Episode 145: Artist + Adventurer Jessa Gilbert on Sharing the Stoke
"If you're going to do anything, make it with intention."
Artist and backcountry guide Jessa Gilbert brings her colorful energy to the podcast this week! Jessa shares about balancing the artist side and the adventurous side of herself, not feeling like she belonged in the fine art world and then creating a niche for herself, getting out of your own way as an artist, and the importance of play.
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Jessa: I always think that the process will dictate the outcome or the process leads to your product. And if you… for me, if I have too much of a strong hold as to what I want it to be at the end, then I kill the product before it even starts.
Iris: Hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Outside By Design! My name is Iris Matulevich, I host the podcast alongside Lisa Slagle, and as always, the show is brought to you by WHEELIE, a modern creative agency and production company for the outdoor industry.
This week Lisa had the pleasure of interviewing artist and adventurer Jessa Gilbert. Jessa shared how she focuses on sharing the stoke in both her backcountry guiding and her art, balancing the artist and adventurer within her, finding a place for herself in the fine art world, and getting out of your own way as an artist. Just like her murals, Jessa’s episode is packed with adventure and color - let’s get right into it.
Lisa: So, thanks so much for being on the podcast today, Jessa. The first question we ask everyone is to describe where they are in the world and what you're looking at.
Jessa: Great. Thanks for having me. I'm in Squamish, British Columbia, and I'm in my apartment right now. And so I've got, directly in front of me, a photo wall of different travels and friends, and then out my window, Mount Garibaldi, Atwell and Diamond Head, which… it’s a cloudy day, we've been kind of waiting for summer to show up, but moody broody is better than smoke and fire. So we'll take what we get.
Lisa: So you are a backcountry snowboard and splitboard guide in the winter, as well as a full-time artist. So what do you - like, how does that work with your rhythm with nature and what do you do in the summer? I'm super curious how you live your life.
Jessa: [laughs] Yeah, it's a… [laughs] how do I live my life? Well, it's a balancing act, and someone once told me life is but a contingency plan. And I think I try and ascribe to that most days. Yeah. In the winter, I'd say for the most part, I'm juggling between guiding - I guide most of the time at Baldface Lodge and cat skiing, but also in local operations here, like Whitecap, Altus Guides, out and around Whistler.
And really like, I see winter as being like a really short season and just trying to get as much snow and play and splitboarding and riding for myself as I can. And I also ride for Burton snowboards. So it's, it's sort of like trying to both learn as much as I can in the mountains to propel myself as a guide, you know, still trying to work on my certifications and advance myself in that career, but also seeing where splitboarding and my own snowboarding can go, like trying to capture the joy that's there for my own selfish pursuits. Which I then translate into artwork.
I’m from New York state originally. And I moved out to BC in 2013 with a couple little steps along the way. But when I got here, it's like the landscape is so all inspiring and so grand and the way that I look at both my splitboarding pursuits in guiding and the artwork is I'm just trying to share the stoke and share the adventure. So the artwork is inspired by the places I'm able to go and the adventures and play I'm able to have and just trying to share it. And then my pursuit into guiding is to try and learn how to curate that adventure for other people, like how to stay safe out there so that I can, you know, bring my friends or family, or just be a good decision maker out there so that I can push out and explore more and get into different situations.
So, I guess like in… to shorten that a bit, it's… winter is a bit of balance between just trying to be on my feet in the mountains as much as possible, get my head in the snow and learn as much as I can and meet different people through, through guiding. Like, we get a lot of international guests up at Baldface. And I love hearing what drew people to the outdoors. Like, were they born in that area, you know, where do they live now? It's… you see this sort of commonality between people where it's just like, all we want to do is go play outside. You know, the boardroom disappears for the backcountry. It's really fun.
And then in the summer, I like to think that I put my art hat back on full swing, but it's still, you know, I mountain bike and hike and camp as much as I can. And I'm trying to keep myself in a state of play as much as possible. I think. You know, it not only keeps me sane and happy, but it, it also inspires the work. You know, I think that in general, we, as humans, we love play. Like, there's a reason why outdoor brands do well. And there's a reason why public parks are a necessity and a reason why we should really advocate to keep wild space wild as much as possible and get people access to these lands so that we can experience places of joy and moments of flow state and bliss. Just through this connecting from maybe our workday and reminding ourselves that children aren't the only ones that should play. Like, that's for everyone.
