Ride On (2015): Motivation for myself to recover from the injury
Great Wide Open (2015): Self-portrait of skiing Bridger Bowl
As soon as the back brace came off and I got the go-ahead to return to Montana, I hopped on a flight. I dropped down to part-time online classes because I couldn’t carry a book bag, and I spent the rest of my time rehabbing my back and painting. I thought it would feel good to be back in Bozeman, the place I called home. But I had changed. My priorities had changed. I felt friction between getting gnarly in the mountains and partying, while what I really wanted to do was make art.
On the bright side, Rachel and I had become friends through my injury, and we painted together several times a week. She became a mentor, and I absorbed as much as I possibly could from her. Though it wasn’t school, I took it seriously. I wanted to be an artist. But I first had to hone in on my style and craft.
My physical therapist gave me the go-ahead to start rock climbing as a way to strengthen the muscles in my back. I began going to the climbing gym almost every day. Little did I know at the time, I was slipping back into my mountain-athlete complex. By the time spring hit, a friend and I took off on a ten-day climbing trip to the desert. I was feeling like a strong climber, but looking back I wish I would have given myself a bit more grace to take it easy.
Climbing in Saint George, Utah
Toward the end of our trip, I rolled my ankle on a rocky approach to a climb. I immediately knew I had broken my foot. It all came crashing down at that moment. “Why do I push myself so hard? I just want my mom. I can’t live like this anymore.” Not ten months after breaking my back, there I was a patient in a waiting room yet again. I was prescribed a boot for two months. I knew it was time to make a big change. I couldn’t go on living like this.
So shortly after I returned to Bozeman, I packed up all my belongings and moved home with my mom to that tiny island where I had often felt trapped. If I wanted to be an artist, I needed to dedicate my whole self. I was able to finish up my bachelor’s degree remotely, pick up shifts at a local restaurant so that I could save for my dream, and spend early mornings and late nights painting. It was a grueling schedule, but I put my head down and got to work.
Painting a desert piece with my broken foot (2016)
Painting Olympic Mountains (2016)
After seven months of living on the island and graduating from college, I was desperate for my next adventure. I spent the winter living in a cabin near the Stevens Pass ski area. The plan was to ski and paint. That winter it was a powder day almost every day, so I did a bit more skiing than painting. I was quickly running through my savings.
My art was beginning to attract a following on social media, and one morning I awoke to a message from an Alaska heli-skiing company asking if I wanted to paint a mural on their dispatch bus in trade for heli-skiing while they were running the Freeride World Tour. The answer was “Hell yes!”
A few days later I was on a small prop plane, heading for Haines, Alaska. I landed in a whole other world. Alaska had the Himalayas tied. Sheer mountain faces rose straight out of frosty inlets. Before I knew it, the heli guides had whisked me off on an evening heli ride, flying so close we could almost touch the legendary spines I had watched in ski films all those years. We spent the next week building a dome around the side of the bus that I was going to paint and prepping the bus to be ready for a mural. Guiding country was rugged. We were thirty-five miles out a slick icy road from the tiny town of Haines, with no services. A vegetarian most of my life, there I was eating elk and crab.
Painting the bus
Bus mural (2017) and the Alaska heli guide team
About to drop into spines in Alaska
After three weeks of heli-skiing and mural painting, the bus was done, and it was time to come home. Just a few weeks after I returned, I had my first solo art exhibition at evo (Seattle). My friends and family came, along with people that I didn’t even know. It was a night to remember. All that hard work, the broken bones, and the lonely late nights of painting had paid off in this singular moment.
The bus mural was gaining attention and got written up in a few articles. But I still had doubts. Was I really going to be able to make a living off my art? After the hype of the mural and my first solo art exhibition wore off, I found myself back where I had started, with no savings, so I moved back in with my parents on the island.
