• JoJo

The Art of Climbing - The Big and The Small

I recently bought myself this delightful little present.

A woman with glasses holding a painting of herself rock climbing

This painting shows me tackling my first outdoor bouldering project (Wild Country 6b+, La Pedriza), which I wrote about in one of my first blog posts. My intention is to keep this painting on my desk to remind me that hard work may put holes in my fingers, but it will also pay off in the end.

This adorable climbing mini-me was produced by the extremely talented Lizzy Lee (@lizzyquickdraws), who was also kind enough to answer some questions about her work. It was via Lizzy’s Instagram page that I stumbled across another wonderful artist, Coralie Huon (@cocodro). Like Lizzy, Coralie has some beautiful pieces of work focusing on the climbers themselves. However, in my (admittedly unsophisticated) opinion, her most striking pieces are her landscapes depicting beloved climbing locations.

Exploring the work of these two artists got me thinking about the big and small aspects of climbing and how people may be drawn (no apologies for the pun!) to one or the other.

The Small

For many climbers, climbing is a deeply personal activity as well as a creative and fun form of exercise. It’s a way to get to know ourselves and our bodies. It’s all about us, the climbers, as individuals.

I grew up watching football with my parents and still enjoy watching team sports. However, as an introvert who prefers working on solo projects, I’ve never found as much fun in participating in team sports as I have in watching them. Though I appreciate the support of my fellow climbers, I definitely revel in the fact that climbing allows me to focus on myself and my body without worrying about how my actions affect my teammates. Maybe I’m just terribly self-involved!

I’m also extremely short on competitive spirit. Beating other people at something rarely matters to me. I’m one of those infuriating people that just wants everyone to have a great time. I enjoy watching other people thrive in competitive situations, especially a sweaty Wimbledon final, but this doesn’t translate into my own experience of sport. The only competition I tend to experience is between my confident side and the part of my brain that believes the holds, especially volumes, are out to kill or injure me somehow.

In my experience, focusing on the tiny details of climbing has been not only extremely enjoyable, but also key to completing projects or improving my climbing skills. At first touch, many climbing holds can seem utterly useless. I’ve spent more time than I care to calculate fumbling with holds of every shape, size, and texture desperately searching for the sweet spot that will transform these wretched lumps of plastic into something worth pulling on.

A painting of a woman rock climbing on a steep overhang

Understanding the micro-movements of my body has also been essential when tackling hard climbs. The minuscule action of moving a foot a millimetre or two one way or another can allow my hip to turn in a fraction more and therefore extend my reach by a small yet crucial distance. This extra centimetre could be the difference between successfully latching the next hold or falling flat on my arse.

At the end of the day climbing is about climbers and their bodies and some gravitational forces trying to hold them down. Continuously expanding the capabilities of my own body and exploring its potential flexibility and strength is one of the aspects of climbing that I find so addictive. There are always new moves and improbable positions for me to get my body into.

It’s this aspect of climbing that I see reflected in Lizzy’s work and something she enjoys capturing in her paintings:

“I think my favourite paintings to do are indoor bouldering routes. I love the combination of the brightly coloured holds, the white walls and the incredible body positions people can get into.”

Lizzy’s Instagram feed is indeed a carefully curated catalogue of classic climbing moves. There’s a climber wedging their quad against a volume to form a kneebar, throwing their feet above their head to achieve the highest of heel hooks, and with limbs spread wide across the surface of the wall whilst straining to reach the next hold and maintain their balance. The relative blankness of the white walls really brings the configuration of the climber’s form to life in Lizzy’s work.

As someone who cried, struggled, and often drank her way through costume design projects at college, I’m in awe of artists that take on the human form in all its complexity and variation. Thankfully, Lizzy does not share my anxiety when it comes to depicting people in paint:

“I've always preferred drawing people, figures and faces. I don't really know why, I just find it really satisfying. I'm also terrible at landscapes. There's a reason most of my artwork doesn't have much going on in the background!”

She’s certainly playing to her strengths by focusing her artistic eye on her fellow climbers, who appear to provide an almost unlimited source of inspiration. I asked Lizzy if there were any climbers that she would particularly like to paint:

“So many! I want to paint all the climbers. Anna Hazelnutt is definitely up there though. And Katie Jo Myers!”

With climbing making its debut at the Olympics this year and more and more people getting involved in climbing, it’s safe to say Lizzy won’t be running out of climbers to paint any time soon.

In terms of future projects, like many climbers Lizzy is excited to get back out onto the rock again:

“As much as I love indoor bouldering, I would say that outdoor lead is what I'm currently fantasising about doing once lockdown is over!”

She’s also got a new series of prints coming out in the not-too-distant future and an exciting project coming up in the winter that she unfortunately couldn’t give me any juicy details about. She’s been sworn to secrecy on the matter. You’ll have to keep an eye on her Instagram page to find out what’s next for Lizzy and her fabulous climbing figures.

Lizzy Lee

In the meantime, if you’d like to acquire your very own climbing mini-me you can contact Lizzy via her Instagram page or at lizzyquickdraws@gmail.com

@lizzyquickdraws on Instagram

https://www.betamagazine.co.uk/product/issue-3 You can also find some of Lizzy’s work in this edition of Beta Magazine, a publication aimed at women but inclusive of all climbers. It’s a great read and well deserving of your money


The Big

On the flipside of the climbing coin, and in stark contrast to individual climbers’ stories, are the vast spaces that put our often-all-consuming adventures on rock into humbling perspective. As climbers, we obsess over every tiny detail our chosen projects as well as the micro-adjustments our bodies make to conquer them. But when we take our eyes off the surface of the rock, we often find ourselves in some truly epic locations. It is these landscapes that Coralie Huon captures in her striking pieces of art.