And artwork has a place there, it's, you know, you can use it as a storytelling opportunity, a way to share the magnitude of a place to show how it feels. Like, I am not really invested in trying to articulate the exact structure of landscapes, but what's the tone of the adventure? What's the tone of the environment? You know, how does it feel to be cold, to be warm, to watch the sun come up, to feel the weather come in, you know, all those things that require us spending time in the outdoors. And it keeps me forever curious and forever working because I don't think that… it's kind of like this goal that's never going to see a successful end, like the idea of like, how do you show what it feels to be outside? Well, that's an ever-changing thing and ever changing for both myself and other people.
And that's really my pursuit as an artist, that's like sharing the stoke for the adventure and hopefully trying to inspire other people to get outside and protect these places and play a bit more and allow themselves to lighten up. Like, it's hard. We you live in a really demanding society. So it's like, how do we find a balance there? Maybe art can be a good catalyst for that conversation. Who knows.
Lisa: I think that you are similar to me in that there's a very interesting blend of being, like, super physical and experiencing the world in a really physical way. And then kind of integrating that through art and like feeling that way and expressing yourself in stillness, like with a, with a paintbrush or a mouse. Does that track for you?
Jessa: Totally. Yeah. I mean, it's funny, as a young age, like I grew up in a pretty hectic household. I had three brothers and kind of a tumultuous divorce with my family. And when I'm asked, like, when did I start creating? I think that for me, creating artwork started as a way of communicating before I had language. I had the ability to move my hand on a paper or to mold something out of clay. And then later on, you know, you move your body, you - I got into sports. I was, you know, my town was really sport heavy. I got into snowboarding, which allowed for travel and for just physical movement. And it's, it's trying to get… I mean, yeah, it started as a way of communicating. It still is that, but there is a physical side of it too. Like, there's a rush of endorphins or whatever chemical compound that happens when you're physically engaged in activity. And I think that's also part of why the work that I create is… there's a lot of movement in it. It's, you know, you're, I'm trying to show the passing of time or movement over time and have things feel like they're unresolved or potentially fleeting.
And I think that the body is also involved in that. It's like we, we get a short time on this earth and moments… like, I'm trying to think of the exact quote it's like… the past is… the past and the future aren't real. The only thing you have is the present. And so like trying to stay present with, like, how does your breath feel? How does your body feel in motion? Like, where are you in that landscape? You know, your scale of things. It all comes back to the body and the form.
And, I don't know. I also went through like a ton of physical- like, I have multiple knee surgeries and just being able to be outside and move around, it's like, I will try and do whatever I can to stay healthy and move as long as I can, because I know what it's like to have it taken away. And we don't get this vessel for very long. So you might as well take good care of it and see where you can take it.
I'm sorry. I kind of also rambled that, but, uh, I think the work… and like, I've been trying to find a more seamless way of describing like these two silos in my life. It's like this active pursuit and movement in the world and also this artistic. And I think with the outdoor industry, especially like, you know, I've worked in both camps and for so long these two places never really communicated together. It's like, you'd tell people in the outdoor industry you're artistic and they'd be like, well, I don't really know how to look at art, you know, I go mountain biking. And then you'd tell people in the art world, like, I'm a snowboarder and they'd be like, well, that's weird. I stay up all night chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking wine at galleries and city centers. And it's like, they, like didn’t communicate.
And I think we're in this cool shift now where you're seeing more artists with brands and you're seeing more actual artists being hired by brands to do their visual storytelling, rather than just a graphic designer - who is an artist in themselves, but it's, it's a very different treatment. It's like, how beautiful and inspiring these places are that athletes get to go and adventures get to go in the outdoors. Why wouldn't that be in the art world? Like why wouldn't the two enmesh? Kind of funny that it's taken this long to happen.
Lisa: Mmm. In your experience as a fine artist, what has it been like working and communicating with brands where you kind of are at this intersection of commercial work and fine art?
Jessa: Yeah. Well, it's funny, like. So I'm trying to… the best way to answer that would probably be like a slight - I'll try and be quick, but a slight backstory. So I studied studio art in school at the University of Vermont, but I really was there to snowboard. I always worked in ski shops. I was devoted to the outdoor industry as just a consumer and an athlete.
