Paul Nosa makes art with a sewing machine and green electricity

Paul Nosa can sew your imagination. Give him five words or less, and with his commercial Singer machine, he will create what's in your mind on a piece of thick cotton.

On a recent afternoon, I gave Nosa five words--serene ocean scene with pizzazz--and waited for his creation. Within five minutes, he handed me a 6-by-6-inch piece of tan cotton with a sewed-on scene: A yellow sun, blue water, mountains and a person all adorned the material. As for the pizzazz, Nosa interpreted that to be electricity and included five lightning bolts on the canvas.

As it turns out, electricity--namely, the creation of it--is a very important element in Nosa's life. His portable sewing machine is powered either by a solar panel or an electric generator hooked to a bicycle that stores electricity in a battery.

"The sewing machine takes one amp per hour. ... On a good day at this proximity to the equator, you can make 4.5 amps per day with a 50-watt panel. That's four hours of sewing.

"With the bicycle electric generator, I can make one amp every five minutes. That's one hour of sewing for five minutes on the bike. With the solar panel, you put it out there and get electricity. With the bike, you have to work for it. You get your exercise, and you are making a lot more power."

But it's not as simple as riding a normal bike. "If you bike for 10 minutes," explains Nosa, "you will be dripping with sweat."

Nosa built the generator and includes instructions and tips on his Web site ( for others to follow. He says he gets a fair amount of hits on his site from others looking to go green. He also brings his bicycle generator to events like the Fourth Avenue Street Fair. He lives not in an electricity-guzzling abode but in a silver school bus that's parked in central Tucson. He has no electricity bill, no gas bill and only one monthly bill: $5 for text messaging.

The idea to live in a bus came out of Nosa's desire to simplify his work as a drummer. Nosa performs with Leila Lopez and his own band, The Silver Bus. Tired of setting up and breaking down his set, he wondered, "Where could we play that I wouldn't have to take the drum set apart and wouldn't have to be in a smoky bar?

"If we had a moving vehicle, I could pull up; I could play instantly and have solar panels on the vehicle. I'd basically own a venue and could be anywhere. ... When I first had that idea, I worked to save up to buy a moving van."

Nosa saw a school bus at a Tucson Unified School District auction and bought it. "I fell in love with the school bus, because there's so much more charm."

Nosa is able to use a neighbor's kitchen and bathroom and says he is "living a luxurious bus life right now. ... I like being portable; I like being off the grid. It's so easy and so valuable."

Aside from living a green life in a silver school bus, Nosa says he considers himself first and foremost an artist. Nosa started sewing on shirts in 2003 and then on patches in 2005. Even though he says he draws constantly, he never draws anything out before sewing it.

He started out creating abstract pieces, then faces, and then abstract faces. He also created a series of characters from a place he calls FishTown, including Mister Trout Pants, Tony the Elephish and Octalottalipapus.

Nosa's tagline--"What can I sew for you?"--is a way to get people involved in his art. "It's so fun when someone really gets into it. It's very satisfying to be able to provide that person a piece of their imagination."

He is also writing an art book and focusing more on fine-art pieces. He showed me several of these: small tapestries with intricate designs and a variety of colors. His work is quite detailed and complex.

"A lot of people think it's (done on) a computer. The people who get it see it's not a computer. They see I'm using a sewing machine and drawing it. They see each one is an original."

Original is a good word for Nosa; after all, he lives green in a silver bus, sewing art and making electricity. He says he's happy he found his career. For this man who lives simply, maybe contentment is the best power of all.

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