Artist Jeremy Collins on Climbing, Creativity, and Balance

If you’ve looked at an issue of Alpinist or Rock & Ice in the past dozen or so years, you’ve


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If you’ve looked at an issue of Alpinist or Rock & Ice in the past dozen or so years, you’ve seen Jeremy Collins’s drawings and maps gracing their pages and covers. Collins, a climber, artist, and filmmaker, has worked for outdoor clients (Prana, National Geographic, Patagonia, and a dozen others) as well as contributed his work to films and made his own films. His 2011 film, The Wolf and the Medallion, won best in Festival at the 5Point Film Festival and the Creative Excellence Award at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and recently became available online.

adventure journal jer collins portraitWith one of his newest projects, Drawn, a book-and-film narrative spanning three continents and several years, Collins hoped to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter. Almost 800 donors pledged $70,000 to the campaign, which ended May 18. Now he’s putting together the film project, which will premiere this fall at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

We caught him for an interview between taking climbing photographer Andrew Burr on a tour of Missouri’s climbing and packing to head to the Amazon.

1. When people sit next to you on a plane and ask you what you do, what do you say?

Usually I have my headphones in so they won’t ask. But sometimes I have weird scabs or ink on my hands, so they persist. I start with “I am a storyteller,” and if they are the inquisitive type, they’ll ask “what kind of stories?” Then I say, “Well, I am an artist, a rock climber, and a filmmaker, and I tell stories about my travels and adventures through various mediums.”

And then guaranteed, every single time they will ask “Oh, what is your favorite medium?” And then I say, “My favorite medium is the next one.” And then sometimes that confuses them a bit, and I smile and put my headphones back in.

If not, they will:

A. Tell me about their nephew who failed at art school and is working at a coffee shop,
or
B. Ask, “So have you climbed Everest?”

To which I say, “No, I climb large rocks, not so much snow and ladders.”

If the conversation is going well and their breath (or mine) doesn’t stink too bad, I’ll go on to tell them I make art maps and editorial pieces for publications, short artsy films on adventure, and various other creative projects.

If I pull a sketchbook out for them to look at, they will generally offer to buy me a drink, to which I order a Jack Daniels and a Coke.

2. What was your first climbing experience?

I had a friend in high school who taught rappelling at a Girl Scout camp. He took us out to rappel highway road-cuts. On my first rappel he hung above me offering advice. He knocked a huge block off that cut my neck and shoulder, so I arrived at the base soaked in blood. I looked into climbing shortly thereafter and learned going up was much more attractive than going down.

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3. Your art and maps have graced just about every big publication in the outdoor industry. What was your first big break into the industry?

In 1996 or so, I put together a little packet of my art and mailed it to Rock & Ice magazine and prAna. Both of them showed interest, so I drove to their headquarters in Boulder and Carbondale to meet in person. I wonder if anyone actually does that anymore. Anyways, they both gave me work to do, and that was kind of the beginning. I just retired recently from Rock & Ice after 116 issues.

4. You’ve got a couple big projects coming up this year-one of which is Drawn, a film and book project. Tell us about that.

Drawn is a story, really, of how I went in the four directions from home to climb new routes. I went north to the Vampire Spires in the Northwest Territories, south to Acopan Tepui in Venezuela, east to the Keketuohai Valley in China, and west to Yosemite. I am making a film and book to tell the story.

5. For Drawn, at least judging by the trailer, it looks like your friends played a big part in the living and making of the stories, including Jonny Copp, who died in 2009. Was Jonny’s death a catalyst for the adventures that became the project?

Yeah, it absolutely was. He was always pushing me to not just go further with my climbing, but also my art. If he was still alive he would be an even bigger part of Drawn. All the friends I traveled with became not just a part of the Drawn story, but my own life story. Jonny is a part of the Drawn story all the way to the end.

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6. You’ve got another big thing going on right now with Meridian Line merchandise – what’s that?

Meridian Line is my answer to working in the industry for what seems like forever but never having a brand that represented what I do. We launched in February and I think we are in 60 or 70 retail locations already and five or six national parks. Meridian Line is a lifestyle brand that has started with my art on shirts and wood prints, but will lead to other things soon.

7. A lot of people assume from your work that you must live in some sort of outdoor mecca like Boulder. You live in Kansas City, which is a little less famous as an outdoor town. How does your hometown fuel your creativity and adventuring?

Well, even though I’m not next to the mountains, I spend a lot of time acting like I am; like, you know, I wear plaid and trucker hats. People here have to be fully committed to pursue a climbing lifestyle. I think you just have to want it more when it’s further from your reach. I spend a lot of time trail running and bouldering here, and within a short drive is pretty fantastic sport climbing. As for creativity, you can’t open your Moleskine here without bumping into an artist, or designer, or photographer or filmmaker. I’m surrounded by people here who are pushing the envelope with creativity. I recently moved into a corner studio that is fully surrounded by painters, carpenters, printmakers, and creative types. I thrive on that productivity.

8. What’s one piece of gear you never leave the parking lot without?

For climbing, a comfortable harness. For creativity, my iPhone.

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9. What’s your favorite pitch of climbing, anywhere in the world?

The next one.

Well, wait, I take that back.

The 7th pitch on our route In Gold Blood in Venezuela we called “The Greatest Pitch in the Universe” or something like that.

It was steep, and went through numerous three-foot roofs, just small enough to undercling and reach over the lip to a jug. Each roof had a crack on its back side that gobbled up protection. It was the most perfect pitch – with heel hooks, dynos, and sculpted, immaculate rock. It never got harder than 11a, and it ended up this open leaning corner, leaning out over the whole Gran Sabana landscape. The sun was setting, while the parrots and howler monkeys were cheering for us a thousand feet below. I was far from home, but surrounded by good friends, touching rock no one had ever touched before and grinning ear to ear. That might have been the best pitch I ever did. Crap, now I wish I was there instead of packing for the Amazon.

10. You run a business, keep the creativity flowing, manage to climb all around the world, and juggle family life with your wife and children. What’s your secret?

I sold my soul to the devil in 1997 in exchange for two clones. They work here at the studio, and the other one is me, the real me. I pretty much just climb, draw and make my family happy while they do all the real work. For instance, interviews.

I don’t know man, just constantly seeking balance. Sacrificing in all directions, but pursuing the love paradox – 100 percent to it all. 100 percent to my family, 100 percent to my art, and 100 percent on the end of the rope. It doesn’t make sense and I pretty much botch one of them every single day, but in the end it works out, I guess.


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Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
Showing 2 comments
  • emily
    Reply

    not much of a talker

  • Oliver
    Reply

    Brendan, thanks a lot for introducing me us to Jeremy and his art&work! The map art is absolutely stunning and I also like the “landscape of life” depicted in the last illustration. I just took a look around his site and quite like how he is drawing with words as well.
    Inspiring guy and thanking you again for the inspiration!

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