Montana native Rachel Pohl grew up in the mountains, surrounded by nature and a family that loved all things outdoors. It is these mountains that are both a muse and a playground, as Pohl is both an avid skier and a talented painter. Her encounters with nature are the inspiration for her bold acrylic paintings as she uses her artwork to rally others to seek out adventure in their lives.
Where did you grow up? What made it special to you? Do you live in the same place now?
I grew up in Bozeman, Montana, and I still live here. The recreational opportunities, coupled with my community and my family, make it a great home base. I have considered living in many other places, but being close to childhood friends and my parents and brother is of the utmost importance. And the skiing is not too bad. [laughs ]
How did your childhood shape who you are today?
I was raised in the mountains by parents who believed in the power of nature to inspire and instruct. To my brother and me, the perfect vacation involved hiking really far, staying in a tent, and getting ridiculouslyimmersed in our environment, be it covered in sand or mud, or soggy from hours out in the snow. We grew up going camping every weekend possible, playing in streams, fishing, riding bikes, climbing trees, and backpacking. I’m still that nature-craving kid who is happiest when I’m romping around sun-soaked ridgetops or exploring forests with my family and friends. Did your parents encourage art when you were young?
What is your earliest art memory?
My parents have never once discouraged my love for artistic endeavors, which used to seem like such an obvious, given fact—of course, my parents encourage my passions. Today, it astounds me to recall their complete acceptance of my career path, because being an artist is not something I take for granted at all. I value my parents’ faith in my work so much. My earliest art memory was being a fourth grader, drawing some kind of woodpecker for class, and a peer asking how long I’d been an artist. I confidently replied, “I have been an artist for as long as I can remember.” I chuckle now about my resolve, but it is remarkable that I knew my life’s purpose even then.
Who taught you how to ski?
My parents were the first to take me. My dad especially wanted us to love his favorite sport. For the record, he did an amazing job of making us obsessed with sliding on snow. On my first day out, I was nearly three years old. I remember being six years old and ripping around on tiny Telemark skis after skinning (placing synthetic skins on the bottom of skis and climbing up ski trails, rather than using a ski lift) up our local ski area in the fall before the lifts were running. I had no idea then how very cool skiing and ski touring were, and, in a way, I miss that innocence of having no awareness of the “rad factor” of the things I love to do but loving them intrinsically.
What is your education background? Are you an artist full time?
I went to Montana State University in Bozeman and graduated with a BFA in painting and an art history minor. I am indeed a full-time artist, and I love making my own schedule. I will often work hundred- hour weeks but then can go ride bikes in the desert for a week if I feel like it. Whenever I go play in the mountains, it totally recharges me, and I can do my work better because of those mini vacations.
If you had to choose between skiing and painting, which would you choose?
If I had to choose between the two, I would choose painting. I know that when I am eighty-five and it’s time to stop skiing, painting will still be there. As much as I adore skiing and rely on it for so much inspiration and happiness, I don’t feel like I honestly contribute much to the world by doing it, except by being a bit happier and therefore nicer to be around. But with painting, I know I can make the world brighter through my efforts.How are skiing and painting similar for you?
What state of mind do you find yourself in when you’re engaged in these activities?
Both painting and skiing put me in the flow state, where I am hyperfocused on the task at hand and everything else falls away. I find so much clarity through both. When I am painting a winter scene, I feel like I am skiing, and when I am skiing, especially skinning uphill, I am thinking about painting. The two are undeniably linked for me.
What draws you to paint the mountains and the outdoors? What do the outdoors represent to you?
I love “thematic unity” in all aspects of my life. It just makes sense to paint the places I visit because then everything I do flows seamlessly together into a story based on season, time of day, mountain ranges, desert trips, and all the spaces that make my soul smile. Painting is my way of remembering the sights, sounds, and memories of a place. The outdoors are the ultimate freedom for me. I feel safe, at home, and endlessly inspired in the mountains.
Where are some of your favorite mountains? What factors create a magical outdoor place?
I love the Alaska Range, ranges around my hometown, and the Tetons. The mountains are a magical place for me—I love their lack of buildings and people, and their rugged, wild appeal. I am also partial to grasslands, deserts, and ocean shores—anything that makes me come alive with wonder. I love hiking with my acrylics and large panels to gorgeous vistas. It makes me work faster and with more intention.
