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Creating art for skis



By Kay Leggott Explore Big Sky Contributor

It’s a curious business, making art.

Ideas rotate around my head daily, not unlike the scene from the Wizard of Oz where all the cattle, houses, trees and such get sucked up in the whirling tornado. When someone requests a specific project, I have to catch those ideas and organize them into something practical.

Swiss-based ski company Faction asked me this year to create three pieces of art for topsheet graphics on the 2013/14 women’s freeride and freestyle skis, the Ambit, the Heroine and the Supertonic.

To make sense of all the information vying for attention in my mind, I keep scrapbooks. By looking at these with Faction’s design director Tony McWilliam, I focused my ideas into the styles and techniques that will represent the brand.

We settled on three themes chosen for a combination of their aesthetics and back-stories. Faction is a collective of people from all over the world, so themes like travel, environment and culture resonate with the team. Expressing awareness for the positive and negative events within the countries where we ski is also important to us.

For the Ambit ski, I did an illustration based on the trauma that occurred after the 2011 tsunami that occurred near Japan. Thousands of birds were killed on the Midway atoll, a wildlife refuge halfway between North America and Asia, and I wanted to show the extent of chaos and debris left by that catastrophe through the style of the illustration.

The graphic for the Heroine is a mixed media piece inspired by my travels in Bali. The Supertonic is a large-scale painting narrating the natural and manmade forms we find in the environment.

You might imagine that creating art has some romantic nostalgia: time spent walking and musing over ideas and seeking inspiration, or nighttime painting sessions fueled by mugs of coffee with a cool soundtrack playing.

It’s not at all like that. For me, the process is more comparable to the transition of Dr. Bruce Banner morphing into the Incredible Hulk. It’s painful. As the artwork manifests, so do the challenges. Having an idea is one thing, composing it into colors and forms is another – it’s a bit like trying to wring out your brain.

In my work pattern, a few days of creativity in the studio are followed by one or two days of inactivity. These inactive days used to scare me, as I felt I should be producing some physical evidence each day. But I now know them as important contemplation times, when my brain can conjure up the next stage of the work. In the days that follow, my paintbrush catches up.

I communicated with Tony throughout the design process, and he acted as an anchor for my ideas, which tend to grow like wild. Together we cultivated what worked for the ski design without losing the spirit of my work.

The painting pictured here is the Supertonic artwork. The forms represent patterns in leaves, seed cases and other plants forms, set against the shapes of discarded manmade waste I found on the forest floor in my local woods.

When a piece is finished, I typically ship it from my studio in South Yorkshire, UK, to the Faction offices in Verbier. In the case of the Supertonic painting, however, I dismantled it, rolled it into my ski bag and booked it on a flight along with myself.

Once there, Tony skillfully manipulated the art to fit the shape of the ski.

Fast-forward to winter: The next time I pulled the Supertonic from my ski bag, it was no longer a painting, but a pair of skis!

I gave them their first run at Snowbird in February 2013. Sitting on the chairlift, I felt lucky to have this as my job. I love creating art, and being part of the team at Faction is as rewarding as the skiing itself.

Artist Kay Leggot has returned to her roots in Yorkshire, England, after living in Switzerland for five years. Based in Verbier, Switzerland, and Breckenridge, Colorado, Faction builds and designs world-class skis with a commitment to environmental sustainability. Find more on both Faction and Leggott at

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