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Skintrack Sketches: Evan Chismark pens a vision of community, environment and stoke

This week in Skintrack Sketches, we take a look at the artwork of 39-year-old Vermont-based artist Evan Chismark, who has been documenting his surroundings since before he can remember. His work is often a depiction of the natural haunts he visits while mountain biking and snowboarding, and he strives to integrate a community element into many of his pieces with the hopes of sharing and growing support for the recreations and environments he loves. We caught up with him to learn more about how he brings these elements together in his pen and ink drawings. Here’s what he had to say.

Illustration for Backcountry Magazine Buff.

Backcountry Magazine: What got you started on your art and how has it evolved?

Evan Chismark: Any time I had a pen or pencil in my hand as a kid, I was doodling—I still do that to this day. So I think it evolved in the same way any proclivity does when you’re a kid—like skateboarding or whatever else it could be. It’s just about how fun it is; it’s also about the sense of self-improvement and making something better than it was the last time you tried. That persists to this day—that drive to take on more challenging projects. Professionally speaking, I thrive on that, but personally speaking I love it as well. At the end of the day, it’s just wicked fun.

Chismark sweeps through a turn in Valdez, AK. [Photo] Justin Befu

BCM: It looks like you like to infuse nature into your artwork. How do you balance your art and love of backcountry?

EC: In some ways you are a product of your surroundings whether you like it or not. That infusion stems from the place where I live and how I spend my days; I spend a lot of time just mucking around in the woods, constantly steeped in nature. But in terms of finding inspiration via the backcountry, bc snowboarding is an indirect inspiration. It’s more of a meditation for me. Sometimes I focus on breathing, sometimes I focus on the skintrack; sometimes I focus on nothing. And sometimes it’s about focusing on all of those things, all at once. But it’s also about tuning out the external noise, that’s when inspiration strikes. And I think a lot of artists would say the same thing. While I’m mountain biking or even if I’m just walking in the woods, as soon as I tune out the noise and focus on being present, that’s when inspiration comes and finds me. The less I look for it, the faster it arrives. It is rare that I’ll be out snowboarding and I’m like, “Woah, that gives me this wonderful idea.” It’s almost the exact opposite really. It’s the physical exertion in the mountains and in the snow that allows me to tap into whatever it is behind the curtain.

“Love Hurts”—Personal piece. Description: the rugged bear symbolizes mother nature and the heart-shaped head symbolizes a general love for the wilderness. Medium: Ink

BCM: What does your process look like?

EC: These days it varies. I work a fulltime job in addition to being a freelance artist, and I am insanely fortunate to have two jobs—my other gig is the executive director of the Stowe Mountain Bike Club—that I’m really passionate about. There was a long stretch in my life where that wasn’t the case. I was doing work I didn’t find meaningful and I didn’t find engaging. It was educational, but I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do for a very long time, and as a result, my artwork took a total back seat. These days it ebbs and it flows, but I do try to draw for at least a few minutes, if not a few hours every day. Sometimes I’m voracious about it, and other times—if I have another project going—I take a short break from my artwork. But the beauty of being a freelance artist is that I no longer have the option to say, “Well, I’ll get back into my art next month.” Being beholden to a client keeps me accountable and doesn’t give me the option of passivity in terms of creating. It’s something that I have to work on every day, and I love that. I have very serendipitously been able to strike a balance that allows me to constantly pursue art as both a profession and a passion.

Chismark likens the flow state in snowboarding to how he approaches his artistic process. Location: Valdez, AK. [Photo] Justin Befu

BCM: How has your work evolved based on where you live?

I think that the people here in Vermont are probably the biggest influence on that, especially living in the Waterbury / Stowe area. This place is a hub of ingenuity and there are so many people that are good at so many things—and for me to be a creative contributor to that community is humbling. There are so many artists and designers and people who have started magazines and snowboard companies, and these people are our neighbors. To have the opportunity to work with them in any kind of capacity has always been a pipe dream, and then when I moved back here after living out west, I realized that my artwork could be a conduit to that community. And that was what fired me back up. It was also a total game changer as far as how my artwork evolved. Vermont forced me to get my ass in gear and produce artwork that I thought would resonate with people.

BCM: What draws you to doing promotional art for people?

EC: In a lot of cases it’s no different from what I would do for myself, which is part of what makes it easy to do. And maybe it’s a copout, but honestly, working with an organization like Backcountry Magazine or Rome Snowboards or whoever it is—when I have to work on taking their vision and then coming up with a creative way to interpret that visually—that’s one of my favorite parts of the process. The collaborative nature helps facilitate more interesting work as opposed to just working in a vacuum. In the back and forth between an art director and myself, really cool work can be done. Sure it can be frustrating at times and it’s not always a walk in the park, but at the same time, the extra work that goes into it is where the magic happens. Usually when someone approaches me about my work, they have a general understanding of the style I bring to the table. But anyone that chooses to support someone like me as opposed to farming work out to a big firm is a company I feel fortunate to work for and that I hope people get behind. Ultimately I just want to be able to contribute to the general stoke and the vibe of a community through my artwork.

Stowe Mountain Resort Adventure Center mural. Media: Pen, brush and India ink.

BCM: Your depiction of some of these natural places is more conceptual. Do you rely on how you feel and your memory, or do you take notes, physical or mental when you are outside?

EC: I think it’s a bit of a combination of both; sometimes it’s as simple as seeing a knot in a tree or a cool cloud that resonates with me. When that happens, I’ll take a picture of it so I don’t forget. But there are other times when it’s much more abstract, and it just triggers an idea in the back of my mind. Unfortunately there’s no formula for it. I usually have that meditative experience, but it really depends on my state of mind and where I can find myself on any given day.

Reader Essay illustration for the February 2016 issue of Backcountry Magazine. Media: Ink, watercolor and graphite.

BCM: How does your art affect your backcountry experience and how you move through a landscape?

EC: I think there are some cool parallels between art and backcountry skiing. For me as a snowboarder, generally I am looking for the most fun way down the mountain. It doesn’t have to be the gnarliest way, but sometimes it is, and it doesn’t have to be the flowiest way, but sometimes it is. And so I think there is a link between line choice and art. Sometimes a project dictates that you have to go way outside your comfort zone, and other times it’s something you’ve done a million times. But for both of ends of that spectrum, you’re still relying on your fundamental skill set that led you there in the first place.

We all have this ability to interact with the mountain on our own terms, and those terms are dictated by our skills and our experience level—that in and of itself is an artistic process. And that is something I try to remind myself: art doesn’t always mean picking up a brush or a pen and making marks on a piece of paper. Just being in the backcountry and interacting with the mountains is beautiful—that’s art right there.

2017/18 DC Supernatant snowboard graphic. Media: Graphite, charcoal and ink.

BCM: You keep bringing up mediation. What do you think about the “flow state” and how it applies to your process?

EC: In some ways the idea of flow state is a lot like falling in love. The harder you look for it, the less likely you are to find it. Whereas, when you let go, release a little bit and immerse yourself in the moment, that’s when the flow state happens—you meet your soul mate, or link a half dozen turns in that perfect line. And art is kind of the same way. When you are away from your phone or your computer and all of these distractions that we’ve come to view as necessities in life, when you just allow yourself to be present and appreciate things as perfect just the way they are, that’s when you’re most alive.

To learn more about Evan Chismark and his artwork, visit evanchismark.com.

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