Do you paint outdoors as well?
I love painting outdoors whenever possible. I painted on top of a mountain a few days ago with my friend Sarah Uhl, who is also a full-time artist. We skinned to the top, dealt with frozen watercolors and cold teeth from too much smiling, and then skied down. We were pretty frigid by the end of our painting session, but it’s always worth it being able to directly translate your environment into art. Plein air is definitely a bit easier in the summer. I love hiking with my acrylics and large panels to gorgeous vistas. It makes me work faster and with more intention. I recently painted one of my favorite pieces at a waterfall, four miles up a mossy and misty canyon.
What is your preferred art medium? Why does it suit you?
I love acrylic paints on panel because I need to be able to layer quickly. And because I’m often working for up to fifteen hours at a time on my work, having to wait for layers to dry for weeks (which happens with oil paints) is not an option. The colors are very vibrant—I paint on panel so the surface is completely smooth and I can achieve tight details. They’re less expensive than oils, too. If your friends were to describe you, what would they say? They would probably say that I’m very motivated, optimistic, driven, and happy, and that I’m a good listener. I’d like to think my friends take inspiration from my pep talks and lifestyle in general. But, mostly, I am inspired by all of them.
It used to take me sixty to seventy hours, but I’m getting faster, so now it takes about thirty to fifty hours. I love working fairly large and using immense amounts of detail. I have trouble finishing paintings because there’s always something more to be done. A piece is finished when it’s due.
My painting style has evolved so much in the last few years. I used to look to artists like Jeremy Collins and the late Chili Thom, but now I focus more on what flows from my heart and not so much on others’ processes.
What is your motivation to create art?
My motivation is to encapsulate my personal feelings and connections with a place and make that optimistic vision accessible to others. I want to use my work to inspire others to seek out adventures and fall in love with their own special places.
How do your art and business reflect the way you care about the environment?
My work shows a deep love and reverence for the environment. I am working toward using my paintings to raise awareness about larger conservation issues, utilizing imagery to leverage an emotional connection to lands that need protecting. Even the packaging I use is eco-conscious. I use repurposed cardboard to fortify my prints when I ship them. I am working toward using all recycled or repurposed materials in my business. I inevitably send my work all over the country and world, which requires fossil fuels, but I do all of my printing locally, so at least I am making a lighter impact there. I’m doing the best I can at the moment to be aware of the impact my small business has on our planet and improve in the ways I can.
Tell us about your collaboration with Raise Nepal. What does the group do?
Raise Nepal was a project that we at AndShesDopeToo used to raise money for the nonprofit One Heart World-Wide, which helps women in rural Nepal give birth successfully. It was the first project I collaborated with ASDT on; I created the shirt that raised the money. Since then, I have become a co-owner of ASDT, which is an outdoor-lifestyle, cause-based apparel company in Ogden, Utah. We are a sisterhood of women who go outdoors together in a noncompetitive way to push our limits and each other to become better humans and athletes.
What are the top three places currently on your bucket list?
That’s a tricky question. I would say Yosemite/Redwood National and State Parks, Norway/Iceland, and Patagonia.
Do you have a life philosophy or a motto you often refer back to?
I love the idea of the spirit sponge that my friend Conrad describes: you have to do what you love to saturate your sponge, and then carry it with you and squeeze out goodness wherever you go. At some point, your sponge gets wrung out, and you have to fill it up again. For me, painting, skiing, mountain biking, and being with loved ones means I can carry happiness wherever I go.
What’s next for you?
I have many fun trips and projects planned. I’m especially excited about the Cinco de Moab Rendezvous in the Desert. For three days at the beginning of May, two hundred participants and our crew will camp and explore the desert around Moab, Utah. Women can sign up for hikes, bike rides, yoga classes, stand-up paddleboarding, “Creative Corner,” and so much more! Many of my closest friends will be there, and I get to lead mountain bike rides. The best part: absolutely every woman from everywhere is invited to join. Tickets are sold out, but we have two per year! This summer, Sarah Uhl and I will be traveling around with various other outdoor artists to tell the story, through painting, photography, and a short film, of five places that need protecting. Until those adventures, I’ll be busy painting and skiing.
For more info, visit rachelpohlart.com.