Despite the pressure of completing a PhD thesis in population health—or perhaps because of it—Salomé Aubert, 31, started making art three years ago. “Because my brain needed some distraction from all the scientific reading, I felt the need to create art,” she says. “And I needed extra money.” Aubert had always been skilled at sketching, from childhood doodles to anatomical drawings for her studies. So she began to craft climbing-inspired ink-and-watercolor pieces, going on to sell prints, stickers, and T-shirts online and at the Coyote Rock Gym, in Ottawa, Canada.
Aubert grew up in New Caledonia, a French island territory in the South Pacific. There, she was an avid trail runner, hiker, and windsurfer. She won trail races regularly (although she says there wasn’t much competition on the islands), and first climbed in New Caledonia at age 19, just before moving to Rennes, France, to attend university. But it wasn’t until five years later that a bouldering gym opened in Rennes. After wrapping up her studies, Aubert moved to Nancy, France, making trips to Fontainebleau and sport crags in the Alps. Early on, she injured her ankle, and so climbed with one foot for three months. “I became extremely strong in my upper body,” she says. “That’s how I got really into bouldering.”
Aubert recently finished her doctoral degree at the University of Ottawa. She still loves bouldering—a top nearby area is Val-David in Quebec—but the region’s outdoor window is limited, she says, with snow and ice five months a year, and flooding and rain another one to two months, followed by hot summers. She hopes to move somewhere more temperate to continue her research and climb outdoors more consistently, such as Southern France.
One of Aubert’s favorite creations is a watercolor-and-ink illustration of two biners forming a heart (top of page), with a male climber in one, a female in the other. “It reminds me how climbing communities are inclusive,” she says. “And I’ve always appreciated how males and females have (almost?) the same visibility in competitions compared to other sports.”
The most popular design in her online shop—a Sasquatch carrying a bouldering pad and rock shoes—eludes a deep explanation, just like the mythic figure it depicts. Says Aubert, “I just find it very cool, and it is about bouldering.”
Watercolor and India-ink pens