Turning snowboards into art
Erica Ohmes is a Breckenridge artist who works with hand-painted snowboards, skis and skateboards. Her pieces reflect the beauty of living in the mountains combined with a fun, street-art element. Using donated boards and decks, she first sands them down and then uses acrylic paints to create her design. Sometimes, she will incorporate the original background of the piece into her design. Finishing the pieces off with an epoxy resin gives them a slick, shiny surface, and she said she likes to use brighter colors that really pop with that type of finish.
Ohmes studied at Regis University Denver after moving to the state from St. Louis, Missouri. She started out pursuing a nursing degree, taking art classes on the side, which “gave me sanity for nursing,” she said. After a while, she began questioning her line of study, finally realizing that following her passion in the arts was what she wanted to do. She dropped nursing and followed the path to an art and business administration degree, and her thesis included one of her painted skateboards. One of her friends and fellow art students introduced her to the concept of painting on snowboards after creating a profile of Ohmes on the first deck she had ever purchased as a 14-year-old. The two began playing around with using resins and snowboards, and she realized she enjoyed painting on wood and raw materials versus the traditional canvas.
“What I always thought was, I love doing art, and I’ve studied a lot about sustainable business and sustainability, and it’s always a struggle,” she said. “You’re like, ‘I love doing art, but it’s kind of bad for the environment’ — but it’s also, I don’t want to give it up because it’s what makes me, me; it’s what I do. It’s who I am. So for me, using recycled canvases is so much more awesome, and it mirrors what my actual imagery is. It’s a lot of street art, but it’s nature oriented.”
She moved to Breckenridge in 2013, and, as more people became aware of what she was doing, they began donating old gear, and so she kept working with the decks as her canvases. Due to word of mouth and social media, she now has so many donations that she can be more picky about which ones she takes.
Growing up in St. Louis, Ohmes attended a Catholic school, where they were trained to paint Monet or Picasso, a more traditional style. Her peers were painting these beautiful chapel scenes, but she was drawn more to the graffiti she would see driving around the city with her grandfather, who owned a delivery business.
“He loved to drive me and my siblings around the city, and I always admired all the street art for how big and colorful it was,” she said.
When she began creating her own pieces in high school, she found herself following that idea — big, bold, saturated colors and sharp lines.
Her pieces are on display at Blue River Fine Art Gallery, Lumberyard, Broken Compass and Ember. Ohmes has seen a lot of success selling her pieces in Breckenridge, more so than Denver, and attributes that to second-home owners looking for local artwork.
“What I always tell people is whether or not these sold, I’d still be making art,” she said. “To me it’s kind of a bonus — even in Denver, I used to just give away my art. No matter what, whether I sell it or not, I’m still going to be producing it. There’s more to it than just selling it to sell.”
Christian Tai Leach has been drawing and painting his whole life. His education in the subject is his experiences, and each snowboard he paints takes on a life of its own. The pieces create elaborate scenes of mountain living, and sometimes he includes paintings of animals or pretty girls.
His inspiration to begin the life of an artist came from his great uncle, a well-known artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“I always wanted to be like him even before I knew what an artist was; he was always playing music and dancing,” he said.
In the ’90s, his great uncle owned an art gallery in Breckenridge, and, although he passed away a few years ago, his memory lives on strong in Leach.
“I would still be painting with him if he was still around,” he said.
Leach first started using snowboards as his canvas in 2000, when he was living in employee housing at Keystone. An uncle was helping him move and found an old beat-up board, and Leach told him to toss it. His uncle suggested he paint on it instead of throwing it away, and so he did. Once his friends saw his work, they began asking him to paint theirs as well, and it quickly escalated.
“I thought it was a really cool canvas because it’s recycling, using something that’s older, lying around,” he said. “Also, it’s a canvas of soul because some of my boards I’ve ridden and they’re my favorite snowboard, and I learned a lot of tricks on them, so I’d paint a scene on it of that memory. I also try to do that for other people when I get commissions.”
Leach began collecting old boards, and now estimates he has painted more than 400 boards since he started and has sold around 300.
In 2010, he moved to New York to get out of “the bubble” of living in the mountains for a few years, as he had grown up in Denver and has been living in Summit County for the last 10 years.
“I wanted to pursue my art career, and New York was an awesome experience,” he said. “I gained a lot of confidence out there as an artist, and I learned a lot about selling art on the street and galleries, working with other artists, so that was a great experience. But, of course, I missed snowboarding a lot, so I came back.”
In 2013, after returning to the mountains, Leach noticed that the Colorado flag theme had really picked up as a trend in stores everywhere. He always loved the design of the flag and now incorporates that into his work.
“It’s limitless; I can paint so many things with it,” he said.
His work is inspired by being on the mountain — snowboarding — and nature. His great uncle used a lot of Native American themes and animal spirits in his work. Sometimes, Leach likes to incorporate those concepts in his pieces as well.
His snowboard paintings can be found around Summit County businesses, including Modis restaurant and Blue River Fine Art Gallery. One of his favorite ways to paint is plein air — outside and in the middle of it all. He frequently sets up outside of Art Supply Breckenridge, where he also works. He said it gives him exposure to people walking by.
“One thing I learned in New York is exposure: If you are outdoors painting, they will see you and want you in the gallery,” he said.
One unique aspect to his work — he learned to draw on an Etch A Sketch. It sounds a little odd, but his Etch A Sketch drawings are so elaborate and detailed
it doesn’t seem possible that it could come from a kid’s toy. He considers himself one of the top 10 Etch A Sketch artists in the world, and, after seeing what he can do in just a couple hours, it’s easy to see why.
At the end of the day, art is the thing that keeps Leach happy. He said he’s almost at the point of being able to quit his day job and focus solely on his artwork and can’t wait for the day when he can put his whole heart and energy into his pieces. He’d love to see snowboard companies pick up his graphics and hopes to continue to sell his work around town.
“There are a lot of great outlets here; it’s been awesome to go to my favorite businesses and see my paintings,” he said. “Everyone’s been so supportive — it’s good to hear good feedback.”
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