The artist and climber Rhiannon Klee Williams, 31, lives in her van and makes her living as an artist, selling surreal watercolors of the Nose of El Capitan, the El Chalten Massif, and other iconic formations. Rhiannon was born in the United States and lived in Wales, UK, until she was 12, after which she moved back to Florida, finished high school, and earned a psychology degree from the University of Tampa. When she broke her back in gymnastics a decade ago, she started climbing to help strengthen her lumbar muscles. Since then, she has traveled North America, climbing in the Southwest, Yosemite, the Bugaboos, and the Wind River Range—the places that inspire her art.
How does climbing influence your art?
I use the landscapes I climb in as a framework to paint my experiences into. I see climbing as a creative and emotionally deep experience: Painting is how I give that experience a voice. When I’m painting, I try to step back into the mental space I was in while climbing, reliving emotions like excitement, fear, or pride and letting them lead me.
What is your process for creating art?
I live full-time in my van, which is also my studio. I typically create art journals when I’m out on an adventure that I then bring back to use as references for larger, more intricate pieces. When I’m ready, I lay out everything I made on location, revisit my journal entires, and also work from a reference photo. The process feels like flow in climbing—it’s very intuitive and mindful.
How do you hope to inspire your audience?
With a painting that features a specific route, I like to think it can either serve as a memento for people who have climbed it or as source of encouragement for people who dream to do so. There are so many layers: physical grit, emotional turbulence, anticipation, joy, etc. If people can feel that in my paintings and get excited about having their own adventures, that’s an incredible honor.