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Skintrack Sketches: Brooklyn Bell finds her calling in art and the mountains

For 21-year-old Brooklyn Bell of Bellingham, Wash., breaking into the world of skiing was intimidating, but her wanderlust and love of her natural surroundings pushed her to explore new sports and spaces. And while she struggled to find her place as an athlete, she found that using her background in graphic design to paint the mountains she aspired to climb and ski was a way to set personal goals for the backcountry. Now a graphic design student at Western Washington University, she pursues her interests both on the skintrack and in the classroom. We caught up with her to learn about her goals as an artist and a skier.

Bell takes a moment while skiing to capture a self-portrait.

Backcountry Magazine: What got you into skiing?

Brooklyn Bell: I am originally from the Tacoma/Seattle area. My parents split up when I was around 10—my mom was from Bellingham—and we moved up to Baker. I skied as a kid on and off, but just in the last three or four years, I’ve gotten more into skiing. I took my first avy class last season and have really gone head first into the sport.

I first got interested in bc skiing when, a couple years ago, I had it in my head that I wanted to get into mountaineering. So I did a short mountaineering course, but before that, I was going out by myself and hiking in the snow. I realized that I needed to have the proper training in avalanche skills and first aid, so I took courses and discovered that I wasn’t really interested in mountaineering. I think I’m more of a Type I fun kind of person; I really like the feeling of skiing and not the struggle so much. In the last couple of seasons, my interest in the backcountry has changed. When I first got into it, I thought it would be great for me to explore, and now that I have grown and progressed as a skier, backcountry has been a great way for me to ski bigger objectives and get into steeper, more challenging terrain, so that I can enjoy the sport to the fullest. I feel like the backcountry has opened up a lot of room for me creatively. 

Image Title: White

BCM: How has this passion influenced your artwork?

BB: The reason I got into art stems from the fact that once I got into skiing and mountain biking, I felt like I didn’t fit in—I wasn’t very good at skiing, and I wanted a way to connect with my community even though I felt like I wasn’t a strong skier. So I did that through art. I started creating art and creating the person I wanted to be, even though I wasn’t quite there. As I’ve progressed and gone to new places, I have completely fallen in love with the Cascades and the mountains that surround me. I have drawn on that for inspiration.

BCM: How did you get your start as an artist?

BB: I wasn’t really a fine arts student. In high school, I was interested in graphic design. I knew how to use Photoshop and InDesign like the back of my hand for many years, but after high school, I couldn’t really afford the programs that I enjoyed creating with. There was a woman I met who was creating these beautiful illustrations with watercolors, and she was also a designer. I fell in love with her work, and I realized I wanted to create art like her, but I didn’t know how to go about that—I had no experience with fine art and watercolors. So I decided to figure out a way to create that with my computer with the skills I already had.

Image Title: Powder Pillows with trees

BCM: What’s inspired you to take on collaborations with other businesses?

BB: Mostly I’ve had companies seek out my work, and the stuff they’re interested in is usually classic mountain scenes like Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Right now I’m working on a project with the Space Craft Collective, and they are branching out of their brand, which was more focused on snowboarding and now they’re focusing more on lifestyle. That’s where my art comes in.

BCM: What are the different mediums you work in?

BB: My favorite medium to work in is Photoshop. I love overlaying colors and textures and figuring out funky ways to blend different styles. I’ve done some collage work with Photoshop, but for me, color is the most important aspect of my artwork—trying to figure out how to get colors to be vibrant and blend seamlessly together.

BCM: How has artwork changed how you see the mountains and how you move through them?

BB: Right now, when I draw something, I look at the shapes and I look at the contours. I’ll try to draw contour lines and give them a fullness. When scoping out lines, I am dissecting the mountain in a very similar way. I find myself becoming very creative in the process of skiing and trying to find that flow in the same way I would if I were drawing something.

Image Title: Shuksan

BCM: What color gets you fired up?

BB: I really like pink. Sometimes I’ll sit down and it will be less about drawing something and more about giving the color a space to exist within. So I’ll sit down and draw mountains just so I can make them pink. That’s probably just the graphic designer in me.

BCM: What does the process look like for creating your images?

BB: A lot of times, the biggest influence on me is the photos people post on Instagram. I have one piece that’s of the Shuksan Arm—there’s a classic photo that Grant Gunderson took of it—and I remember seeing that right when I was first getting into skiing. I was overwhelmed by its beauty. It took me a few tries to get things down correctly, but I’ll take photos that I like from Instagram and use those as inspiration. If I go to a place, I’ll come back and draw it. I’ll draw stuff in between classes I take, and I’ll draw while I take notes for classes. A lot of my art takes place in spaces between my daily routine. But outside of Instagram, I am inspired by my friends and all of the amazing things they share with me.

To see more of Bell’s work, visit brooklynbelldesign.com.

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