Life in the Woods is Perfect for an Artist

April 27, 2009

 Bravo Kevin Sawmill Pond 1 IMGP0574

I live the life of a happy hermit artist these days. Very few people visit. Maybe they’re uncomfortable with the solitude and silence or being out of cell phone range or the wild animals that live in these woods. Maybe they’re afraid of setting foot inside my rickety temporary quarters while I rebuild the cabin next door to live in eventually. But I love it here, more every week, as the years roll by. It is so incredibly peaceful deep in the woods compared with life in the 5-bedroom, 3 bath house in the Philadelphia suburbs where I lived until a little over 3 years ago.

I worked very hard on that place for 9 years with lots of help, building a quarter mile of boardwalks through the woods, gazebos, a Victorian garden house, a big sun room with Plexiglas roof, ponds, fountains, an elaborate pagoda, gardens and so on. Then one day 5 years ago, I suddenly realized that the whole real estate bubble was going to burst, the Peak Oil Scenario would hit hard, the economy would crash, and there was a good chance global climate change might create havoc, too, within my lifetime! I had to get out of there fast and find a place to hunker down and survive!

It felt like sawing off a leg, but I sold that gorgeous house months before the real estate crash and moved into my temporary quarters deep in the woods of  South Central PA Amish farm country, on 10 acres with a half-acre pond and a rushing stream and a 150-year-old barn that was threatening to fall down. It was the pond that sold me on the place. For many years I have kept koi. This pond is fed by fresh water springs, and the koi are very happy. All 60 of them have names, and they would do just fine without me in this balanced ecosystem. In any weather over 45 degrees, and sometimes in the pouring rain, I sit up on my Tree House Deck under the giant pines and watch the koi swim about  in the pond.


Sawmill Pond is full of 2-foot koi, bass, catfish, and small sunnies, blue and green gills, and tree frogs. It is surrounded by irises and mulberries in spring and freezes solid in winter. It changes and offers a new and different experience every day.

I haul water for dishes, drinking, and cooking, from the same springs that feed the pond, because I think another spring that services the house plumbing may be tainted by the 30-yer-old cess pool that was dug too close to the water source.

I have 6 small to medium-size dogs with indoor kennels and doggy doors leading outside to two dog runs. Out back in the screened porch there are 4 large talking parrots, a love bird, 4 rosellas, and 8 cockateils. Last summer I remodelled a shed and added a screened outdoor space for my 12 chickens. They lay white, brown and aqua-colored eggs — about 9 eggs every day.

The barn is 150 years old. With lots of help I have worked very hard to save it from collapse, replacing the termite eaten floor, and adding an  inside front support wall, and a new roof. After living in cramped temporary quarters with 7-foot ceilings, I often like to just sit in the barn with a drink and talk with friends or enjoy a thunderstorm with all that great vault of space overhead.

Bravo Kevin Sawmill Barn Gallery outside 5 IMGP0586

 The 150-year-old barn is my favorite building on the property, and it now serves as my studio and private art gallery where people can come and see a growing body of paintings on canvas and other artwork.

Living like a hermit in the woods is perfect for an artist. A very good old friend from California visited over a year ago with some trepidation, after hearing all the scary descriptions of my new lifestyle. When he poked his head inside the front door, he exclaimed, “Ohhh!… It’s COZY!” And so it is. I paint at the kitchen table most of the time except when creating larger canvases which I paint down in the barn. But in my temporary quarters I have managed to cram in lots of art also.


The livingroom is only about 13 ft x 15 ft, but it holds a big inlaid hardwood TV cabinet, an oversized chair and couch, a rocker, two more padded chairs and two inside dog kennels with doggy doors to the outside.

Progress marches on. The barn is saved and functioning as a studio and gallery. The cabin which will become my future home is developing nicely and it won’t be long until I can move in there and begin remodelling my temporary house into a nice studio, office and guest space. In the future I see large sculptures and mosaics in gardens along walkways and trails through our woods and by the stream and pond. I envision a humming painting and sculpture studio and frequent visitors coming to see the work. I have been here for more than three years now, and my dreams are coming true, one day at a time. It is hard work, but I love it, and I believe this is the perfect place for survival and making art and living a happy and peaceful life during these uncertain times.


Sawmill Run as it rushes toward the Susquehanna River. I often enjoy the half-hour hike beside the stream, through 78 acres of incredibly beautiful Pennsylvania State Game Land to the river.

 Bravo Kevin on Sawmill Road 1 IMGP0588

Sawmill Road becomes so rocky and uneven as you approach the Susquehanna River that it is nearly impossible to make it through in a vehicle without four-wheel drive, but it is a wondrous hike.

4 Responses to “Life in the Woods is Perfect for an Artist”

  1. Andrea said

    From one trailer trash-er to another….it looks lovely and peaceful! Our pad at the beach is a mobile home but we think it is just as cozy as our place in York….I just painted the inside during my extended layoff and it really changed the whole look and feel.

    Can’t wait to come for a visit!

    • kevinmillerart said

      Yeah… trailer living is cozy, and when you’re short, like I am, the 7-foot ceilings don’t bother you. We are looking forward to your visit, whenever you can come!

  2. Tom said

    Hey Kevin,

    Been there. All true, all good. Glad you are doing this. Best to Robert.


    • kevinmillerart said

      Thanks Tom! Hope you can come for a retreat or just a chat by the pond this summer, and bring a friend. We’ve made some progress on the barn and hope to set it up as an art gallery in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I fly to Nova Scotia tomorrow for a corporate project. Things are picking up a little bit again on the business side of life. Have a wonderful spring! -Kevin

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