As I walk through the winters' evening darkness in this inland temperate rainforest, I feel the mountains lean in on me. A soft stillness greets me, as the humidity hugs my cheeks. I know that I am far from alone as I inhale the freshness of the winters snow and ground, the earthen stone of these rolling mountains that peak lower than the ones I so intimately know. But they welcome me, still. And take me as their own. I soon learn the same of my walking companion, Canadian artist Emily Beaudoin – who has also been raised by the Rocky Mountain range. We smile in connection over our shared home, and if there is anyone who feels like sunshine as we walk through the winters cold – she glows. The fresh snow welcomes our footsteps with a dampened crunch, the mountains cradling us as we walk into the night. Coming from a family who strongly encouraged her to engage in her creativity at a young age, Emily was involved in art and theatre all throughout junior high and high school, choosing to pursue theatre when the time came to select a programme for university. “I lasted for about a year and a half in the theatre world and it’s just, it’s an amazing world - it just wasn’t my world. My other major passion has always been the outdoors and the mountains, so I switched into a recreation and outdoor education programme which was great - but I felt like I was missing something. It took me a few months to realize I wasn’t being creative at all, so I started painting and drawing again, and it was just like this instant 'this is what I need to do to make me happy.' From then on, it’s kind of been this journey of trying to combine my two loves of art and the outdoors. I have done a mix of guiding and outdoor education, and always painted throughout all of it. I think what really spring boarded my art career was a competition for Prior Snowboards & Skis based out of Whistler. Every year they do this really amazing local artist top sheet competition. I designed a top sheet, and I ended up winning people’s choice - which was so exciting. I had my work featured on the 2017 line of skis and boards.
I make connections in the outdoor community, and then people become interested that I also paint. Which has given me the opportunity to combine the two, and to have also had opportunities to paint murals. My first mural was in the Banff Lululemon - which was an amazing opportunity and kind of kickstarted my mural career. I began designing for some outdoor companies, all the while continuing to paint and develop my own practice. So, I guess it’s been a very organic thing. I never set out to do this to make a living, I just did it because it made me happy.
I have so much gratitude for Lululemon and Prior, because they kind of kickstarted me into the public spotlight. Since then I’m also super passionate about women and creativity in the outdoors. Another project I am working on is slowly starting a backcountry art retreat idea with a friend of mine in Canmore, Alberta. This past summer we took 8 ladies to the Icefall Lodge just outside of Golden, BC, and spent three days hiking and swimming in glacial lakes and painting - and that really excites me. I think there is a lot of magic in the mountain air. Personally, I build a huge connection to the places that I paint. To the tree, or the species of animal, or the particular mountain; whatever it may be, and that really makes me have feelings of needing to protect that place and preserve it. My dream is to foster a sense of environmental stewardship in people. I’d like to encourage the connection to the land and the animals through art. To accomplish this would be amazing. Someone recently told me that I’ve spent my life chasing mountains, and I was like, ‘that is very accurate,’” she says with a laugh. “I just find such inspiration in them. They’re such gigantic landforms that house huge numbers of ecosystems within them, and I find they’re so ruthlessly wild and beautiful and they really don’t care about you or your life. You have to be smart enough to navigate your way through them, so I’m always striving to tow that line between this fearsome wilderness and also this amazing beauty and connection at the same time.” I was drawn to Emily’s work because of the vivid assemblage of tones she uses to capture the unique features that make each mountain scape true to its own. Curious as to what inspires the colour palettes that Emily uses, I discover that she has synesthesia; where she experiences words and touch as colours. She explains that it is like it is in her ‘mind’s eye,’ where they bloom and blend into each other and sometimes form patterns as well. As she explains, “I get a lot of my colour palettes for my paintings from it, it’s super helpful. It’s a wonderful brain condition” she explains with a warm smile.
“I feel a different tone from mountain scape to mountain scape. These mountains are a lot older, they’re more eroded. They’re not jagged like the Rockies, and Revelstoke is so low in elevation - we’re just under 500m here. Which is quite a difference for a Calgarian. You’ll see the tree line goes way up the mountains, and they have these really impressive peaks and summits, and there are a lot of beautiful rolling tree lines below tree line. Once you get up into the alpine, it’s just an amazing experience that’s similarly rugged and wild and beautiful like the Rockies. There’s definitely a different tone and story to them. I spent last fall in the French-Swiss-Italian alps, which was amazing - and totally different. They’ve got these crazy spires; it looks like a dragon should be hanging off of them. Which was wild." I smile to her statement. Having the shared experience of having explored a few of the mountainous landscapes in Europe, we agree that we can both understand why these are the places where fairy tales and folklore originate from.