And I thought that, oh, I'll be an artist when I'm old and broken and this whole thing goes away. Um, but I never really felt like I belonged to the fine art world. Like, I was learning the craft of it and I was studying artists and I was really excited about visual language, but my identity in my core group was in the outdoor industry. So my first jobs were ski shops. I did product development and board testing for Burton snowboards. I rode for brands back in the day when I was competing in snowboarding and a lot of the conversation outside of, like, the functionality of gear, which - I feel really lucky, you know, in the early two thousands, there was a bit of a push for women's products, like, hard goods, to be in a better state.
And growing up in a house and boys and fighting for my right to be places as a female, like, I think it's really important to be able to talk product to companies, to actually tell them what you need and give reasons for why things shouldn't just be shrunk and… like, shrink it and pink it, or why it can't just be a smaller version of a man's product. And a bit of that is also the design. Like, I remember sitting at a table for board designs and it's like, what graphics do you want? And it was - one of them was like crocheted roadkill and the other was bugs. And I'm like, what is this? It looks so weird. [laughs] So we've come a long way with board graphics.
But then I worked for a small women's cycling company in Vermont doing… I started in their customer service, did product development for their apparel brand, then I moved to Vancouver and eventually started working for Mountain Equipment Co-op, which is like the REI of Canada. Like, all of my work - my professional work - was really in the outdoor industry. And I was doing artwork on the side. Like, you know, I'm just going to create paintings that feel good for me. And if I can sell them in society, like if they can pay for themselves through the sales, then I'm happy. Like that's all I really ever saw it doing for quite a long time.
And then in 2017, I want to say, I got… I was selling some paintings and I was showing around Vancouver and I applied for this public art call and Whistler for… I think it was a 2,500 square foot mural in the Creekside underpass, and I got it. And I was talking with friends and I was like, I've never done a mural this big, but I'm steadfast. Like, I know how to sweat. And like, I quit my job at MEC and started pursuing art full-time. I, you know, through a series of things, got into… got invited to start guiding at Baldface. And that was when the shift of becoming, like, a fine artist really happened, I would say. Like, until then I was showing in galleries like every now and then and I was doing group shows because that's what I saw as a successful way to be an artist. But it wasn't until kind of throwing that out the window and being like, actually there's other ways to be artistic. Like, I'd started drawing them on my snowboards and a designer from Gnu like Barrett Christie saw my work and then hired me to do a graphic for Roxy just by seeing me already putting artwork onto a product.
And that's sort of spit balled or spun into getting the professional hiring for brands to actually create the products. [laughs] So I'm not just doodling on my gear, like. But it helped having the background in the industry and kind of having an understanding of like, how far ahead you need to work. Like, the seasonality of things, trying to have things that feel like a brand's identity, but also isn't a boiled down version of what you do. And deadlines. And just knowing that like it's a big machine and you're probably dealing like with a small cog there. I think that helped me in dealing with that industry, and also knowing how things fit and feel like, you know, a pack is going to be worn this way or t-shirts going to like, I don't know.
Like, I think that it's really important to have functional things and not too many of them, but we're in a world where we also want to feel like individuals. So why not put some creative flair on it and make it feel really intentional, which, I think if you're going to do anything, make it with intention, whether it's a product or art or a walk. It goes back to being present and being thoughtful about what you're doing and creating, I guess.
Lisa: You're also an interesting blend of form and function.
Jessa: I try to be [laughs]. Yeah. It's, yeah, I feel really lucky too have like… I don't know if I carved out thise niche, but I definitely didn't see anyone doing it before getting into it. And there was a lot of really scary, ;ike, is it going to work? You know, does art belong there? Am I going to be accepted into whatever community?
And I think just in terms of, you know, if you're gonna actually… yeah, like it, it took me sort of like making a leap to make any change that felt like myself, if that makes sense. I was in a really cushy desk job for three years at MEC. And I loved being there and it was great company culture. And I met a ton of great people who I still am friends with today, but I didn't want to sit behind a desk for eight hours a day editing photos. Like I, my job was essentially making the background white on all the vendor products. And it was really scary, but I look back at that now, and it's like the decision to leave the job and to pursue where my passion was and what felt purposeful and where I felt most lit up, I can't see another way forward. Like, it's been six years or so now. And I don't know who I'd be if I hadn't taken that leap.
Kind of like anything though, like, you don't necessarily know how it's gonna be received, but eventually you just have to pull the trigger and hope for the best and know that you can always go back somewhere. Like, I could always go back into retail or into the outdoor industry as a cog for a company. I'd be more than happy to for certain brands, but for now, like I'm so excited to be able to share the places that we go. Like, to share the parts of the outdoor industry that are the experience. And help translate that into products and perhaps help companies get their fit dialed in or the function of things. Constantly tinkering just to try and make a pack more comfortable or fit another canvas in my bag, whatever it is.
