For Leadville artist Kevin Mastin, creating ski resort maps is a multilayered process.
Mastin is responsible for many of the trail maps Colorado skiers use when they hit the slopes each weekend. Nearby Ski Cooper, Keystone, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland have all utilized Mastin’s maps at one point or another.
The Herald stopped by Mastin’s Soda Springs studio last month to better understand his artistic process.
Before Mastin starts sketching ski areas, he explores them by foot.
“Aerial photos don’t show you what trees are coniferous verse deciduous,” Mastin explained. “I want to know where the aspen groves and the pines are, so I can paint them appropriately.”
Mastin has spent countless summer days climbing to the top of ski area summits and switchbacking down, snapping shots of terrain features, slope angles and trail curves along the way. Mastin also hikes away from resorts, with the hope of reaching a vantage point where he can photograph the entirety of a ski area from afar.
Hiking comes easy to Mastin, who grew up exploring the creeks, hills and beaver dams just west of Leadville. The artist now paints out of his childhood home, the historic Soda Springs school house, located just around the bend from the Leadville National Fish Hatchery.
When Mastin makes it back to the studio, he starts to draw. The light below Mastin’s glass table illuminates his sketch paper, allowing him to trace the contours of the ski trails and ridgelines outlined in his photos.
After various rounds of sketches, Mastin scans his best drawing. He uploads the sketch to Adobe Illustrator where he adds vector overlays for ski trail names and lift lines.
According to Mastin, his ability to digitally edit and enhance hand-painted maps gives him a competitive advantage in the industry. Mastin’s finished product is not only a painting but an array of digital files that can easily be used for signage and marketing.
When Mastin attended the Colorado Institute of Art in the 1980s, computers were not part of the curriculum. By the time Mastin hit the job market a few years later, things had changed.
Mastin learned computer fluency, as well as how to use flagship editions of programs like Adobe Photoshop and FreeHand, alongside his bosses and coworkers.
“We were all in it together, we were all learning it at the same time,” Mastin said of the years he spent digitizing typefaces for Macintosh and logos for companies like AT&T.
Painting is the last step of Mastin’s artistic process. He starts by outlining trails and ridges with acrylic brush strokes, circling back for the snow base and trees.
When Mastin paints large resorts like Breckenridge and New York’s Lake Placid, he tends to group trees into pods and paint base facilities as brown flecks. But for smaller resorts, like Ski Cooper and Vermont’s Mount Southington, Mastin is able to paint singular trees and the unique features of different lodges.
“I have to draw and paint in a way that people will perceive well,” Mastin said of bringing ski area maps to life in a way that is intuitive to the skier. “To be able to create a new interpretation is so satisfying.”
Mastin has put his creativity to work in an assortment of summer settings as well; map illustrations of Jenny Lake Lodge in Teton National Park and historic downtown Silver Plume and Silverton are just a few of his favorite commissions.
Mastin still finds time to occasionally pick up watercolor brushes and palette, his favorite medium when painting for pleasure. “I’m really lucky that I was able to turn my avocation into my vocation,” he said.