We’re excited to partner with local artists and businesses and share their stories. This is Ali’s story. (We never knew Grey Jays were also called Whisky Jacks!)
Since I was young, I have used art as a means to process the world around me. Art is a vehicle to express my curiosities.
When I was nineteen, I sat in a small classroom, drawing precise lines with charcoal, classical music from the AM radio filling the silence of the room. I had moved from my hometown in Colorado to Bellingham, Washington, after being accepted into Western Washington University’s art program. Drawing 101, Art History 101, Foundation Drawing 110… Despite my efforts, my work was deemed as nothing remarkable, and for the first time, I felt quite discouraged about art. It felt wrong, having a single professor in charge of assessing the quality of my work and boiling it down to a grade, without ever knowing my passion or intention.
I sat in class after class, looking down at my callused hands, dreaming up plans to climb outside. Climbing had been introduced to me earlier in the year, and quickly became an obsession. Before long, I had lost all interest in the 100- level art courses, and I switched gears to an Outdoor Recreation major. As it turned out, my life would revolve around that for years to come.
I spent a summer on the road with a girl I hardly knew. We climbed as much, and spent as little, as possible. I spent another summer working outside Mount Rainier National Park, where I was first introduced to mountaineering. I completed a semester-long outdoor leadership course, learned to canyoneer, and got my Wilderness First Responder certificate. One summer I interned for a mountain guiding company in Alaska. I learned to ski. Every now and again I’d draw skylines in summit logs, or in journal pages from a trip. For the most part, though, art had been put on the back burner.
While these years of adventure are filled with memories I will never forget, it’s important to note the reasons my “nomadic” life was inevitably put to rest. I felt a true lack of a stable community, and my experience was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, filled with doubts and loneliness. I had formed my life around recreation and outdoor sports and felt afraid I may waste my immense privilege by choosing to pass up an opportunity to do something that would be a huge treat for so many people.
The fall after my season at Outward Bound, craving a home base, I moved to Leavenworth, Washington. Stevens Pass hired me as a ski patroller, and in the summers I worked a slew of other jobs, from farming, to pouring beer, to turning wrenches at the local auto shop. Most importantly, I found a thriving community of like-minded hooligans in Leavenworth. It was during my first winter there, nearly five years after I had dropped out of the University art program, I became inspired to revisit my relationship with art.
Wanting to try something entirely new, I picked up a wood burner for the first time. Throughout that next summer, I created and sold dozens of art pieces. My subject matter was primarily landscapes, and I found myself astonished at the community’s interest in my small creations. I had developed a style of line work that I used to portray local mountain-scapes, and was enjoying the fulfillment I felt from creating artwork that seemed to resonate with people. Even more so, I was enjoying what felt like some sort of balance in my life. At some point during my next winter at Steven’s Pass, I developed a crazy idea that perhaps art alone could be my summer job! Looking back at how undeveloped my artwork, style, and business were at the time, this was indeed a crazy idea. But despite the slim possibility of success, without questioning, I went for it.
My summer of art kicked off with a show in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. I had made myself a large sign on live edge pine board that read “Whiskey Jack Designs,” a business name I had chosen while watching the Grey Jays (also known as Camp Robbers, or Whiskey Jacks) circle the chair lifts at Stevens Pass, scavenging for snacks. It was a total bust. Once back over the pass, in my still somewhat new hometown, I kicked off the next day by setting up for my first weekend show at Art in the Park. I planned my summer around being in this local outdoor art gallery every weekend. Things started slow, but over the summer, both my business and artwork grew tremendously. Wood burning eventually faded out of my mediums, and my line work, transferred onto acrylic and watercolor paintings, is what I began to enjoy creating the most.
My leap into full time art is now two years behind me, and I create and sell artwork professionally year round. Every aspect of my business and artwork has changed and developed. As they have evolved, I’ve found myself thankful for my lack of formal art education. I don’t feel bound by rules or ideas of what fine art needs to look like. Painting is a vehicle in which I explore my relationship with the outdoors and connect to my community. It has become the perfect counterpart to my outdoor pursuits, a non-physical outlet to share and express my love for the natural world. It is my favorite way to rest my body and fuel my mind. Most of all, it has created a balance in my life that I was lacking and always craving. I no longer feel pressure to devote all of my time and energy trying to become something remarkable in the world of outdoor recreation. The satisfaction I find from having multiple passions feels plenty remarkable in itself.
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