Artful Otter

Art and Adventure: Sailing Vermont Painter Captures Scenery Along Lake Champlain

Rob Mullen, who previously painted while hiking the length of the Long Trail, is traveling the entire length of Lake Champlain to paint the view from his sailboat, the Artful Otter

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A Vermont artist who last year grabbed attention for his athletic approach to painting is back at it again, with a summer project that has him seeing Lake Champlain in a new way.

"Having a great summer," Rob Mullen of West Bolton said of his time aboard The Artful Otter, a classic sailboat that also has another purpose: "It's a floating studio."

Mullen called the sailboat a studio because when he takes breaks from traveling the entire length of Lake Champlain, he paints the scenery from the Artful Otter's deck. He's working this week from Vermont's Burton Island State Park.

"I love this combination of doing a little adventure with my work," Mullen said Wednesday.

The artist's journey is at least 120 miles, though he noted it'll end up being longer because he is crossing between Vermont and New York and doubling back to revisit favorite spots.

The "Red Hot Chilly Dippers" take daily swims into Lake Champlain to raise funds for Spectrum Youth and Family Services.

Mullen is traveling the length of the lake in segments, so he does have opportunities to go home between weeks out on the water.

The artist, who previously worked designing print campaigns for advertising clients, explained that, when he is painting on the Artful Otter, he does need to adjust for the fact the boat moves with the wind and water.

"To some degree it's predictable motion, especially if the wave sets are coming in," Mullen said. "If it's powerboats coming in, it's another story. I stop working for a minute or two until it goes back to the more predictable rock and roll."

Ultimately, Mullen said he wants to end up with 30 or so field paintings from this journey.

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The artist said he will split earnings from the sale of the creations with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and two conservation groups: the Lake Champlain Committee and the Vermont Wildlife Coalition.

For more information on the project, visit this website.

"This is 'The Life of Riley' compared to last year," Mullen joked.

A Vermont man is on a journey to document peak fall foliage in the state.

As we reported in October 2020, Mullen was hiking the length of the Long Trail, from the Canadian to Massachusetts borders, and also painting along the way. He directed money to conservation work then, too.

That creative hiking trip was an arduous, roughly 270-mile trek, while carrying gear and art supplies.

For this summer's more relaxed project, Mullen recruited others to join his fundraising effort along the shoreline, including fellow wildlife artist John Pitcher of Dorset, Vermont.

"I feel like we're giving back," Pitcher said while he was painting turtles and birds he spotted off Burton Island. "We've taken a lot from nature in terms of ideas and subjects and income, too. I make my living doing this. So it's good to be able to give it back."

The Artful Otter, with its solar-powered engine to assist, will wrap up its mission in October, Mullen said. Special events are planned for this fall at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro to celebrate the end of the summer painting voyage, the sailing artist added.

Mullen revealed he already has an idea for 2022's adventure: painting between tubing trips on Vermont's rivers.

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