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Jenna Robinson, Squamish climber and painter

“My painting process is very similar to my route projecting process"

Jenna Robinson grew up in the Rockies, climbing and hiking with her parents, alpinists Ward Robinson and Jan Redford. At 33, she has settled down in Squamish where she climbs three times a week, teaches public school part-time and paints the western wilderness, with a special affinity for mountains.

Robinson with “August Sun”

Her artistic vocation was evident at an early age. Before she was in first grade, she showed her mother a picture she had made and asked “would anyone buy this?” Her serious devotion to art, however, began in high school, when an art teacher brought in her own paintings in various stages of completion, to explain her process.

“I had no sense of what I was creating or how, but my teacher said “hey, you’re doing really well, you should keep it up,” and I did. Robinson had no trouble figuring out what she wanted to paint. “Right away,” she said, “I wanted to paint mountains.”

When her art teacher left the school, Robinson dropped her art courses, but continued filling sketchbooks with pencil drawings, then shifted to acrylics, which became her favourite medium. She put some of her canvasses in cafes “just to see what happened,” and patrons were intrigued by her style and subjects and bought them.

Robinson on Instinct, 5.13a, Squamish

Robinson does a lot of hiking and climbing at different times of the day to gather reference photos and mental impressions of her subjects, which are often mountains near her home, in different light conditions.

“Somehow I ended up being a realist seduced by the power of light to alter and define our perception of the world,” she says, “I’m captivated by the ability of light to manipulate the colours and definition of a landscape and transform it into something completely unfamiliar.”

Although Robinson loves long routes like the Angel’s crest, her favourite type of climbing is projecting routes. Three or four days a week she’s trying hard at Pet Wall, the Caboose, or one of the other amazing local crags.

Robinson with “Iron in the Fire”

Some of Robinson’s canvasses are so big that her arms get pumped when she paints them, but there are other similarities between climbing and painting. “My painting process is very similar to my route projecting process,” she says.

“It starts with being inspired by a certain shape, pattern, line or colour combination of a landscape or an aesthetic rock face. Then I create a vision for the outcome and what I want that to look like, for example, the interpretation of a landscape will often differ from the reference photo or I’m hoping to climb the route with specific beta and gear strategies.

“Then I start to work backwards from the outcome and break the process into small chunks and make adjustments along the way. Sometimes there are significant roadblocks such as injuries or the paint is drying too fast to complete a section properly but when I get into the flow either climbing or painting, it feels surreal.”

Robinson was influenced by Canadian painter Lawren Harris, but she’s also part of an extensive community of visual artists in British Columbia and she takes inspiration from. Tim Schumm, Lan Yao, Kim Sawula, Karen Love, Charlie Easton and Stephanie Gauvin are just a few of her colleagues.

For a new look at some of Canada’s most iconic crags and mountains through the eyes of a talented painter and climber, and to purchase Robinson’s work, go to The West End Gallery.