Artist Series 2024 | Sherwood Smith (ELDF3N)
If you remember the K2 Hellbent graphics that rocked the ski industry’s world, you’ll want to meet Sherwood Smith.
Our in-house graphics guy is the best in the business—and his new series, “Compass Rising,” is a gorgeous interpretation of the world’s mountainous zones and the ancient cultures that arose there.
Sherwood Smith (ELDF3N)'s "Compass Rising" series for Wagner Custom Skis
Sherwood, or “Woody,” as everyone in his native town of Telluride calls him, grew up skiing the rugged San Juans and it shows—he has a playful, buttery style that takes him upside down in the air nearly as much as it does down the fall line. After finishing design school at Fort Lewis College, he eventually found his way back to Telluride—and to Wagner Custom, where he interned after college—with his wife. When he’s not chasing his 1-year-old daughter, Wiley, around town, Sherwood creates stock, artist series, and custom graphics full-time.
We caught up with Sherwood on a break from the ski factory in Mountain Village to ask him about his art and his new series. Here’s what he had to say.
Sherwood Smith, aka ELDF3N.
Wagner: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Sherwood: I remember enjoying art as far back as I can think. Then in high school, Ryan Schmies did the graphics for the K2 Hellbents, and that’s how I became aware that was a potential career path. The connection of art and skiing has always been important to me—to create rideable artwork people can enjoy on the wall or on their feet.
Wagner: Oh yeah—some of your stuff totally reminds me of his. You have some graphics that are so cool and creepy and surreal and imaginative. Where do you get your inspiration?
Sherwood: A lot of it is based on podcasts audio books and music I’m listening to, and the daydreams that come along with that. A lot of times I try not to crash my car when I’m punching in some note on my phone that will hopefully make sense when I come back to it later.
"East" by Sherwood Smith (ELDF3N)
Wagner: What’s one of your favorite podcasts that has inspired you?
Sherwood: There’s an audio drama called “Tanis” that has been my all-time favorite. There’s a green set of skis on my Instagram that has a totem pole from an episode where they find this spooky totem pole in the woods. My artist name, ELF3N, is also from Tanis.
Wagner: Ah. I didn’t know how to pronounce that when I read it. Why the 3?
Sherwood: I pulled that from the old Eminem covers, where he flips around one of the e’s. It works better in all caps.
Wagner: What’s your process like?
Sherwood: It starts with one piece, and then I build a theme. Once I’ve got a jump-off point, I’ll build out a collage, collect stock images, find things online. I’m transitioning to using AI programs to generate the reference material. Then I lay it all out and at first it looks horrible, with rough cuts around random objects and shapes, and then I start drawing over the top of it. It helps me have control to make sure important stuff lands on the ski. Then I like it to organically unfold. I have a hard time when I start forcing things to be super accurate.
Wagner: Is it hard to design on skis?
Sherwood: Yeah, there’s not a lot to work with. They’re tall and skinny—it’s a different way to think about things. I do my best to keep it as one cohesive thing, so when you remove the skis it still works compositionally.
"North" by Sherwood Smith (ELDF3N)
Wagner: So you make house graphics, have an artist’s series, and then work on custom graphics for customers who want those. What’s it like trying to translate something from someone else’s imagination?
Sherwood: Trying to not overthink it has been helpful for me. I literally take what they’re saying. The best is when they provide me with imagery. Every now and again, though, you get some out-there ideas that are hard. You just gotta start. But I think for a lot of people that aren’t great at working visually, it’s helpful to see it laid out. One of three versions I send is usually at least close.
Wagner: Tell me about your latest series, “Compass Rising.”
Sherwood: I know mountain-scapes do well, and originally I was struggling because I was trying to be too specific. I wanted to picture a region, find an inspiring mountain, and transition into something that represents that place’s ancient culture on the tails. I usually landed on architecture. The first one was “North,” which I pictured as British Columbia. I went through a few that weren’t coming together, but when I started enjoying it is when I let go of trying to represent a specific mountain. So I decided to jump off a compass rose and choose something very broad as “North,” “South,” “East,” and “West” to work from. The “West” one is kind of based in Arizona, “South” is Peru, and “East” is in China. I needed to let go of the control over it, take some artistic liberties, and do things that looked better but might not be accurate. I loosened up and cranked out the rest. The other helpful thing was trying to do research on the on ancient culture, and then I thought about imagery to go with that.
"South" by Sherwood Smith (ELDF3N)
Wagner: What did you choose for those?
Sherwood: For the “South,” I chose a mummified soldier of Chachapoya in the cliffs. It was fun scrolling around and just searching for interesting visual info. For the “North” I chose a totem pole, which was probably the least accurate. I just drew the totem pole that I thought would look nice. The “West” was pueblo architecture, specifically Owl Rock [in Monument Valley]. It was a subtle nod to a friend of mine who died named Hoot. Then for the “East,” I went with the Great Wall of China. It was the most iconic thing I could choose, which I kind of kicked myself for, as it was a lot of detail to draw. But it ended up being worth it.
Wagner: You’re a serious skier. As in, really really awesome.What do these mountain-scapes mean to you?
Sherwood: For me, personally, the peaks on the tips mean a lot. I find such a raw, unforgiving beauty being out in the mountains. It’s very dangerous but very beautiful. You’re in a do-not- fall scenario, but you’re looking around and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I feel like it leads to heightened senses—you’re very focused on not injuring yourself, and that combined with what is in front of you is a very wonderful experience.
"West" by Sherwood Smith (ELDF3N)
Wagner: What do you think is the attribute that makes you most successful at what you do?
Sherwood: Fluidity. I’m really able to micro-focus on a single task in a fluid motion, but sometimes I get stuck with blinders on. I need to remember to open things up and look around. I get a specific goal in mind and miss things going by that I could also jump on.
Wagner: Finally, where did your first name come from?
Sherwood: I had a great uncle named Sherwood. His nickname was Shirley, but everyone from my childhood knows me as Woody. So I’m pretty happy that changed… It would have made for a battle in early years. “Woody” was already enough fun for the kids.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE? CHECK OUT THE OTHER ARTISTS IN THE SERIES:
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.