– Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today –

Nikki Frumkin isn’t doing it for sales. But for reasons of her own, the Washington artist climbs and paints from the top of mountains.

Lead Image: Nikki Frumkin painting at Mt. Rainier. Photo by Shawn Murphy

“I have always loved painting, but it wasn’t until three years ago that I realized I could go on hiking and climbing adventures with my watercolors,” says Frumkin. “The first trip I brought my art supplies on was a snow camping trip in Washington. It was such a good feeling to lie in my sleeping bag in the warm tent with the tent door open and paint the mountains right outside the tent. From then on, I brought my art supplies on every hike or climb I’ve done. Sometimes I bring lots of color and big sheets of paper because I know I will have more time and travel fewer miles and feet. Other times I am climbing big mountains and only bring one piece of paper and a pen.”

Frumkin painting at 9,000 feet the night before the group reached the summit
Frumkin painting at 9,000 feet the night before the group reached the summit

Frumkin sticks to drawing materials and watercolor paints, even though she was an avid plein air oil painter for years. “The logistics get tricky when I have to carry everything into the high country,” she says. “Some days I am climbing for 15 hours with a 45-pound pack, so I have to really consider what goes in it. Watercolors are very light and don’t require much cleanup (as compared to what you would need for oil painting). I have a deep respect for the natural world, and I want to take care of it and leave no trace. I love that watercolors dry fast and pack in and out easily. Because I often only have 45 minutes to paint in the evening at camp or during a quick lunch break, watercolors work really well for me.”

Frumkin’s drawing at Colchuk Lake in Washington State
Frumkin’s drawing at Colchuk Lake in Washington State
Frumkin’s paintings of the north Cascade Mountains
Frumkin’s paintings of the north Cascade Mountains

Mountains have a special place in Frumkin’s heart, and she stays true to their contours in her work. “I am really interested in patterns in nature and how to invoke the grandness of the outdoors through those repeating shapes, colors, and lines,” says Frumkin. “It is really important to me that what I draw is actually what is out there. I try my best to draw each rock, mountain, or snow field as I see it and know it to be, of course in my own voice. Because I paint the places I hike and climb, it feels important not to make it up. In this way, I also try to evoke my experience of the landscape. Most of the time being in the mountains is joyful. Often being in the mountains is hard work and lonely (especially when traveling on a rope team at night, separated from the rest of your team by rope and darkness). Both of those experiences go into the paintings.”

A quick painting in the North Cascades
A quick painting in the North Cascades
Frumkin painting Mt. Rainier. Photo by Shawn Murphy
Frumkin painting Mt. Rainier. Photo by Shawn Murphy

It seems likely that others who love mountains — and those who appreciate careful line work and on-location drawings — would snap up Frumkin’s work. But the artist-climber doesn’t really seem to care too much about sales. “I make the art because I love doing it and it brings me lots of joy to create outside,” says Frumkin. “It is such a joy to share the wonder I feel when I am outside through my art — to represent those places and experiences. I also love that I have made connections with many wonderful people through the paintings. I have found social media to be a really great way to share my art with people who identify with it all over the world.

“Red Tent at Artist Point,” by Nikki Frumkin
“Red Tent at Artist Point,” by Nikki Frumkin

“I also want to use my art to give back to the outdoor community when I can. I am still figuring out what that looks like, but so far it includes donating art to organizations whose goal is to protect our natural spaces. And encouraging people to experience the beautiful places in a sustainable way. When posting on social media, I try to encourage and show how I leave no trace!”

“North Cascades,” by Nikki Frumkin
“North Cascades,” by Nikki Frumkin

At the root of it, Frumkin may have no choice in the matter. Being outside is part of who I am and where I am my best self.”

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