La Pedriza (to the north west of Madrid) was one of the first places that I found some joy in outdoor climbing. Before visiting La Pedriza, I’d been a happy little gym rat. There are several climbing areas that make up La Pedriza. The first that I encountered was Laboratorio Inferior. Accessing the boulders in this area involves crossing a river on a makeshift bridge made of tree trunks lashed together with rope. Crossing this with a bouldering mat on your back was entertaining. Crossing this with a bouldering mat on your back while also trying to encourage a nervous pointy orange dog to join me felt like something out of a straight-to-DVD slapstick comedy film.

Luckily, my dog and I agreed that the perilous bridge crossing was worth the effort and we had some wonderful times in the forest of La Pedriza. She zoomed joyfully around the landscape, investigating new smells and digging herself the perfect whole to snooze in when she tired herself out. I flapped about on the rocks trying to find something to put my feet on before collapsing next to her on my bouldering mat with significantly less skin on my fingers and shins than I started with. I conquered my first bouldering project in La Pedriza (as captured by Lizzy in the painting above) and found the fun in climbing on real rock for the very first time.

I’m sure the location played a big part in this experience. The rock formations in this part of Spain are simply incredible. As well as bouldering, I also had some wonderful experiences hiking with Husband in La Pedriza. The mountains are covered with massive shards of rock that create jagged and angular shapes against the blue Spanish sky. We named one of these hikes the Mordor route. As we reached the highest point of this walk, we found ourselves surrounded by towers of rock that had such a haunting and ominous feel to them. We would have been far from surprised if a bunch of unruly orcs appeared from their cracks.

Panoramic drawing of La Pedriza, near Madrid

This panoramic view of La Pedriza was, naturally, one of the first pieces that caught my eye first in Coralie’s collection. Although for her it’s home to some even more dramatic memories. In her book, Kyra, she talks (and draws) about breaking two bones in her foot while sport climbing in the Quebrantaherraduras area of La Pedriza. This monochrome memoir depicts the stages of grief that come with climbing injuries as the realisation that life is about to look very different sets in. Trips and projects are replaced with weeks on the sofa and frustrating rehab exercises. Mental and physical strength levels falter and you find your heart filled with a deep ache and desperation to get back to the beautiful climbing locations the world has to offer.

Coralie’s collection is a greatest hits tour of these beloved climbing areas. You’ll find depictions of Rocklands, Chamonix, and The Buttermilks to name but a few. When I asked her if she had a favourite location, to climb or to paint, she struggled to single one out:


“Oh this is a tricky one, there are so many inspiring places in this world!

I’ve drawn places I’ve actually never been to, but are my absolute dream places to visit, like Indian Creek or Joshua tree national park. The colours, the shape of the rocks and the desertic landscapes are something that really speaks to me, both as an artist and as a climber!

The amazing mountains of Chamonix do remain one of my favourite to draw, as well as one of my favourite places on earth. I also have a soft spot for the Yosemite/Sierra Nevada mountains.”

Being connected with the natural landscape and spending time in sublime outdoor settings is something that attracts people to climbing as a sport. Coralie’s use of bold black and white shapes and intricate linework really conveys the epic atmosphere and intense feelings inspired by these locations. It’s an unusual and eye-catching approach to painting landscapes and I was intrigued to learn how her style developed.

“It probably started to really take shape 4 years ago. What created the switch was starting to use Posca pens. They are paint pens, so they have this strong colour block and rich pigment whilst being very precise. I did this whole series called “the outdoor postcards” and that was the real kick in developing that style. I was mostly focused on black and white drawings for a while until I started to incorporate colours at the end of 2019 and started translating that style in technicolour!”

Recently Coralie has brought these renowned outdoor climbing areas to indoor walls in the form of murals. I very much enjoyed reading her blog about painting the “Fontainebleau playground” in the reception area of Roc Bloc climbing gym in Cardiff and learning about the process of creating such a massive piece of art (see image below). It’s really worth a read if you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes of the creative process.

Fontainebleau boulder field

However, it was the time-lapse of painting another mural at CanarayWall that struck me as particularly impressive, as the entire thing was painted up a ladder above a flight of stairs with people coming and going underneath Coralie as she worked:

“The mural where I painted on the ladder was my first mural ever and it was definitely quite something in terms of logistics! There were some rather scary moments when painting full arm extended from the top of that ladder. It was quite the work out!!”

Luckily, Coralie’s future artistic activities sound a little less perilous, although some big changes may also be in the offing:

“In August I will participate in my first art fair (Roy’s art fair) and I can’t wait to take part into the event and share my work in real life! I have a few painting series that I am working on which I am quite excited about. I am also hoping to move to the French Alps in the summer or in the autumn, Covid allowing.”

Coralie Huon

https://www.coraliehuon.com/ Visit Coralie’s website to buy her work and read blog posts about herself and her creative process

@cocodro on Instagram

https://www.facebook.com/coraliehuonartillustration/ on Facebook

Other Links

Here’s some more information about the two climbers that Lizzy mentioned she’d like to paint:

Anna Hazelnutt

@annahazelnutt on Instagram

Anna Hazelnutt’s YouTube channel

Katie Jo Myers

@katiejo.myers on Instagram

Katie Jo Myers YouTube channel


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