Artist Series 2024 | Kellie Swanson

by Wagner Skis / Feb 16, 2024

Kellie Swanson doesn’t remember a life without skiing. Everything, whether she realized it or not at the time, has revolved around it.

And now, living in Bozeman, Mont., where she skis Bridger Bowl (a lot), she’s found a way to fund her passion with another—art. 

During COVID, when she lost both of her ski-town bar jobs, she started playing around with an alternative-process photography technique that doesn’t even use a camera. It’s called cyanotyping, and basically uses chemicals to “develop” images from UV light. Swanson gathered plants and flowers around her home, laid them on vintage clothing she bought at the thrift store, and realized she might have a business on her hands.

Kellie Swanson and Wagner Custom Skis
Artist Kellie Swanson with her personal pair of Wagner Custom Skis.

Now, with her Wagner Custom collaboration, she’s combining both of her passions with a series of gorgeous cyanotyped skis. We caught up with her recently at her house to ask her about them. Here’s what she had to say.

Time for new skis?

Wagner: How did you end up collaborating with Wagner?
Swanson: At the end of 2022, I had this big goal of collaborating every month to expand my product line and work with other brands. I made a list of products and businesses I liked, and I did 13 collabs last year. I made all sorts of different things—backpacks, crop tops, and swimsuits.

Forest Floor by Kellie Swanson
Forest Floor by Kellie Swanson

Wagner: When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?
Swanson: I’ve been a creative person my entire life. I was never good at math and science, but you can’t be wrong at art. Growing up, my mom put me in a photo camp in the summer for a week called Shutter Bugs, where we developed our own photos. That’s where I fell in love with photography. I saved up all my pennies and bough myself a digital camera and never stopped taking pictures after that. I knew my dream job was to be a photographer. I went to Montana State University for their film and photo program, and I fell in love with the cyanotype. 

Wagner: Your COVID story is incredible—basically the world shutting down is what you needed to become a lucrative artist.
Swanson: Yeah. I never meant to start a business, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Harvest by Kellie Swanson
Harvest by Kellie Swanson

Wagner: Tell me about the process.
Swanson: Cyanotype is a sun-printing process that uses two chemicals that become light-sensitive when mixed. All of the images on the skis are made from fabric. I paint the solution onto paper or fabric and let it dry, then press the flowers on top and expose it to the sun. It’s like a reverse stencil, where anything that doesn’t get touched by the sun turns blue. I made the prints, turned them digital design, then changed the colors and added layers and enhanced the print further. 

Wagner: I love your line called “Workwear for Women.” How do you choose the clothing you print on?
Swanson: It’s all second-hand clothing. I thrift everything and print right on top of it and upcycle it. It’s a pretty fun part of my job. It’s like treasure hunting. I love upcycling clothing and giving discarded clothes a new life and new home. 

In Bloom by Kellie Swanson
In Bloom by Kellie Swanson

What is it about wearable art that you find interesting?
Swanson: For so long I wanted art to be my job, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. The second I started working with clothing, I knew it’s what I wanted to do. I love clothing and self-expression, and making one-of-a-kind art to put art onto clothes is a fun way to make yourself unique. I have a lot of tattoos, so I wear art on my body every day. To give used clothes a new life and to revamp them so someone will fall in love with them—I feel humbled every day to be able to do that. 

Wagner: Where did you grow up skiing?
Swanson: I grew up skiing in Washington outside of Seattle, so I started skiing at Alpental when I was 2. I don’t remember a life without skiing. I’m such a huge skier now, but when I was a kid, I could take or leave it. We had an airstream trailer, and while my family would ski, I’d be back at the trailer sledding and making snow forts. Then in high school, I fell in love with it more. It’s been such a huge part of my life. I moved to Jackson Hole to ski for a year, then in college, I went to Bridger more than I went to school.  

Mtn Wildflowers by Kellie Swanson
Mtn Wildflowers by Kellie Swanson

Wagner: What’s next for you?
Swanson: I can’t get enough working with other companies and brands. It adds such a huge community aspect to my life. Me and my friends have leaned on each other and supported each other, and community events are huge, so I’ll definitely continue to do those. I also just started filming for a mini doc that I’ve been working on. It’s fun to not know what the future holds. My years look different every year, making different things. Last year I bought a sewing machine, and now I’m making quilts. I think it’s fun to not know what my business will look like.

Check out Kellie’s work on her website or on Instagram @ksx_art.


Article by Kimberly Beekman

Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.

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