented to us! “From artists to artists, from travellers to travellers. And if you’re ever in Missouri, come and visit.”
So we did!
After passing through Marshall, MO, to visit Michal’s first college in the USA, Missouri Valley College, we arrived at Paul and Marla Jackson’s home in Colombia.
After being greeted by their diva-dog, Paul took us up to his studio. He had just finished an absolutely huge, stunning watercolour of Budapest at night. It is breathtaking!
Paul is sure that it’s the largest watercolour in the USA, and says that it might possibly be the biggest in the world. None of his painting colleagues, in all the nations that he has travelled to, have ever come across one bigger. The colours are rich and deep, and the lights on the water seem to actually glow. You feel as if you are flying right above Budapest.
And Paul actually was flying above Budapest… he uses drone footage to capture unique angles of landscapes, and bases many of his paintings off of these. Two years ago, he flew drones over every National Park in the USA, before they were prohibited. And he continues to fly almost every day.
One of his favourite local spots to fly and to paint is Burr Oak; an ancient oak tree outside of the city, where legend has it that Abraham Lincoln would sit, looking out over the fields, and wait for his love to arrive.
A storm was coming, but Paul knew that there would be a break in the clouds and a great sunset, so we drove down to the spot and started up the drone.
Five minutes later… crash…
“ I hadn’t crashed for over a year… It’s funny that it’s always when you’re trying to show off that you crash!”
But Paul was right, the sunset was gorgeous.
His work has taken him across the globe; to teach, to fly and for commissioned works. But one project that was supposed to be closer to home was when he won the state-wide contest to design Missouri’s quarter coin.
Happy with his winning design, depicting explorers on a boat below the arch, Paul was shocked to see that when the quarter actually came into circulation, his design had been ripped off by the US Mint.
It was similar enough for Paul to know that it had been stolen from him, but different enough that the Mint wouldn’t have to acknowledge him as the artist! Furious, Paul contacted the Mint asking them why they had done that, and they unapologetically told him that the state shouldn’t have held a contest.
But the coins were already in circulation, so with an oversized quarter that travelled with him for publicity, Paul and his small team printed over a million stickers of the original design and set about sticking them onto the “imposter” quarters over the ripped-off design.
“At first we would go to the bank, get a bag of quarters, stick stickers on, and then go and exchange them for another bag of quarters. But then the bank hired people at minimum wage to pull them off… In the end we won because they couldn’t afford to hire as many people as I had!”
Paul and his ‘rebels’ travelled far and wide to put their stickered-quarters into circulation, and estimate that over half a million made it in to circulation.
“There’s a bar at the very edge of Alaska that got stuck with a few thousand of them!”
Whether you see it as vandalism or copyright protection, there’s one thing that is for sure: Paul is committed to the integrity of his art.
He ordered some of the biggest watercolour paintbrushes, having to have them custom made in China, so that he could complete his Budapest scene, but they didn’t arrive until after he finished it. Instead, he had to use a broom! But now that they’re here, he is ready to paint something even bigger.
It was a joy to meet with Paul and Marla, and to see that the travelling-artist lifestyle is a sustainable one. One of the ways that they inspired us was with their new concept of Throwaway Thursday. Paul used to be a marathon runner and was able to eat anything he wanted. But getting older, with the toll that constant travel takes on his body, he knows that he needs to stop eating processed junk food and live healthier.
So now, instead of Throwback Thursday, each Thursday both him and Marla choose one “throwaway” – something that they will give up. Sometimes for good, like Marla who gave up ice cream (“unless I’m in Italy… I’m allowed to eat Gelato!”) or sometimes temporarily, like giving up solid food for a ten day liquid diet period.
In a culture where we are always looking for what we can gain, and for what we can add to our lives, it is an amazing idea to look for things to give up: maybe a month without sugar, giving up speaking negatively, 24 hours away from your cell phone…
One of the things that we are learning to give up while we’re on the road is the comfort of a hot shower whenever we want it. And the day after meeting Paul and Marla, as we headed south, we had the chance to take our first bath in a river. Thankfully, there were no crocodiles to share the bath with us, although Michal did get a peck on the toe from some hungry fish ☺
We were in the middle of Arkansas; a state that we had no idea about but that is absolutely beautiful! Full of lakes, rivers, forests and diverse wildlife, we tried our hand at fishing and caught a grand total of zero fish… We still need to rely on supermarkets for a little while longer…
In Little Rock, we managed to meet up with another pair of “travellers too”: Rob and Christine Lilwall. For anyone who thinks that Michal and I are tough for travelling in our non-air-conditioned Land Rover, Rob and Christine are 10x tougher – cycling across the country on a tandem!
From LA to NYC, their five-month journey is taking them across deserts, mountains and plains, as well as through some major cities. Although Rob has done several similar expeditions, including a three-year cycle across Asia, Australasia and Europe and a walk from Siberia to Hong Kong, this one was actually Christine’s idea.
“This one is different because I’ve always done them with another guy. Now I have to deal with the wife-factor!” Rob laughs.
Because of the scorching heat across the southern states, the hard-core cyclists have got into a routine of waking up at 5am, and cycling from 6am-1pm most days.
“The heat is pretty unbearable for the last two hours. But earlier in the day it’s actually quite nice. In the more populated areas we carry about 3-4 litres of water, and we can usually find somewhere to fill up no problem. But there have been days where we carried 27 litres!
“People have been so hospitable. Sometimes people have pulled up beside us in their cars and invited us to stay with them, given us dinner. One day when we were running out of water, a whole motorbike crew pulled over and gave us a load of water!”
Like us, Rob and Christine are unused to dealing with the threat of wildlife, but soon they will be leaving bear-country behind, and are making their way East and North, through Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia and then up the coast to New York.
We will both be finishing our journeys in NYC at around the same time, so we’ll hopefully be having a celebration together in August.
If you happen to come across this beautiful couple on a tandem, or a painter flying a drone at sunset… say hello from The Travellers Two ☺
Paul Jackson – http://www.pauljackson.com
Photos of Rob and Christine Lilwall pulled from their instagram – https://instagram.com/roblilwall/