Lisa: I think that there's such a huge generosity involved in art. And I also think that to be a guide is an act of generosity. Because you're not out there for yourself, you're out there keeping other people safe and sharing that experience.
And when I listen to you speak, I hear this undertone of generosity.
Jessa: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I was, I was just listening to a book by Seth Godin. It's called The Practice: Ship the Work. And he talks a lot about how art is not actually for the artists. It's for whoever you're creating it for.
And I think about that a lot with public art murals. Once I leave, like, I have no business being there. It's actually for the community. The product or the artwork that goes on products, it’s for the consumer. It's like, I'm constantly trying to think of like who it's for. And while it may be based or come from my own experience, it's actually for someone else's enjoyment, it's trying to share maybe this universal state of awe.
And the same in the backcountry. It's like, when you're guiding clients, you're riding for your weakest client. Like, you're not out there for yourself. You’d put everybody at risk. And so you have to… not give up, but just curtail that day for your guests. Which is the best. Like, you get to share this experience that may not even be in your top 100 days of snow quality or where you are, but it might blow somebody's mind that's in your group. And offering up that experience for others is like, I get so stoked even just thinking about it.
I've had so many guests at the lodge where it's like, like I remember specifically, I had this woman and she really wanted to ride a couloir, which is just kind of like a narrow alleyway between rocks. And I brought her to this couloir which was, I don't know, maybe like 15 feet long before it spit you out the bottom into like a big open field, not like the gnarliest feature, but for her was a step beyond what she had been comfortable with. And to sit there in that moment and like hold space for her and like talk her through it and then watch her get in and out of the chute and just the, her feeling of elation, like, that's what it's about, really.
I'm so fortunate. I've had so many good powder days and I've ridden with so many amazing people, but being able to share it and see somebody else have their mind blown, I think that's really what I'm in it for now. [laughs]
Lisa: That's cool. I bet, I bet you're a fun guide.
Jessa: I like to think so.
Jessa: I kind of like, I go with the idea of, if it's not fun, why do it? And I mean, that's maybe why my email is insane and my spreadsheets are terrible, but, but yeah, I think like we should lean into joy and we should lean into things that are fun. And play is so important and… there's a Ted talk a few years ago called the… I think it was just called “The Power of Play” and like, we can have like aha moments when we're in a state of joy or just relaxed in that setting. I don't know, if you can keep it light you can really… people will open up.
Yeah, you put your ego aside and just, yeah, just play. It should be fun. Why not? Laughing is good for you. Stress is not. [laughs]
Lisa: I agree. I'm working on a book and there's a chapter in there called “The Sanctity of Fun” because I think that fun is this like very sacred space and it's this really small word, but I think it… I think fun counterweights a lot of things in life. And it's kind of undervalued. But I think just having fun and enjoying the human experience is critical to everything.
Jessa: Yeah. Somewhere along the way I think we like… which is, it's funny because the outdoor industry is invested in getting people outside and in theory, to have fun and to play. And to maybe like move safely or stay warm or dry, whatever it is. But the goal is to have the experience be positive. And ideally, like playful and fun, or maybe you're walking your dog, whatever. But something you enjoy.
But we've… we kind of grow up in - well, at least in the public school education in New York, like you grow up to be, you have to be serious and you need to be thoughtful and you need to be business-focused and you need to have your bottom line met.
And its… you start to lose the creatives. Like you lose the idea, like maybe you should just sing or dance or move your body. Like, if it's not in an organized sport. Or maybe you should just draw for the sake of drawing, because it feels good to move energy into something else. Like, I would imagine that we'd have a much happier society if we just reminded people like we're still kids. We can still play and be serious and be serious about our play. Like… yeah.
Lisa: Well, I have a question for you because… so I'm a creative director and so I’m directly responsible for getting ROI on the creative work that we make for a client. And so I start my creative process backwards with like, well, what is our end goal? And now let's work backwards on how we're going to evoke that feeling or whatever. Right? So, but when you have a canvas in front of you, do you know the end goal or do you just start and are very process-driven?
Jessa: I'd say I'm much more process-driven. Like, I always think that the process will dictate the outcome or the process leads to your product. And if you… for me, if I have too much of a strong hold as to what I want it to be at the end, then I kill the product before it even starts.
