What's your spirit animal?

Heather Rapp’s colorful creations paint the town
“Once I moved here, I realized instead of graphic design, I could make this my career.” —Big Sky painter Heather Rapp

For Big Sky artist Heather Rapp, her paintings began as gifts. Before she started Heather Rapp Art & Design, she created works of art to give to her family and friends.

     Rapp was recently highlighted in the Arts Council of Big Sky’s annual report, a mailing in which the nonprofit showcases its programs and spotlights a musician, an artist, a volunteer and a student. She quickly gave a copy of the annual report to her mother, Marie Rapp, who was excited to see her daughter showcased. 

     In fact, it was Marie, who was volunteering for the arts council at the time, who motivated her daughter to submit her work for the nonprofit’s public art utility box program. Heather’s art was chosen, and now her vivid rendition of Lone Mountain brightens up the busy intersection of Lone Mountain Trail and Ousel Falls Road.

     Rapp was raised in Amsterdam, Mont., attending high school in nearby Manhattan. Things got confusing when she headed off to college at the Art Institute of Portland, Ore. Whenever she told new friends about growing up in Amsterdam and Manhattan, they didn’t think she was talking about Montana.  

     “They’d be like, ‘Wait, what?’ And I’d have to explain, ‘No, Montana.’ No one has any idea Amsterdam and Manhattan exist in Montana,” she said with a grin.

     “I’ve been into art ever since I was a little kid,” continued Rapp. “Always coloring, not necessarily painting, but always doing something like that. I got a lot of encouragement from the people around me— teachers, my family. My parents really wanted to support me and that’s been amazing the whole way.”

    Originally, her goal was to be an animator for a company like Disney, because she loved drawing little characters. In college, she figured graphic design was a better avenue for a career. But when she graduated with a degree in graphic design, she found it tough to get a job in the field. 

     Rapp took one painting class in college, “which I actually hated,” she laughed. “I was super excited to take it, but the teacher spent the whole term making us paint still-lifes. I understand the foundation of shadow and color, but I was hoping we’d move on. It was so boring.” That would be her only formal painting class.

     “I think the reason that it bothered me was that I had so much in my head creatively. I knew what I wanted to paint,” she said. “And then coming from Montana, the mountains have always inspired me. Even when I was in Portland, I was always designing mountains, nature in general. That’s absolutely what inspires me, and living here it is so easy to find it.” 

     That one class, among other things, taught Rapp what she didn’t want to do. In fact, it propelled her to start creating her own small pieces on an easel in the kitchen of her basement apartment. 

     She kept on painting in whatever space she could find in whichever apartment she was living in. “It was always mountains, nature stuff,” she recalled. “Most of them ended up being gifts for family. That was another thing that drove me to paint more. I found out that this was a really special gift that I could give someone.”

     Those presents kept Rapp painting, inadvertently developing her signature, eye-catching colorful style over time. Rapp moved to Big Sky in 2012, and that was when she realized she could make her art into a business.

     “Before that it was a hobby, something I was doing OK at, but not something I thought of seriously as a business,” she said. “Once I moved here, I realized instead of graphic design, I could make this my career.”

     Rapp does a fair amount of freelance design, and you can find her serving beer at Beehive Basin Brewery (she painted the door and tip jar there). But painting is her main focus. She was recently painting a lot, getting ready for her art show, which is currently on display at Katabatic Brewing Company in Livingston. The theme for that show is spirit animals—ones you can find around Montana—as well as her “mountain magic” themed works.

     In addition to the utility box wrap, you can also find Rapp’s art brightening up a number of Big Sky locales. Her paintings were showcased at Shedhorn Grill at Big Sky Resort this past season, where she sold a number of small works. Her renditions of hops are on display at Beehive Basin Brewery, and there’s a mural of hers in the window of Caliber Coffee—and another mural at the former Yoga Stone space, now the Lone Peak Caregivers shop. 

     Check out more of Rapp’s work at www.heatherrapp.com or on her Facebook page. 

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Lone Peak Lookout

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