The great outdoors never looked more colorful and full of snow and magic. Through the forms of painting and hats, Kelli Spencer has a knack for finding a way to capture mountain peaks and golden suns with an aura of bliss and adventure.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Kelli! I am a professional ski mountaineer. I work as a guide when the opportunities present itself and get paid by brands and companies to test, use or promote their gear on my larger adventures. I try and push myself to accomplish two big objectives each year. This past year, I walked the length of New Zealand (the Te Araroa) and went to Nepal to climb Mt. Everest. It was awesome. For this current year, I have been working on some ski projects in Utah and Alaska!
Where is the coolest place you've traveled?
The coolest place I have traveled is tied between Iceland and Vietnam. Iceland because it has everything you could want and is just a sensory-overload. A bonus is how chill and laidback the people are there. Vietnam because the scenery is just so drastic and incredible. I could spend years there and not see all the beauty that country has to offer. A bonus is how friendly and helpful the people are.
What made you want to go traveling off the grid to the backcountry of Alaska in the winter?
Alaska is where my heart is. It’s been my home for a long time. Recently, I made a decision to move to Utah for the winter to pursue a different mountain range. When no snow had arrived by mid-January, I made a decision to come home to AK to pursue an objective I had been eyeing for a while. I also really love winter camping, glaciers, cold temps, and skiing, so that’s pretty much my happy place.
What inspired you to design images on hats?
I actually paint big paintings as a passion. Always inspired by places in my travels. As a fun idea, I found a blank trucker hat years ago and painted a bear on it from an encounter I had with a bear during salmon season in Alaska. For several years people loved my hat and asked me where to get one and I never really pushed it. A friend of mine asked for one for her birthday and that kinda sparked the hat idea. Now, I design hats about my trips. They are all unique and one-of-a-kind. No duplicates. Some hats are inspired by my larger paintings, and some are on-the-fly designs. It’s a fun process, and I love the idea of my art being worn around the world.
What has been your most favorite design so far?
My favorite hat design is a backcountry ski scene at dawn with the first light shining on the mountain. My favorite painting I’ve done was several years ago of Ruth Glacier in Alaska, from a trip I went on, an oddly it now belongs to a good friend of mine who pilots over that glacier multiple times a winter.
What inspires you as an artist?
The scenery! I am lucky to be able to travel to ski or just travel on my own…and I am always stunned by the scenery. Mountains have always had a hold on me, so that’s generally my subject. I enjoy noticing the details when I’m out in the backcountry and then later being able to relay to the canvas in my own interpretation.
Do you have plans to expand your images beyond hats?
Yes! You can check out my paintings here:
Did you have any formal training in art? Or are you self-taught?
I am self-taught. When I was in middle school, I tried to take an art class but failed it because we were supposed to copy the teachers “method” of drawing a tree and I wanted to draw it my own way. So I did and was given an F. HA! Since then, I never took an art class and just learned by trial and error.
Any advice for solo adventure? I noticed you did a solo kayak trip through the Aleutian Islands in Alaska recently?
Yes! That trip was several years ago. It was awesome in a really miserable kind of way. The best advice I can give for traveling solo is to commit. Things happen and rarely always go according to plan, but from experience things will always work out, and usually for the better. It's scary to do something big if you haven’t before, but at one point we were all feeling that. My second tip is to plan plan plan. I spend hundreds of hours planning some solo expeditions….mostly because I want to be safe, knowledgeable, and informed about my trip. I’m out there alone, and I don’t get to phone a friend if I’m in trouble.
If you were stuck on an abandoned island what five items would you want with you? (no rules)
- I’ll assume this island has snow…so firstly I’d bring my skis!
- Whiskey! In true Alaskan fashion, you don’t get by without some good old-fashioned whiskey.
- Andy Samberg - He’d keep me laughing when things seem bleak.
- The magical potion from The Chronicles of Narnia that makes whatever food you desire.
- Painting supplies! Gotta have something to pass the time with!
What are some of your favorite items to bring with you when adventuring?
Whiskey is imperative. I also bring a big camera. My plate/bowl/cup is super cool and I always have those with me if I’m camping. I usually bring something really goofy if I’m with friends and bring it out as a surprise part-way through the trip. That can range from star-wars onesies for everyone going to silly hats. It lightens the mood, especially if people are exhausted or struggling, and brings everyone together for some laughs.
What is your most favorite kind of meal when you are on your adventures?
Man, this is tough. I have some favorite brands that I enjoy a lot… Bobo’s Oat Bars and Heathers Choice are awesome. At the end of the day though, I usually also pack some of those and $1.99 rice and broccoli from the supermarket. It’s a good mix.
Do you know how to make MRE's taste good?
Salt and pepper is your friend! I carry a small kit of 5 spices and experiment with that.
If you could travel anywhere in the universe where would you go?
Hmmmm…I’d go to Mars. The terrain and beauty there seems new…but honestly I wouldn’t complain about going anywhere. It’s all cool!