So usually how I work in the studio is I have a kind of an idea as to where I want it to go or a palette I want to work with, a rough framework. Maybe it's sketches from an experience outside. But then it's just through working and trying to be present in the moment of moving paint around or drawing that, I think that the work surprises me even. Like, when I was in Vermont, where I went to school, I was a figurative painter. Like, I was really invested in the body in motion. And when I moved out to BC, I was off an injury and I was just making these small sketches of my surroundings, be it people or mountains or whatever. And over the course of three years, my palette completely changed. And not without me - like, I didn't choose to go into blues and greens, but the palette changed because that was the environment I was in. The work became a bit more landscape. Like, there were still figures intertwined in the early series, but it became more landscape-focused based on my environment.
Had I been so strict with myself about knowing I’m a figurative painter, I use this palette of like muted tones, then I wouldn’t be in this place I am now. Like, the work became what it is because I kind of got - you have to get out of your own way, essentially. Like, I got to this point where like trying to hold on to the past or who I was in Vermont became like my own barrier. And no one was telling me I needed to do things a certain way except for myself. And it's like, trying to get out of my own head was what allowed me to work. The process of being present, the process of, you know, not being so… and like, I'm, I'm thinking still about like, you have deadlines that you need to meet as a creative director and you need things to look a certain way, but it's really challenging. And in a creative role where you're working, especially for me, it's like - certain brands, yeah. They're asking for something specific. But in the studio, I try and keep that process just for me. It's like the work becomes what it is because of the playfulness in the studio or the experience I'm having then. Yeah, I try and get in the flow state and not mess with it. It's it's weird. It's like time travel.
Lisa: That sounds luxurious. To just be like, I'm just going to see what happens.
Jessa: Yeah. Well, I mean, sometimes it's a wrestle. Like, I've painted over so many pieces where it's like, I'm just going to, like, I'm going to paint Garibaldi today and I get into the studio and it's like, you try three different orientations, the palette’s not working, paint over the whole thing. Like, come back to it a different day, go for a bike ride or something clear the head. Or, you know, I started a piece and I thought it would be a landscape. And then soon enough it's just all clouds and half of it gets covered up. I think too, like, I look at them, they're a bit of like visual diaries for me. I can tell, like, I tore my Achilles a couple of years ago and the work I've made them is like, oof. [laughs] It is moody. And like still looks fine and still in my style, but it's like a lot of grays and a lot of deep blues and, yeah. There's like a light at the end of the tunnel when I… towards the end of those series.
But, yeah, it's like, I'm trying to be as honest as possible. And I also think that that's important. It's like, I think like when I was first starting to wonder if I should leave my desk job in the outdoor industry, it's like, well, if I leave, what am I going to do with the artwork? And I've always been of the mind of like, ‘I'll pursue art full time once I know what it needs to say or what I need it to do.’ And I changed that to ‘I'll pursue this artwork so long as I can be myself.’ And if like a client starts to push a little bit more that feels outside of what's me and like, what's authentic, then I have to say no, no matter what the cost is on it. Like, I think that the reason the work is what it is, is because it's the only story I know how to tell as my own, I think it's with any of us. And when I'm trying to branch into something else, that's when the work feels static and confined.
In art school, I was, we were taught, like, artwork needs to be black and white and monochromatic and political and figurative. And I tried so hard to align my work in that methodology, but it didn’t feel like me. Like it, it always felt kind of stale. ‘Cause it was me trying to do something that other people were saying was important rather than actually allowing my form of creativity or my expression to happen.
Like, it's the same in how people ride a bike or snowboard differently. It's like, it's style. It's it's not necessarily talent, it's taste. It's… and I don't think that… I think that you can tell when someone's faking it, no matter what the role is and when they're actually working from a place of integrity and authenticity. Whether it's creative or whether it's, you know, leadership, like you can tell when someone's present and when they're checked out or when they're putting on a different hat.
Lisa: Yeah. Do you have any, without naming specific names or anything, do you have any stories about standing up for yourself because it wasn't true for you to change or modify your artwork in a certain way?