“The goal [with my paintings] would be to kind of create a sense of transporting the viewer to this place. I’m not an exact artist, and it’s not a perfect reproduction. I use different colours and flowing lines, and I feel like I put a lot of my own love for a place into my paintings so I hope that that love can resonate with other people as in ‘oh this is a really special place, I kind of want to go there’.” As we are living in a time where we cannot so easily physically transport ourselves to these various mountainous landscapes that we passionately speak of, how has Covid had an impact on how Emily explores her creativity and inspiration? “It was a pretty big change. In one sense I felt incredibly grateful to be an artist, because I can just get so lost in a painting and spend hours without realizing that I’m hungry or thirsty or that time is passing, but on the other hand I, as much as I can, try to paint on thin air – which is outside. My favourite thing is to go up a mountain, whether it be on skis or hiking or biking with my water colours, and paint the view. I couldn’t really do that as much with Covid during the lockdown. So, I started painting this series that I call the shelter series, which is just a whole bunch of little 5x7-ish paintings of shelters; tents and mostly cabins, vans, bale saunas – various kinds of typical shelters that you find in mountainous regions. And I didn’t know fully why I was painting them. I was thinking a lot about the fact that I felt a little bit trapped in my house, but at the same time I felt so grateful to have a house full of light and food and great roommates and friends, and I was kind of thinking ‘when am I going to start resenting this space?’ Because I have to stay in here – but I’m also so lucky. And for some reason, all these shelters were just coming out day after day after day, and I think it kept me sane. It was a very meditative process, and I think I needed comfort and I wanted to share comfort with others. Making these cozy little spaces was very healing you could say. While creating these tiny shelters, I felt a sense of ‘I don’t really know why I’m doing this, but I have to. I’m so called to this right now’. People began sending me messages like, ‘it’s so calming to watch you paint, can you do a recorded time lapse of yourself or maybe some Instagram live videos of you painting?’ which, was lovely and surprising. I recorded myself painting, and people were gracious in telling me how calming it was for them. It was a really nice way to connect without connecting during that time. It felt like a huge gift. And it made me more vulnerable. Because it’s scary showing people your process. Because they see everything. I think there’s this idea that artists just sit and create, and it’s this beautiful and amazing thing - which for the most part, it is. But sometimes it’s just blood, sweat, and tears trying to get this damn thing to go the way you want it to go. It’s very messy. It’s by no means perfect.
During Covid I kind of had a few different factors all happening at once – I lost my house and my job and my roommates’ last year mid-Covid, which was tough because we had this beautiful little life in Canmore. I moved out here in June. I lost the house in Canmore in April, stayed with my mom in Calgary for May, and then came out here. It was a very tumultuous time; it was very uncertain. I didn’t know where I was going to live, or what I was going to do for work, or who I was going to live with. Everything was very up in the air, and I just kept coming back to these beautiful paintings. I guess it was maybe a mixture of fear and gratitude. And the ups and downs of it all, but to know that I can just lose myself for hours in these [paintings] and calm down. Being able to go outside was huge. Being quarantined in places like Canmore and Revelstoke, I feel pretty darn lucky to be able to get out. I had been thinking for years that maybe I should try giving pursuing my art full time a shot. And I kind of made that decision during a global pandemic, when I didn’t know where I was going to live, and didn’t have a job - to try this. Which was a very odd seeming decision in the moment. But, I guess, again, it was fear and gratitude for having this craft - but that I better go hard at it because I have expenses to pay for. I was very unsure if that was the right decision to be making. But for me personally, a huge silver lining of this pandemic has been the upsurge of support for locals, and people have been so generous and supportive and excited. Whether it’s a huge commission, or buying some of my stickers, I’ve just felt this community come around me and support my creativity - which is an amazing feeling. I feel very lucky. It’s been this crazy leap of faith, at the same time thinking ‘this is such ridiculous idea’, and yet I’ve been continually caught and cushioned in this fall, and all these amazing opportunities have seemed to have been born from that fear and uncertainty. I feel incredibly fortunate and so full of gratitude to lean on this cushion. I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love. And the fact that it brings me joy is nice, but the fact that it brings other people joy is the true magic of it. It was quite a tough decision to come out here. Thinking, 'I’m going to move out to a little town where I know one wonderful person - my boyfriend – and it’s not a time when you’re supposed to be making new friends,' really. I was nervous about how it was going to go. I was really questioning: why am I leaving Canmore? This is my place, my community, I’ve got my people here. Maybe someday I’ll go back to Canmore; I really love it there. But Revelstoke has been a pretty awesome place to land.
Growing up in Alberta, in the Calgary area, we are so spoiled with sunlight. We get so much sun. As this is my first winter here, I can’t speak for all winters - but this winter has been so cool to experience because there are a lot of inversions. So, if it’s raining or drizzly or grey in town, and if you go up the mountains you break above the cloud. You’re then in this other world of sunlight looking down on this cloud ocean, and colours have been amazing. And it’s such a great motivation to go up the mountains and put your skis on. For me, natural light is so important with my work. I deal with a lot of light and spectacular skies in my painting.
There are big old growth cedar forests, and moss and wildflowers here, and the biodiversity here is more varied than in the Rockies for sure – which is another great source of inspiration.
I think I’ve painted this super dreamy picture of what my experience during Covid has been like, but there are definite down days and I have experienced just as many struggles as everyone else through this. There are days that I don’t feel inspired to paint or ski because the weight of this world seems to be crushing, and I think it’s just the knowledge that this seems to be temporary, that I know we’re going to get through this somehow, and just to lean in to the things that make you feel whole again. I think it was sort of this early New Year’s resolution like ‘what are you going to do doing quarantine? Are you going to get a six pack? Are you going to learn to make perfect eggs benedict and sourdough bread?’ or whatever, and I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves during quarantine to be inspired. And I tried to make sourdough, it didn’t work. I sucked at it” we laugh, the warmth spreading across our steadily chilled faces.
“I definitely had feelings of anxiety and felt feelings that I had never felt before. It was important to be still. We don’t have anywhere to run now from our problems, we have to sit in the stillness and feel them. We have to push deeper into these feelings. They are feelings we can typically avoid because we’re always so busy, but now we have to deal with them and sit, and challenge them.
For me it is to just try and be present, and not feel like you have to be inspired by what everyone else is inspired by right now.”
“And don’t throw away your masks. Respect the nature. It seems ferocious and endless and wild, but it’s so fragile.” Emily Beaudoin [@emily.beaudoin] is an artist from the Canadian Rockies currently living in Revelstoke, British Columbia She has designed for Lululemon, Prior Snowboards & Skis, Ambler (Nelson, BC), 93 North Skis (Canmore, AB), and CMH (Banff, AB) You can find more of her work on her website:
Photography by Atazia Hadjirouseva [@atazia.pavlina]