In an old barn in Yorkshire, an English climber is documenting Colorado’s famed highest peaks in stunning detail.
Inside a 300-year-old barn on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in northern England, illustrator Jeremy Ashcroft can be found most days and evenings working into the night, making illustrations of mountains.
Bent over his Wacom digital tablet and using an electronic pen, he carefully draws the key features of a mountain in a perspective grid. These elements include summits, cols, ridge lines, lakes, and trails.
“This gives me a frame to work to,” he said. “I then from all sorts of reference start to fill out the details within this framework. Once this is done, I then move onto rendering the finished illustration adding extra detail as I progress.”
But the illustrations he’s making aren’t just of something he can see, or a peak in the nearby Lake District he might’ve photographed earlier that day. A lot of them—in fact, his biggest collection of images—are illustrations of Colorado’s fourteen-thousand-foot peaks.
The works he has produced—of Mount Elbert, Mount Yale, Mount Sneffels, the Maroon Bells, and La Plata and Capitol Peaks—are stunningly accurate, and show every minute lump of land and tiny watercourse. If you’ve ever climbed a fourteener, you’ll instantly recognize places you’ve been. To date he’s done every Colorado fourteener, and in some instances from multiple views. The beautiful illustrations that are part topo map, part sketch.
The idea sprang from his early days as a climber.
Ashcroft graduated from Blackpool Art School in the summer of 1981 as a technical illustrator. At that time technical illustrators were a sort-after commodity as few art schools trained them. They were hired to produce manuals and technical documentation for aircraft, the automotive industry, the military, and other heavy industry, and they could find jobs all over the world. After graduation, Ashcroft was offered a job in Germany, while two of his climbing buddies were offered jobs with Boeing in Seattle. Before he went off to Germany, however, Ashcroft did the traditional post-college climbing tour of the United States. They arrived in Denver and bought a car.
“The plan was to visit a few climbing spots starting out from Denver,” Ashcroft recalled. “In the end we spent most of the summer in Colorado and then headed north so they could take up their jobs. I spent a bit of time with them for more climbing, and some fly-fishing, after which I headed back to the UK then on to Germany. I was really taken with Colorado and particularly enjoyed the grandeur and ease of access to the fourteeners.”
Unlike the Alps, where most Brits get their big-mountain kicks, Colorado’s tallest peaks is don’t require glacier travel impedimenta—ropes, ice tools, and crampons.
“It’s nice to summit without all extra stress that glaciers put on a trip,” Ashcroft said “Since that trip I always had it in mind to apply my style of illustration to Colorado’s fourteeners. It’s just taken a few years to get around to it!”
For decades, Ashcroft did illustrations for magazines, books, and newspapers.
“There is no quick fix or filter. Every line, dash, and dot are made by me.” —Jeremy Ashcroft
“Originally, I produced the outlines on tracing paper, and then rendered the finished illustration in pen and ink on mylar drafting film,” Ashcroft said of his art. “I pursue the same methods now but do it all digitally on a Mac using various software to layout and render, and a Wacom tablet instead of a pen/pencil. One thing that hasn’t changed however is the fact that I make each and every mark. There is no quick fix or filter. Every line, dash, and dot are made by me.”
His home in a converted barn also includes a studio and all the digital equipment he uses.
He’s published four books in the United Kingdom and provided illustrative, and journalistic content for outdoor magazines for more than thirty years. In recent years, however, he’s dropped most of the the magazine work in (“mostly because I spent my days child-minding idiot staffers”) and now concentrates on his illustrations.
After starting with the fourteeners, he began getting requests for illustrations of other mountain areas, including Yosemite and the four-thousand-meter peaks of the Alps.
Ultimately, he plans to publish books with his illustrations, but for now he’s doing prints. “Prints are a very important part of the process both for funding and to work out what people like,” he said. “I took up technical illustration as I knew I’d be able to earn without too much effort and it wouldn’t get in the way of my climbing. In the end it worked out well and once I transited from technical illustration to outdoor editorial illustration, I not only got to spend time in the mountains for leisure, I also got to do it for work as well.”
To see Ashscroft’s illustrations, click here.
Photos courtesy Jeremy Ashcroft