Jessa: t's funny, before you said artwork, the first thing that came to mind was I was on a course, a guiding course. It’s a 10 day long level one, I had a woman instructor. It was three instructors, two men, one woman. And I'm a pretty bubbly person. I love to chat, but I'm serious. Like, I take my place seriously and I want to be safe. So the 10 days in, you know, the first day they tell us, you know, we want you talking the entire time, like we're doing a rope system and they're like, you know, tell us when you're tying this knot, why it's there, how you're backing it up, you know, whatever, like vocalize what you're doing so that we know that you're not lost.
And I talked through like the whole thing, like, of course, like, “okay, I'm going to go check the lip. I'm checking on my patient. I'm descending the rope. I'm climbing the rope, I'm tying the [unintelligible]. You know, all the way through. And this female instructor came up to me and she's like, “When you talk so much, you sound really girly. And when I was your age and when I got into the guiding industry, I had to do it this way and it's kind of a man's world and you need to speak their language.” And like kind of gave me the riot act on like, who I needed to be in order to be successful in a guiding position. And that rocked me for a bit. Like, I checked in with the other male guides. I was like, “Hey, can I get some feedback here? Like, you know, you said that we needed to talk through the whole thing. And I just, I want you to know that I take this very seriously.” And he's like, oh yeah, like, our helicopter pilots talk the whole time. Like, you're great, blah, blah. Like, it was just this one woman's comment. And I, I get the, like… for her to be successful, she had to do it a certain way, but to tell me that I don't belong because I'm a different personality type has nothing to do with my skills, has nothing to do with my safety, has nothing to do with like any sort of thing that I can work on to improve, like in terms of, um, technical skills. Like, you're basically just saying that the type of person I am does not belong here. And if I want to be successful, I need to fake it and do a different personality type.
Which, I feel grateful that I've had - I have - really good mentors in my backcountry career that threw that out the window a lot for me and are quirky in their own rights and have their own style. And maybe it's another parallel between the outdoor world and art. But yeah, I think that just saying like, like, why do you have to be such a… gatekeepers, is that what we're calling them? Or, yeah. Having an understanding as to what people went through to get to where they are versus now is important, but we should accept people for who they are and how they create. I'll stop that monologue.
But in the art world, I mean, I've had clients call me and they’ll be like, we love your artwork. We'd really love you to paint this. We love your mountains. If you could just put like a big feather here and an eagle over there and maybe do some like cows. And I’m like, have you ever seen a cow in my work? Or like I went to sell, to show some gift cards to a client, like a sort of a greeting area or a tourist shop, and they're like, these are great, but do you have any paintings of grizzly bears? And the [unintelligible] because those sell really well. It's like, man, [laughs] get outta here.
Lisa: I mean, I bet you could paint a pretty sick cow, but, um.
Jessa: I could paint a dope cow. Yeah. It's kind of like, if we keep telling people to only make the things that sell, you're going to get a very like kitschy look to everything. Like, fashion is always going to be changing. So is artwork. So, so is anything. Like, you have to be reflecting on your current environment and yeah. I don't need to paint another grizzly bear, other people paint bears really well and do a great job and are very successful with that. Like, it's not where my focus is. And for me to do that would be, [laughs] I don't know, it just wouldn't feel right. So I'd probably be like a really lopsided, yeah. I don't know. I don’t think I would. I just can't do it. [laughs]
Lisa: Yeah. So I appreciate your attention to like being present and your affinity for like the present moment and the process. So I'm curious, what's your relationship to your future in terms of where do you want to be in a couple years? Or like, do you have any goals or how do you let yourself evolve as an artist and as a guide and as a woman? I guess what's your relationship to the future?
Jessa: That's a big question.
Jessa: [laughs] Dang it. I'd say like, as far as - well, I'll start with what seems like the easier one, which is with guiding and pursuits, is I love learning. I think it's really funny to learn as an adult and to be new at something and have to be humble in those environments, and to remain curious. And I love the process of, you know, meeting new people in the backcountry, exploring new places, like British Columbia is so vast, I get excited about where I can go and the people that I can meet out there.
So I'd say like future state, I would love to finish - well, you're never really done, but there are certifications that you can get to become a fully-certified guide. So right now I'm like a level one out of three, let's say, for the Canadian ski guide courses. But there's a bigger one called the ACMG, which essentially they're saying that with this full certification, you can show up anywhere in the world sight unseen and safely guide people based on your ability to be a certified decision maker. ‘Cause that's really all it's certifying you to do. So I'd love to do that. And I'm focused on doing that.
