Born in Upstate New York and currently based in Nelson, British Columbia, Jessa Gilbert creates art pulled from her experiences in the mountains, pieces that capture the grandeur of the outdoors in understated style and explore the “human experience and the temporality of wilderness.”
After studying Art and Art History at the University of Vermont, Jessa worked mainly as a figurative painter and product developer while competing on the national snowboard circuit. In 2013, Jessa headed west to British Columbia, switching her artistic focus to experiential landscape work and locking down a job at Baldface Lodge as a second guide.
The move forged an ideal merger of her passion for art and life in the backcountry and brought in commission opportunities for public murals and brand work with the likes of Burton, Stance, Mica Heli, Mountain Equipment Co-op and many more. Jessa’s work has been exhibited internationally, and you can currently find her at work on her #getoutoftownvibe series. Our senior editor Mary Walsh caught up with Jessa for a dive into the particulars of her process.
Hometown: I currently live in Nelson, BC, Canada.
Home mountain: I mostly splitboard in British Columbia, but currently call Whitewater my home mountain when I get a chance to take the lift. I grew up in New York State, and learned how to snowboard at Catamount in the Catskills. I spent a lot of time at Jiminy Peak early on, where I worked as a snowboard instructor and started riding park. In university, I practically lived at Stowe in the winter while attending UVM. Not really sure which I would consider my home mountain, but the three of them had the biggest impact in my life.
Preferred medium(s): Depends on what I’m working on. I bounce between using acrylic paint when I’m working on large-scale paintings and murals, and ink, pencil, and watercolor when I’m creating artwork in the backcountry with my #getoutoftownvibe series of artworks.
One tool of your craft that you cannot do without: I’m going to name two. My travel art kit, which is a small waterproof pouch that holds a watercolour sketchbook, a few pens, a couple pencils, a watercolour set, and a small paintbrush. This kit comes with me everywhere, no matter how big of a slog, so that I can have a studio ready in case inspiration comes. Second tool of the craft: My paint covered overalls are a staple when I’m working on murals, and help me work freely without considering whether I’m trashing yet another t-shirt with paint.
Favorite subject matter (in general and/or currently): I love creating artwork that has a sense of joy, whether in the subject matter, the line quality, or the color combinations. It feels good to play and laugh, and to create artwork that embodies that spirit helps me to feel gratitude in the small moments of any adventure. The joy of play, the joy of activity, the joy of being among wilderness, the joy of snowboarding, the joy of the warm sun on your skin. I don’t find myself too concerned about having the paintings articulate the exact curves of a landscape, but find myself working to create artwork that celebrates the feeling of being outside and engaged in play.
All-time favorite snowboard graphic: Oooh, that’s a good question. I loved the artist series of the 2009 Salomon Lily. It was all these funny pandas working in a factory, mostly black and white with a little bit of color, and just felt fun without being so over-the-top feminine. Forum had a funny graphic in 2010 that was all these fairy tale princess characters ripping their faces off, but in poppy technicolors–followed up the next year by a bunch of cute animals holding shivs and weapons. Haha, random, perhaps, but I thought they were pretty funny.
Do you listen to music or anything when you make art? If so, what: My studio playlist is eclectic, to say the least. If I’m starting a new painting, I’ll usually listen to something funky or with a groove; something that has a good beat and flow. I find myself literally dancing with my paintbrush as I move color across a canvas. It keeps the process fun and the curves playful in the painting. If I’m working on a more detailed piece, or in the process of finalizing details, I’ll turn on a podcast or something more relaxed like folk or indie. It may sound funny, but I definitely notice a difference in my paintings that is caused directly by the music I’m listening to.
Advice on how to get over a creative block: Just get started on something! If you’re already working on something and have hit a block, I’d say put the project aside for a minute and work on something different, light, and/or fun. Pick up an instrument, sow the garden, cook something delicious—do something that keeps your creative mind active, but allows you a bit of a reprieve from the project. I find when I’m struggling with a painting, I’ll pick up my guitar and play that for a little while until I feel inspired to get back into the studio.
If you haven’t started anything yet, and are looking to get creating, but don’t know where to start, I’d say start small. Doodle for the sake of making marks on a piece of paper. Even if you don’t have an idea when you begin, the process of moving ink around a page may lead you to something. When we work a bit more quickly and loosely, we get out of our own way a bit. Your first artwork isn’t likely going to be a masterpiece and may find its way directly into the recycling bin, BUT you can’t make a masterpiece without having some bad creations along the way.
Artists that influence/inspire your work: I find inspiration from a lot of different types of artists, painters, photographers, dancers, etc. I found a lot of inspiration early on from Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Matisse; their use of color to create mood I found really engaging. I love artists who have a sense of humor, and laugh aloud at paintings by Wayne White and Dana Schutz. I like the playful figures from Grace Weaver and Jackson Tupper, a couple of Vermonters, in fact. I flip through a lot of old National Geographics and film photos for inspiration, as well. I like the grainy quality of the photos and find they tend to have a bit more mystery than some of the more crisp digital imagery that is out there. I love thinking about what happens in the periphery, the unfocused moments, and parts of an image that may not be fully focused, and work to cultivate some of that mystery in my own artworks.
Any cool collabs, work, galleries, projects, etc. that you’ve done (or that you’re working on currently) that you’d like to share: I feel so fortunate to say that I’ve have the pleasure of working with some amazing brands over the past few years. This past fall I painted a snowcat at Baldface Lodge for Stance Socks, which was such a fun project. It required a lot of prep work on the metal I wasn’t used to, and the extra process of thinking about this artwork as being a mobile painting that would transport people around the mountains. It was so excited to see the bright box literally glowing in the snow-covered mountains this season on bright and/or snowy days. My first official snowboard graphic came out this past 19/20 season for Roxy, which was a dream come true in so many ways. I worked with Robin Van Gyn and Barrett Christy to develop a design that would be both inspiring, feminine, and bold, while keeping the palette black and white. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and the board (the Smoothie) is a ton of fun to ride in pow. Win-win, really. This winter, I created the branding for Ms. Superpark! It’s so rad to see the female snowboard community grow and thrive, and it made me so stoked to be given the reigns on designing graphics for the competitions. All the murals I’ve created have a special place in my heart, and I truly enjoyed the process of getting to know the community where the mural would exist and creating an artwork that would celebrate their specific location. Each town has a different vibe, and it was an honor to create public artwork for Whistler, Squamish, Nelson, and Vancouver over the past few years. I get something different out of every collaboration, and it fills me up to be able to share the artwork with so many people around the world.
Where can people purchase your art: My website, www.jessagilbert.com, features all my original art and art prints that you can purchase. Bonus, I’m currently accepting commissions, which is the silver lining to needing to stay home currently. I haven’t displayed any of my #getoutoftownvibe drawings before, but will be uploading and selling the original drawings later this summer on my website. Stay tuned.