A tiny home and portable studio nourish the expansive spirit of artist Vanessa Swenson

click to enlarge "We designed and built the tiny house ourselves over the course of one year," Vanessa Swenson says. "The trailer was custom and specific for tiny houses from a company called Iron Eagle Trailers in Portland." - CLARIN JOY PHOTOGRAPHY
Clarin Joy Photography
"We designed and built the tiny house ourselves over the course of one year," Vanessa Swenson says. "The trailer was custom and specific for tiny houses from a company called Iron Eagle Trailers in Portland."

The artist's studio is a special place. For many creatives, it's usually distinct from the main living quarters. It typically has a few walls and even a door to provide physical separation from the rest of the world. Not so for artist Vanessa Swenson, whose portable and integrated approach to artmaking is a reflection of her adventurous and nature-inspired upbringing.

Growing up, Swenson's family moved a lot and she had the freedom to roam and explore, she says. A Washington-native whose parents are both teachers, she grew up with abundant access to both the outdoors and art supplies. She left Spokane to attend art school in Montana, returning to Spokane in 2014.

"I didn't necessarily plan to stay in Spokane when moving back, but the city was so different and had a contagious energy that I never knew while growing up here," says Swenson, who did graphic design during Spokane firm Treatment's early years and got involved with like-minded creatives at Fellow Coworking.

Recently she's been working very, very large, including a mural commission at Eden Salon on Monroe.

Yet if Swenson's view of the world is expansive, her home is definitely not. For the past year or so, Swenson, her husband and their dog have lived in a "tiny" home in rural North Spokane. It not only offered flexibility and simplicity, but the tiny home felt like the right adventure for the time, she says.

click to enlarge CLARIN JOY PHOTOGRAPHY
Clarin Joy Photography

"Our house really has everything you need — and more — just in a condensed format."

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"Our house really has everything you need — and more — just in a condensed format," says Swenson, listing features: electricity, basic plumbing, gas-powered stove and water heater, a full bathroom with a composting toilet, and what to them feels like a spacious kitchen. For their golden retriever's comfort, they opted for stairs instead of a ladder, and added a dog-friendly sleeping space.

Over the summer they focused on enhancing outdoor living spaces, adding a patio, garden boxes and a shed, and finishing the chicken coop. A larger garden a short walk from their home included assorted flowers Swenson grew to enjoy both as fresh-cut bouquets and for artistic inspiration.

"Plants are just pure magic to me," says Swenson, whose nature-themed artwork has been exhibited at Terrain — her prints are available on her own website but also through Terrain's From Here shop in RiverPark Square — and in various Spokane Arts events.

Plants do so much for us, says Swenson.

"They sustain our ecosystems, feed us and simultaneously inspire us with endless beauty," she says, noting how their fine detail and patterns often inform her sketches, while their color makes her reach for paint and other media.

click to enlarge CLARIN JOY PHOTOGRAPHY
Clarin Joy Photography

"Nature knows inherently what goes well together so I try to look closely, listen, and take note."

As broad as her interest in nature is, Swenson has had to make modifications when it comes to translating that into her artwork.

"I have created a box of all my most used art supplies that is able to travel with me between both indoor and outdoor spaces," says Swenson, who says she has come to embrace artmaking that relies less on supplies and more on the creative process.

"We made a rule that nothing could come inside unless it has a specific place and function."

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Living in a tiny house has meant reevaluating priorities for personal stuff, too, says Swenson.

"We made a rule that nothing could come inside unless it has a specific place and function," says Swenson, but they still wanted the space to reflect their personalities. So, the framed hydrological map illustrating America's special waterways is a reminder of her husband's work in Alaska on engineering and river study projects, while the Mexican Otomi textile reflects travels in Todos Santos, Mexico. The framed copy of their wedding invitation that she designed is one of the few artworks by Swenson in their home.

Although living in the tiny house has required some adjustments, it's been more than worth it, says Swenson, ticking off a list of her favorite things about the place.

"The sunsets. The morning light through the windows. The room to roam."

For Swenson and her husband, having a daily reminder that more stuff often means more stress and that less stuff helps them focus on what really matters is essential.

"It's certainly not the most convenient lifestyle and involves a lot of different challenges along the way," she notes. "But, this place still just captures me in total awe and feels very true to who we are, which makes it 100 percent worth it."

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