As a female, like, I think it's important to have women at that table. Like, I'm really grateful that at Baldface especially, where I spend the most time, there's women at the table almost every shift that I have, either tail guides or lead guides. And to have people around me that look like me, like, it makes a difference, you know?
I'm used to being the only girl in sports or in my household growing up, or even sometimes like trying to get into like museums. It's a lot of men in the art world, on a professional level. And so I think being one of those women to try and not only keep pushing through a ceiling, but also to reach back and pull others with me, like… I see the importance of education and mentorship and I want to be a good role model for the next generation coming up. I've got three nieces and I get so excited to think about sharing that space with them and to hopefully show them like, no matter what they want to do, like the world is theirs. The only restrictions that are put on you are like the ones oftentimes we put on ourselves. And it might be scary to step into an unknown, but it could also be really rewarding.
And so I guess my like long-term goal is yeah. To just to continue trying to help be a mentor, a good mentor in whatever that means. Whether it’s guiding or backcountry or in the art. You know, I'm, I don't really know what the art will look like in five to ten years, you know, I hope it's still looking good, [laughs] but as a professional artist, like I want to work with more brands. I'd love to create more murals around the world. Like I've, I've got some in the states and Canada potentially going to do one in Mexico this summer.
I think that public art's really important, and not in the sense of like, I want my artwork big and on a building. It's more that it shows, like, in cities where they have different artists create murals, it shows the diversity of the place and how different we all are. And maybe the shared, I don't know, sense of storytelling or where people come from, but it also enlivens environments.
My first mural in the Creekside underpass, like it was, it's a pedestrian walkway that connects the Creekside mountain with the residential buildings and it was dark and dingy and covered in graffiti and like oftentimes broken beer bottles, like it was gross. And it was really like, you could get this really unsettled kind of unsafe feeling.
And after putting a mural in there, like, it hasn't really been tagged in the last few years. And while I was creating it, like the residents were coming up, like, ‘thank you so much for creating something here. Like, I feel safer. I walk my dog here every day.’ Like people can be like, it empowers the people, they now have this, this piece of artwork that feels like theirs. That one, I decided to paint two mountain ranges in the area. Both on the north and south side of the highway. And yeah, like it changes the feeling of that spot.
They've done studies where like painting in Brazil in like big slum towns, like, it reduces crime. It makes people happier. It's, you know, you can really change a place just by changing what you put on the wall and it doesn't have to be this gray, concrete jungle. It can be as creative and as inspiring as going into the mountains, perhaps bringing the mountains back into the urban environments, which is where I kind of try and focus my attention. It's like, I'm trying to bring these experiences outdoors and out in the backcountry and in wilderness, back into these city streets. So maybe the adventurers that live in Vancouver and sometimes can't even see across to the north shore because it's so cloudy, they'll be reminded that the alpine is still there, that, you know, the sun's going to clear - or, the sky's going to clear, the sun's going to break and they'll be on their next adventure soon. And it's playful and it's colorful and it's lively. And isn't that life? Like, we can focus on the positive and the beautiful and the joyful. And that's not to say that things aren't challenging. Like I think actually challenge is important. We grow through challenge. We grow through adversity and, and through just constraints. Like, constraints breed creativity. I guess I'm on a bit of a tangent here. [laughs] Sorry about that. I can be a bit long-winded but, yeah, I just, I want to share the artwork with more people in more places, I guess, would be the most boiled down way to talk about it. I get so excited to know that the artwork exists somewhere outside of my sketchbook. Like, that is already a childhood dream.
Can't believe it. And I'm so grateful.
Lisa: Yeah, that's amazing. Where can people follow you on social media?
Jessa: People can find me on Instagram @JessaGilbert. I'm also on Facebook at Jessica Gilbert Art though admittedly, it's pretty much just Instagram reposting there. And they can also check out my artwork on my website, www.jessagilbert.com.
But yeah, the Instagram is more of where I show the process and behind the scenes making and the website, I would like to think is more refined. I haven't really looked at it in a bit, but yeah. And they can reach out directly.
Lisa: Cool. I love your style and your wisdom and I hope we get to snowboard sometime.
Jessa: Totally, come up anytime. Thanks so much for having me. And, yeah, I know I get a bit long-winded and I appreciate your patience while I talk my way into what I'm trying to say. [laughs]
Iris: Thank you so much for tuning in to Outside by Design. This show is produced by WHEELIE - you can find us at our website, wheeliecreative.com.
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With that, I'm Iris. Thanks for being here!