In the heat of the afternoon sun at Woodland Park, friends Caroline Ballhorn and Jenny Lee Craig are sprawled out on a picnic blanket. Their dynamic and vibrant friendship is noticed right away, but what is more obvious than their bond is what sits behind them: a vintage 18-foot silver Streamline trailer.
It’s shiny, round, and an evident misfit among the family-sized SUVs and millennial-friendly hatchbacks that also line the street. “No matter where we’re parked, whether it’s a misunderstanding or they think we’re a food truck, people are delighted to come close and come inside,” Ballhorn says with a laugh.
The trailer is a community favourite known as Tin Can Studio, an artistic mobile space that has all the attributes of an actual tin can: it’s accessible and familiar, like its form on the grocery store shelf, and it opens itself up to communication between friends, just how it is used during childhood games of telephone. The space is an incubator for creativity and a hub for a variety of events.
It started as a school project during Ballhorn’s final year at Emily Carr University. Alongside fellow classmate at the time, industrial designer Brodie Kitchen, Ballhorn envisioned an empty platform with an intention to have artists come in for residences. Like many quirky treasures found these days, the Tin Can Studio’s humble beginnings trace back to a Craigslist ad. After a family in Whistler outgrew their beloved Streamliner, Ballhorn and Kitchen vied for its acquisition. When they beat out other internet scourers to call it their own, they immediately began to gut its interior and build the fluid studio of their dreams.
“We wanted to keep it open and flexible so that we could transform it into different feelings and spaces,” Ballhorn says of their three-month renovation, which saw the demise of the trailer’s bathroom. “We wanted people to inhabit it and do projects that felt like they could take over the whole space.”
Workshops began to be held inside the trailer, and more friends and fellow artists began joining in the mix, including Lee Craig. After a road trip to Portland (in the trailer, of course) the artists quickly discovered their mutual enjoyment of building bonds between people through creative projects. Naturally, they teamed up, knowing they had something special with their “magnet of attention.”
The studio is sheer charm. Natural light glistens off a tassel garland hanging from the roof, and plants sit pretty in adorable pots next to the window that reads the company’s name. Ballhorn and Lee Craig are surrounded by colourful throw pillows as they explain how seats can be removed and tables can be perched. It may seem like a tiny space from the outside, but once in, a world of opportunities unfolds right before your eyes.
“The space lends itself to really intimate conversations no matter what you’re doing. It breaks down barriers,” Lee Craig notes. “If someone walked in, we would talk to them. There’s something about this space that really encourages the breaking down of that wall and the opportunity for a meaningful connection—a fun or friendly one.”
Over the past five years, Tin Can Studio has taken on a number of forms: a meditation workshop, a dog portrait studio, even a Tom Selleck tiki bar (Lee Craig is a major fan). It has seen nearly 15 people from a wedding party pile in to talk over margaritas at the makeshift bar (which Lee Craig and Ballhorn tended, of course) and has had a neighbourhoood come running to assist with a tough parallel park.
“It’s really cool when we get free reign to be who we are—to really create projects that represent our own interests, and draw from our own humour and own sensibility,” says Lee Craig. “I think a project is really successful when we say, ‘We had a lot of fun doing that and others did, too.’”