Artist Series 2023: Julia Ion

by Wagner Skis / Mar 16, 2023

“Howdy, my name’s Julia.”

That’s how Durango, Colo.-based artist Julia Ion introduces herself on her studio website, named, of course, Howdy Studio. It’s also indicative of her general vibe—low-key, friendly, and a little self-deprecating. 

Ion is best known for her whimsical prints and fine-line drawings, and is about to embark on an apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist. We’ve always thought her work would translate well to Wagner Custom Skis, and the fruits of our collaboration hit the presses this week. 

Julia Ion in her studio in Durango.
Artist Series artist Juila Ion at home in her studio.

We caught up with her in her home in Durango to find out more about her art—and to ask her to choose her favorite design of her new series. (It was actually a pretty easy decision.)

Wagner: How did you find your way to art—or did art find you?
Ion: I have a lot of artists in my family. My grandfather was a talented painter, and my dad is a naturally gifted photographer and painter. I always had it in my brain that I wanted to do something creative. I was a big competitive swimmer growing up, so until I was 16 or so I never focused on art, other than loving art class in school. But when I quit swimming and had time to think about what I wanted to do with my time, I started doodling and drawing for myself. Around 2018, I first got the idea to make prints out of my art, because people have told me all my life that I could do something with this. 

Fresh Tracks by Wagner Custom Skis artist Julia Ion
"Fresh Tracks" by Julia Ion

Wagner: Did you have fear going into that, to do something creative as your job?
Ion: I don’t remember having direct fear at first…. Probably because I wasn’t attached to making it my business, I was trusting that people weren’t lying to me and that it would be a good idea. It helps that I have a full-time job that I love as a barista. My boyfriend owns 81301 Coffee here in Durango, and we’ve been working together for five years now. It’s a fun dynamic—spending my whole day talking to people and then going home and being alone for a little bit doing my art.

Wagner: What inspires you?
Ion: Plants have always been my favorite subject to draw—anything natural with leaves or petals or branches. I’m better on the observational side of drawing. I like being more formulated. My brain just goes that way. 

Paintbrush by Julia Ion
"Paintbrush" by Julia Ion

I will say in addition to nature and organic things inspiring me, I am a huge thrifter. I like rummaging through people’s old knick-knacks that have had previous lives. Some of my art has a vintage feel to it; I don’t know if that’s intentional or what happens when I draw. Vintage things and antiques make me really happy.

Wagner: Some of your line drawings are incredibly tedious, which feels different than your more whimsical work.
Ion: My brain loves that. You just sit down and don’t think about anything but line after line. It’s peaceful. People say I’m crazy, but I like it. I’ll do the outline for a piece and then get stumped with what to fill it with. And since I was scared until recently about using color, it had to be some kind of line work. 

Canyons graphic by Wagner Custom Skis artist Julia Ion
"Canyons" by Julia Ion

Wagner: Your use of color, especially in your plants and containers pieces, is so fun. You’ve clearly figured it out.
Ion: Color for me is a recent development. When I purchased my iPad, it allowed me to be less intimidated and play around more with the color. Originally when I started, I did mostly black ink. I just wasn’t a huge painter; I was an illustrator. Having a program that I can use to draft and sketch and change any color I want—I really love it now. 

Wagner: I feel like it’s hard for us to analyze how our own brains think. Do you think art is a good avenue to explore that?
Ion: Totally. I’ve been trying to be more conceptional with things and let my brain not be so rigid…. I don’t have too much to showcase from that, but it’s interesting. My grandpa always said every great artist has a reference photo to work off of. The abstract part is hard for me. I just have a blank page and I don’t know what to do with it. There are all different types of artists out there, I just happen to be an observational one.

Wagner: Which of the skis you designed are your favorites?
Ion: The checkerboard ones, for sure. I honestly hope other people like them as much as I do, but they’re mostly for me. I love the simplicity, and the black-and-white is so catching to the eye. It goes with everything, and it reminds me of my favorite pair of Vans. I’ve gone through at least 10 pairs in my life. They’re simple, eye catching, and cool. And I have a pair of bright yellow bibs I think they’d go well with.

Winter Games graphic from Artist Series artist Julia Ion
"Winter Games" by Julia Ion

Wagner: Was it hard to design skis?
Ion: You do have to put in a little thought to how the object is going to be moving and where the bindings are going to be. The Fresh Tracks graphics were fun because I could create a perspective, so it gets closer as you go down. You don’t usually have to think about that making prints, so it was kind a fun to be more mindful.

Wagner: What’s next for you? 
Ion: I am dabbling in the world of tattooing, so I’ll be focusing on how to draw on people’s skin. I’ve always been told my artwork would transfer well into tattoo designs, so I’m going to see if people were also being truthful about that. 


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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