Play Reverse Play Icons Cross Icon Next Icon Prev Loader Navigation Icon Search Logo Shape Hamburger Pin icon Icon filter icon Group
Store Icon Find a Store

Foraging New Fashion: Kellie Swanson

Photos by Leslie Hittmeier, Video by Mountain Wave Co.

*UPDATE: 5/9 10:08AM MDT*That’s a wrap on the stio (FT. KSX ART) limited-run collection – we can't believe it sold out in just 8 minutes. Stay tuned for more inspired collaborations with local artists and revered brands as part of Stio (FEATURING), including a return of Kellie Swanson in a completely different format and many more.

Play Watch Video

Living the mountain life herself, Kellie explores the relationship we share with nature through patterns made with locally sourced flowers and botanicals. After taking time off to travel and ski, Kellie has refocused her work on handmade fine art printing and sustainable, one-of-a-kind artistic clothing using alternative photography techniques. The process requires one to wander and explore while truly considering our natural surroundings. It equally inspires admirers of her work to embark on their own discoveries, whether that be in the backyard or deep in the backcountry. We are thrilled to have the chance to collaborate with Kellie on a hand-crafted, custom-printed collection, and met with her to learn more about her experiences, process and inspiration.  

Help us get to know you a little better. What’s your story and what paths lead to where you are today? 

I was born and raised outside of Seattle, Washington, by an outdoorsy family. I started skiing when I was two years old, and spent my summers in the San Juan Islands playing outside, being creative and making things. I was an artsy child. I wasn't the best with math and science in school, so I knew from a pretty early age that I wanted to be creative. One summer, my mom put me in a photography camp and that sparked my love for photography and image creating. 

After high school, I decided to take a year off to ski and teach ski school. I moved to Jackson, Wyoming, and skied 156 days in a row without a day off—I loved it! Then I went to school at Montana State University (MSU). I joke and say it was mostly because of the skiing and access to the mountains, but they have a -renowned photography program, which is what I knew I wanted to do.

I fell in love with Bozeman, the mountains and the artistic and business communities. After graduating from the MSU School of Photography in 2018, I was bartending and cutting lawns; but when the pandemic happened and the world shut down, I was out of work. With time on my hands, and a new desk in my bedroom, I started making cyanotype prints again. I began posting on Instagram to show people what I was creating. Once I started printing on clothing, it sort of snowballed and I realized that I could have a business here. I moved production into my garage after that, and the rest is history. I have just been growing and exploding ever since.

Tell us a little bit about the cyanotype process. How did you learn it and why did you choose to use it in your artistic process?

Cyanotype is super unique because you don't need much equipment to make a print. All you need is the cyanotype solution and the sun. It is a 19th-century alternative photography printing process that I learned while at MSU from my professor Christina Anderson. She's world renowned for the process, and definitely shaped my “alt process brain” quite a lot.

With cyanotype, you can make prints with images using digital negatives, but you need a printer, digital negative paper, and all this extra equipment. That’s part of what inspired me to use flowers, which is a different way than I had used in college. Once I started using flowers, I fell in love with the process. 

“The process is super unique. It just sort of feels like magic.” 

I paint the cyanotype solution onto the fabric and let it dry in the dark. Once dry, I press flowers on top and put it out in the sun, where it does its magic. When the solution is exposed to UV light, it turns a deep shade of blue. Anywhere that doesn’t get touched by the light rinses away when it is developed with water. The whole process still blows my mind every time I peel one of the flowers off and I can see all the lines and shadows it's created. It's pretty magical to me. Every piece is one of a kind.

 Image  Image

How do you pick and source the flowers and botanicals that you use in your prints? 

It's funny, because a lot of people think I would work with big beautiful flowers like roses, but the big flowers aren't really what prints well. I often print with weeds and small flowers because they have all these beautiful little lines, stems, spikes and petals that leave tiny details in the prints. 

When I started doing this during covid, I would go on walks and pick weeds and grass to make prints with. I press all of the flowers that I use, and I still have some of the same flowers, ferns, and weeds from when I started. 

“It’s fun to see the evolution of my process and how I've improved, but then it also feels like a little bit of an origin story of like, I've been printing with this specific flower for four years.”

Now I also go to a lot of local farmers markets and u-picks where I can choose what I know is going to print well. I look at flowers and botanicals differently. A lot of people pick flowers for their color or smell, but I like them for the silhouette that they make because that's what's going to be my end result. But I don't always know what it's going to turn out like. Even if I'm printing with the same flowers, sometimes they turn out differently—that's sort of the magic of the process itself.  

What do you love most about what you do? 

Oh gosh, I love my job—I love a lot of things about it! The community is a huge part and I wouldn't be here without the support that the Bozeman community specifically has brought me. I've done more than a dozen backyard art markets (I’m hosting one at a brewery this summer) and it has been super fun to connect with people.

I also love the process of making the prints and rinsing them to reveal the final product. It makes me giddy and it still feels like magic to me. I love my art studio. I rented an old garage that has big barn doors, so it's very open in the summer. 

I just love going to work. I wake up in the morning, jump out of bed, and feel very blessed, because not a lot of people can say the same thing. I get paid to work with my dog every day and play with flowers. It kind of blows my mind that I get to do that. It doesn't always feel like a job to me, it very much is still my passion and I feel very lucky.

 Image  Image  Image  Image  Image

What excites you most about collaborating with Stio on the collection?

A lot of people don't actually know that I lived and skied in Jackson for a year post-high school,  so working with a Jackson-based company has been very special, and near and dear to my heart. I love the Stio brand, their clothing and everything they stand for. It aligns with my brand and my style. I’m very much an outdoorswoman.

“Being outside is super important to me for my mental health. I go to the mountains to recharge.”

Plus, Stio just opened a shop in downtown Bozeman, so there’s a local feel to it as well. I love all the pieces that I created with Stio for this collaboration, and I'm excited to show it to the world. 

What's next for you?  

Summertime is really busy. With the sun out more often, it’s a big production time, and I also lead workshops at my art studio. I'm looking forward to doing more of those—it's fun to teach people the process and share my work with others. I'm working on a lot of fun stuff, and I'm definitely going to continue doing collabs like this in the future. It's fun to share knowledge and creativity, and to work with incredible people who run incredible businesses. It's a nice change of pace to make something different. 

We’re so glad we had the chance to connect with Kellie and share her remarkable story and art. Keep following us for more exciting collabs to come this summer. 

See how people are living the mountain life everyday in our gear.
Arrow Left