This SUNY New Paltz Graduate Scales Mountains — Then Paints Them

Hudson Valley native Nikki Frumkin is painting her way through the Pacific Northwest’s rugged terrain.

New Rochelle native Nikki Frumkin is captivated by mountains. She’s an active hiker, climber, and mountaineer, going to heights that many wouldn’t dare. But for her, the climb is just as important as capturing and sharing the beauty of her surroundings. She’s an artist at heart, who even through multi-day expeditions through the Pacific Northwest’s rugged terrain, sets aside time to paint the world around her.

Frumkin moved to Westchester from Switzerland, first realizing an appreciation for plein air painting while attending high school in New Rochelle. Known for its superior arts program, the school occasionally permitted students to venture out to the lakes behind the campus and spend the day painting outside.

She later went on to attend SUNY New Paltz, continuing outdoor painting in her spare time. “The Hudson Valley has such a long tradition of plein air painting that it’s so inspiring to be a part of something that so many artists have done before you,” says Frumkin. The landscape also encouraged her to start hiking, though she wasn’t a fully experienced mountaineer until she moved to Seattle years later.

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Motivated by the city’s nearby mountains and volcanoes, Frumkin started challenging herself on hikes, gradually mastering tougher and higher expeditions.  And though pleased with the accomplishments of her latest hobby, Frumkin realized how difficult mountaineering was — both emotionally and physically. So she decided to combine her two passions, taking her art with her to treacherous heights. “Art for me was a way of representing both the really hard emotional things I was feeling and how much I loved it. It didn’t really make sense to me, so painting was a way of working out those feelings.”

Today, Frumkin hikes with a group of friends, stopping to paint during available downtime. She often extends her trips to account for ample time to paint, and allows the landscape to determine the nature of her paintings. “The way you draw outside is really dictated by the adventure,” she says. “I’ll look around wherever we happen to stop and see what the energy of the place is like and what captures my imagination.”

Her work has involved projects of various sizes, but Frumkin’s latest project is her largest yet: A 40×60 inch paper — approximately the size of a twin bed — which she plans to strap on her back and carry through snow camping. Stay tuned to her Instagram to see how it turns out.

And through some trial-and-error, Frumkin has discovered the appropriate methods and materials that work in harmony with the limitations of her surrounding climate. Watercolors, for example are her paint of choice due to their quick dry time and portability. And though painting in cold weather poses challenges, such as quickly freezing water, Frumkin comes up with many innovative solutions (low-temperature-freezing vodka, anyone?).

She admits that wearing gloves and hefty gear while painting is perhaps a little cumbersome, but regardless, she embraces the imperfections created by an unsteady hand. “I think that having a little less control over the pen or the paintbrush is really nice because unexpected things happen that create a little extra magic, and chaos, and beauty in your painting that you might not have otherwise have had.”

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But perhaps the most unexpected thing to happen to Frumkin along this journey has been the incredible response to her work on Instagram. She’s racked up nearly 45 thousand followers from all around the world — a community of people who support and appreciate her art. And though grateful for the exposure, Frumkin aspires that the page brings people together and offers a sort of healing. “Sometimes the focus is on Insta-fame when I would rather it be on connecting with people,” she says. “Plein air painting is such a beautiful way to connect with people, and for those people who are experiencing hardships to connect with the land.”

Find Frumkin’s work on her website, where many of her pieces are available for purchase, or her Instagram, @DrawntoHighPlaces

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