By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY- Heather Rapp couldn’t stay away from the mountains for long. The 32-year-old artist was born in Colorado Springs where she lived until her family relocated to Amsterdam, Montana, when she was 9. After graduating from high school, Rapp headed to Oregon. While earning a degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Portland, her family ventured even further into the mountains of Big Sky.

After 9 years in Portland—the length of time she’s lived everywhere, although Big Sky is poised to outlast that trend—Rapp was feeling the tug of Montana calling her home.

“The mountains are my most influential muse,” said Rapp, who’s called Big Sky home since 2012. “There’s something captivating about them, grounding and spiritual. They make you feel small in an awe-inspiring way. … I feel like they’re kind of a part of me.”

It’s no wonder then that mountain-scapes, and the wildlife that inhabits them, are central in Rapp’s colorful canvases and murals. Working in acrylics with brushes, a spray bottle and palette knife, Rapp’s illustrative style incorporates abstract elements while retaining a recognizably Big Sky sense of place.

A wall-sized mural she created for the interior of Yoga Stone features one of her many abstracted renditions of Lone Peak, the definition of its contours segueing into dripping white paint against a fiery alpenglow sky and playfully stylized tree line. She has revisited this theme many a time on canvas, but each exudes its own feeling, time of day or season. One may incorporate speckles of snow splattered like stardust, another might be rendered in the full bloom of summer’s palette, and others emanate dusky hues of pink and purple under a spiral moon.

As a child, Rapp was always drawing. In kindergarten, she drew a cup in a saucer as directed, but added steam coming out of it—a detail her parents were told demonstrated she was more artistically advanced than her peer group.

Although Rapp formally pursued graphic design and still takes the occasional freelance project, after four years of working predominantly in a digital medium, she was craving a more tactile creative process.

“After school I just dove into painting and never looked back,” Rapp said.

When Rapp first moved to Big Sky to be closer to family and her beloved mountains, she held three jobs, which did not leave a lot of time for painting. But this past fall, Rapp took a big leap and left the position she’d had for four years as a pre-school teacher at Morningstar Learning Center to pursue her art full-time. Well, almost full-time—Rapp still works part-time at Beehive Basin Brewery where another of her public pieces, depicting the basin for which the brewery was named, enlivens an interior door.

Since creating more room in her life for art, Rapp has also painted interior murals for Caliber Coffee and Big Sky’s newest breakfast place, Buttr. The second commission required her to “channel her inner Dali.” Rapp riffed off owner Scott Hoeksema’s desire for a “bacon fence,” adding pancake foothills and a seriously syrupy Lake Lavinsky under over-easy egg clouds and, instead of melting clocks, melting waffles.

“I love working large,” Rapp said about mural-making. “It’s so much more freeing, being able to involve your whole body in the painting process. And I’m so grateful that people have supported my work and let me paint on their walls and doors—that’s just amazing.”

Rapp’s art has found its way into the community’s heart in a number of ways. This past winter her work was featured in Big Sky Resort’s Shedhorn Grill; her artwork is also currently on display at East Slope Outdoors and Lone Peak Caregivers. She has also participated in the silent auction component of the Arts Council of Big Sky’s annual fundraising event, the Ophir School and Rotary Club auctions, and this year will be donating a piece to the Big Sky Community Organization’s Parks and Trails Gala.

For the second year, Rapp will also have a booth at the Big Sky Farmers’ Market, where she will sell originals and prints, as well as trucker hats and stickers emblazoned with her artwork.

“From the beginning it’s been really important to me for my art to be accessible to everyone,” Rapp said. “Including people like me who can’t afford really expensive art.”

Rapp’s sweet spiritedness shines through her personality as it does her art. Indeed, people often tell her they find her work “happy”—something she sees as a natural translation of the joyous inspiration she finds in the outdoors, and especially in the mountains.

“Life and nature are so vibrant; they really feed my soul and I try to express that in my work,” Rapp said. “In general, I feel like I’m a pretty colorful person, and in that way my work is an extension of myself. To bring a little more brightness and light into the world—that’s not a bad thing.”

Visit heatherrapp.com to see more of the artist’s work.