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Making it in Big Sky: Heather Rapp

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Heather Rapp finds inspiration from the landscape around her—which is of no shortage here in Big Sky. PHOTO COURTESY OF HEATHER RAPP

By Gabriella DiCenzo Content Marketing Intern

BIG SKY– From radiant wildflowers in the summer, to gold and orange aspen trees in autumn and to the majestic Lone Mountain in the winter, each season makes its way onto a canvas and serves as an inspiration for local artist Heather Rapp. 

For this issue of Making it in Big Sky, we had the opportunity to speak with Rapp about her business and the vision behind her abstract and unique pieces. 

This series is part of a paid partnership with the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. The following answers have been edited for brevity.

Explore Big Sky: How long have you been in Big Sky and what brought you to the area?

Heather Rapp: I’ve lived in Big Sky since 2012, and I’ve lived in Montana for most of my life. I was born in Colorado and we moved outside of Bozeman in Amsterdam when I was nine. When I graduated from Manhattan Public High School in 2003, I moved to Portland, OR to go to college at the Art Institute for a degree in Graphic Design. I’m so grateful to call Montana home! 

EBS: How long have you been painting and what got you into it?

HR: I’ve been painting for 15 years and started my senior year of college. I took one painting class and ended up not really liking it … all we did was paint still lifes and I found it fairly boring, each week painting the same group of objects arranged in a different way. Having lived in Colorado and Montana, and then Oregon, I was always inspired by nature, mountains, and the ocean and wanted to paint what inspired me. I learned a lot about painting light and shadow in that class but always wanted to be painting grander things. After I graduated in 2007 and while working a restaurant job, I tried to find a job in my field of graphic design but it was extremely difficult because of the recession around that time. I had found a new love of painting so I just dove in and ended up finding my true passion, all the while still working various service industry jobs.   

EBS: What is your favorite thing about being a business owner in Big Sky? 

HR: I love making connections with people and seeing their eyes light up when they see my art or when they create a painting of their own at one of my paint parties and realize that they really are creative. It’s always such a gift to be able to paint something special for someone, whether it’s commemorating an important event like a wedding or a special place that someone has been to. I’ve created several commissioned pieces for locals that have been super special projects and mean a lot to them. I’ve also painted several murals around town and those are really fun projects to work on, most recently for The Wilson Hotel and the Social Impact Hub celebrating community and connection. I think one of my favorite murals I completed last year was for a local little girl in her bedroom. It was inspired by the scene in Alice in Wonderland when Alice is small and is among all the larger-than-her flowers. It was so fun painting giant wildflowers and letting the little girl help me paint some of the mural since she is also really into art. Such a fun project! 

I’m incredibly grateful for the support I’ve gotten from this community and anyone who has appreciated or purchased art from me or attended one of my paint parties. I wouldn’t be able to live my dream as an artist without that support! 

EBS: What inspires your pieces? 

HR: Nature and mountains have always been a focal point in my work, especially being lucky enough to live in Big Sky and Montana in general. My paintings have a seasonality to them, too, since I’m inspired by each season’s unique beauty. I often paint colorful winter images of Lone Peak or abstract landscapes with white paint splattered on the canvas to suggest snow, while in the summer I’ll paint Beehive Basin with the beautiful wildflowers that bloom in the meadows and in the fall, the aspens with all their beautiful gold and orange leaves as they change. I think living in such a seasonal place really influences how my work changes throughout the year. I also love painting the animals that you find in Montana since we have such a wide range of wildlife that live here. Owls are my favorite animal to paint, they are such amazing and mystical creatures. 

EBS: I know you’ve also worked with Beehive Brewing for a while and brewing organizations like Pink Boots. Do you find that the craft of brewing beer and painting sometimes overlap?

HR: I’ve worked at Beehive as a beertender since we opened in 2015 and feel lucky to have been a part of production as the Assistant Brewer for a couple years, as well as the fact that they let me hang my art on the walls. I think both painting and brewing are very creative processes. As an artist or a brewer, you have to think many steps ahead while also staying open to change. A painting often takes planning a concept or sketching before you start, just like a recipe when you’re brewing a beer. When I’m painting a more abstract piece, I often start a painting without knowing what it will be, which is an exciting and fun way to create. You get to see where the creative process can take you without letting the inner critic get in your way. With brewing, it’s more structured like a realistic painting with a recipe you go by but it’s also always an experiment to some degree, which is why you have to stay open to change and think quickly when things get interesting. You may have something go wrong with your equipment, some ingredients may not work as well as you thought, or your yeast may mutate, changing your beer entirely. Improvisation and a creative mind are a common thread with both endeavors.

EBS: What are you doing when you aren’t painting?

HR: Adventuring outside with friends or family. In the winter and spring I snowboard or Nordic ski. In the summer and fall I like to mountain bike, hike, and camp. Anything that gets me out in nature with the people I love and helps inspire new paintings. I love traveling and would like to do more of that in the future. Travel provides such amazing inspiration, both for life and in painting. 

EBS: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? 

HR: “Keep going.” Being an artist isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ve thought of quitting many times. You have to work really hard and have grit, not unlike a lot of other jobs. I’ve kept on persevering, with a lot of cheerleading from my partner, family and friends. Also, no one tells you that in starting an art business, it’s not as simple as just making art. There is so much more admin that goes into it that no one sees, especially when you do it all yourself. There can also be a lot of self doubt. Sometimes finding inspiration to paint among all the to-do’s can be the biggest struggle, and I’ve found that often starting is the hardest part. It’s important to show up for your creativity, even if you’re burnt out or aren’t feeling super inspired. Taking time to refuel and find new inspiration, as well as experimenting and creating art just for yourself without the intention of selling it is important. Create things that feed your soul and you’ll reinspire yourself. Once you start, I’ve found it’s inevitable that you will tap into your creativity and find the flow.

I always come back to this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert from her book “Big Magic” when I’m feeling uninspired or burnt out….“Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable (food, shelter, medicine, rule of law, social order, community and familial responsibility, sickness, loss, death, taxes, etc.). Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift. It’s the frosting. Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.” 

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