I felt like the mountains kept eating me whole and spitting me out dry . . . I couldn’t seem to maintain a mountain/painting lifestyle. I wanted a home base and an art studio. But I didn’t know where that would be. Maybe it didn’t have to be anywhere? Maybe I could be nomadic? I began picking up shifts at the restaurant again and saving up for a van. By the end of the summer, I saved up enough to purchase a 1986 Chevy Okanagan camper van that I named Bentley. I waved farewell to my family as I headed for the Washington coast with my paints and some Top Ramen. I wanted to learn to surf and paint the sea. The ocean was calling.
On the coast I met up with a college acquaintance, Kory. He had just finished an epic journey of bike touring and surfing down the West Coast, and I had been following his adventures on social media. We immediately clicked, so we hopped in my van and took off on a trip down the West Coast. He had a camera and helped me shoot social media content.
Bentley on the California coast (2017)
Kory and I two weeks after meeting
Me learning to surf
After a couple of months in the van, I found it difficult to maintain a regular painting practice. Kory and I needed stability to generate an income. I craved a space to spread out and create. A studio. It was time to find somewhere to live. But I couldn’t afford to move anywhere, so after only a couple of months of owning Bentley the camper van, I had no choice but to sell it. I knew it was what I had to do for my dream, but it sure was bittersweet.
For Kory and me, the ocean had stolen our hearts, so we began scouring the internet for rentals near surf. The perfect little two-bedroom house popped up in the maritime town between the mountains and the sea where Kory and I had first met up. We moved what little belongings we had. I set up an art studio in the second bedroom, and it was the first time my art had a dedicated studio space.
I swear, as soon as I moved into that little rental and my art had its own studio, everything clicked into gear. Project inquiries began flooding my inbox, and online orders were coming in. After years of struggling to make it as an artist, the switch had flipped, and my art career had begun.
Painting at Outdoor Retailer: Shuksan Dreaming (2018)
Painting in my first studio: Moody Rainier (2018)
Sunrise surf (2018)
I worked day after day in that ten-by-ten studio. Creating, marketing, packaging orders. Kory got a job working at a snowboard factory, which helped me stick to a regular work routine. It was my first “real” job.
Desperate for another taste of van life, we purchased an $800 Aerostar, Ronda, from a friend, and I gave the van a paint job. On the weekends and summer afternoons, when the days were longer, we’d pack up Ronda and head into the great outdoors. My time spent traveling around our backyard fueled my inspiration for my paintings.
Painting Ronda (2018)
I was in my early twenties, and the wanderlust began to hit hard. I found myself working daily, dreaming about what else was out there. I wanted to be an artist so that I could live a life of freedom, not be stuck inside all day. Turns out, it’s hard work to be a full-time artist.
So, after just over a year of living in the rental, I convinced Kory to quit his job. We sold most of our belongings, packed our remaining items into a storage unit, and drove our painted van down the West Coast to Los Angeles, where we sold the van. We then boarded a one-way flight to Mexico.
We called the journey “Here’s to Now,” coined from one of our favorite songs.
Taking off toward California
In Mexico, we shared a casita with a group of creatives for a month, and then we went off on our own adventure to Baja, where for a couple of weeks we camped on the beach out of a rental car. We surfed, we sunned, we had a blast. But I began to find that fun carried me only so far, and I craved a purpose to ground into.
Mural for a restaurant in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico (2019)
Camping in Baja
I attempted to run my business from Mexico, but opportunities began to arise back home that I couldn’t tend to while I was away. I didn’t even have art studio to return to. We had disassembled our lives and bailed. After two months, I was homesick for the PNW and an art studio. I had learned an important lesson: my business always needs a home base, no matter how far away I travel.
I returned home to that tiny island where I was raised, this time with Kory. We were vanless and essentially homeless (there wasn’t room at my parents place for both of us), desperately in search of somewhere to create a temporary home base. Within a week of returning, we found a 1978 Dodge raised-roof van on craigslist. It didn’t have a build, so we began working on it in my parents’ backyard while searching for a place. We named her Blueberry.