Common Climber interviews climber and artist Lindsey Mathewson. Lindsey lives in Wisconsin (her home crag is Devil's Lake) and works with a variety of artistic media and highlights areas where we love to climb! Explore some of Linsey's art and learn a little more about her passion for climbing.
You are an artist and a climber, how long have you been doing each and how do they influence each other?
I’ve been doing art off and on my whole life, but started doing a lot more after I finished school 10 years ago. I’ve been climbing for about 6 years and it has pretty much taken over my life. So naturally a lot of my art is influenced accordingly. I draw and paint a lot of my favorite rock formations and mountainscapes.
You are located in Wisconsin. Tell us about climbing there. What is your local crag and what is the climbing like?
The most iconic climbing area (and where I climb the most) is Devil’s Lake. It’s about 45 minutes north of Madison, WI and is all trad and top rope. The rock is hard, slick, purple quartzite and it’s absolutely stunning. Because the rock is lower friction than most, the climbing ends up being a lot of edging, high feet, and what I like to call “technical dancy moves.” It’s mostly vertical, but there are a few overhangs here and there. Most of the routes are top-accessible from hiking trails so it’s very easy to set up top ropes (but does require trad anchor skills as there are no bolted anchors). One of my favorite things about it is there are routes at just about every grade, so there is something for almost anyone. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend checking it out!
You have quite a few Instagram posts about trad climbing, is this your favorite style of climbing? Tell us about your foray into trad.
I never really identified with a single type of climbing. When I top rope I feel like a top rope climber, when I trad climb I feel like a trad climber, and when I sport climb, I feel like a sport climber. (When I boulder I feel like not-a-boulderer, but I do enjoy crack boulders.)
But I will say the thing I love about trad climbing that I don’t always get from sport or top rope is that it forces you to be fully present. There’s so many more variables, problem solving, and creativity involved. It works your brain as much or more than it works your body.
As for how I got into trad climbing, Wisconsin doesn’t have a lot of sport routes and at the time, I wasn’t strong enough for most of them. If I wanted to do a good amount of leading close to home, I’d have to take back my statement to “never, ever trad climb” and learn how to lead on gear.
I had been building trad anchors for several years already for top roping. Then, with the help of mentors, eased my way into leading. People talk about how Devil's Lake is a scary and difficult place to lead (and it certainly can be) but it’s also a great place to learn because routes can be top roped to figure out and test gear. It’s also super easy to bail on routes since they are top accessible. I’m really thankful for this unique place I get to spend so much of my time.
What artistic media do you do and do you have a favorite?
I’m a little bit all over the place. Over the years I’ve done a lot of acrylic, watercolor, and digital art. One of the more unique things I do is to scrape dried paint off my palettes and arrange them on a canvas to form mosaic-style paintings. Lately, however, I’ve been on a watercolor and ink kick. It lends itself well to abstract mountainscapes and rock formations. It’s also lightweight and compact, which makes it easy to take on climbing trips.
How do you approach your art and the content? Is there a process or specific inspirations?
I get inspiration from all over. I started doing my dried paint chip art in order to use something that otherwise would be thrown away. I’ve done what I call “random artwork roulette” to generate a random subject matter and style. I’m constantly inspired by other artists and the outdoor spaces I spend my time. My style and focus is constantly changing because my favorite thing about art is trying new things. To do that, I usually start with a familiar subject matter and apply the new techniques to it. I have so many pieces featuring a rock at Devil's Lake called Balanced Rock because it’s the perfect subject for trying something out. The way the light hits it creates beautiful dimension, but it isn’t a complex shape so I can really focus on the techniques I want to work on.
I also find with creative endeavors (whether visual art or internet content), that the more you create, the more you’re inspired. Ideas feed on ideas.
What type of art do you sell and why?
Right now I mostly sell original paintings/drawings and prints of digital art on my website (brewtownarts.com). I have sold greeting cards and prints of paintings in the past though and get those made by request. I also do custom digital art (mostly minimalist pet portraits) and am hoping to start making stickers soon (but am still in the research stage of that one). I sell a variety of sizes and styles of work for two reasons: I want to make art that is affordable to as many people as possible and I also just love bopping around and switching it up regularly. It keeps things fun and interesting.
In one of your Instagram posts you mention that climbing has helped you with your body image. Can you share more about that?
Like so many people growing up, I had body image issues at times. Climbing was the first sport that really clicked with me and was something I wanted to work on and improve. So it inevitably switched my focus from what my body looked like to the cool things it can do and the beautiful places it can take me.
Are you involved with the Wisconsin Climber's Association? If so how and what are their goals?
I am a member of the WCA and have participated in several of their events. They organize stewardship projects (including graffiti removal, trail maintenance, and erosion control projects), advocate for access in Wisconsin, and put on outdoor events and competitions. Annually, we have two bouldering comps, a trad comp, and a trash cleanup comp!
What is the Beta Bust?
Beta Bust is an annual women’s climbing and camping weekend for transgender, cis, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming folks from around the Midwest. Unlike festivals, Beta Bust is basically free; the only fixed cost is camping. We partner with a local guide organization to provide optional clinics for those who want to learn new skills or have a day of guided climbing, but it’s ultimately an informal meet-up for a weekend of climbing at and near Devil's Lake. We’ve had folks come from Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, South Dakota, and Wisconsin! I’ve personally gotten so much out of it and met people who have become close friends and long-term climbing partners. This is going to sound cheesy, but I’m thrilled to be a part of the planning team now and to spread the word so that others can benefit the way I have.
What is something you wish people knew about you?
Although I am very outgoing in the climbing setting where I am most comfortable, I am actually introverted otherwise and need some me-time at the end of each day to unwind (which art is perfect for!) So if we are camping together and I start fading at 8pm around the campfire, it’s not personal! I just need to recharge for a bit before I wake up and get back to the crag the next day!
Any last words or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
Backpacking stoves make pretty decent toast and fake chicken nuggets roast up nicely over a campfire with a marshmallow skewer. Careful not to burn your fingers.
But in all seriousness, I know as climbers we can get sucked up into grades and styles. Just know that regardless of your abilities or preferences, you are a climber. We all choose this weird way to spend our time and it means something different for each of us, but we are all a part of the larger climbing community. Be welcoming and supportive, and climb on!