Lily McAlpin Finds Her Flow on the Trail and in Her Artwork

Lily McAlpin

Illustrator

Lily is an artist based in Boulder, Colorado who draws inspiration from long runs.

She says, “Putting one foot in front of the other gives me the space to disconnect from the world and reconnect with myself. Flowing through the trail system helps remind me that from afar, nature is simply beautiful, but up close the details are infinite and each rock, root, tree, or creek adds to the greater landscape we see.”

We were curious to learn more about Lily’s processes, and the ways that the rhythm and repetition of running through landscapes appear in her creative practices. From disposable film photography to prints, and the meditative state that begins on trail, Lily’s modes all inform one another.

Learn more in her own words.


Meet Lily:

You mainly depict mountainscapes in your artwork. What is it about these large scale and dramatic landscapes in particular that inspires you?

Spending time in the mountains brings pure joy into my life, as I believe it does for so many other individuals. Being able to draw large landscapes and mountain peaks allows me to escape to that raw connection even when I am not encompassed within it.

“Valley”

When I draw mountainscapes, I like to think of the details that build upon each other to create a larger view. I remind myself and anyone viewing my art that from afar mountains are simply beautiful, but up close the details are infinite and one should always appreciate the small details as much as the overall view. From afar, my designs as a whole are simple and grand, but up close the details are vast.

This concept of appreciating the small details has always inspired me in my life, in my running, and in my daily practice of staying curious, observational, and creative. I hope my art inspires people to slow down and admire the infinite features surrounding them, no matter how fast they may be moving through life. 

Do you predominately work with digital mediums in drawing? What do you like about this method of mark-making and creative expression?

It’s just me and my iPad these days! Art, specifically printmaking, has always been at the forefront of my education, and I am grateful to have had that privilege and access to some really well equipped studios in my past. But when I started to think about building out my own art practice, I quickly realized how much space and cost goes into the materials needed for a studio of my own.

My digital art grew out of the necessity to create, but also I had to think logistically while living and working in a 400 square foot apartment with my husband during a pandemic. It felt so ideal to work from an iPad and have all the digital tools on one device. I use an app called Procreate and the amount of “paint brushes”, colors, technical features, paper textures, typography, and so much more that are built into this app provide me with endless possibilities. 

I launched my first collection in April 2021 and it was highly influenced and inspired from my experience and appreciation of intaglio printmaking. This was my favorite medium while studying in college. My work from this medium was detailed depictions of wild flowers and mountainscapes engraved in a copper plate and printed in black ink on off-white paper. Now, with the ease of digital art, I am able to emulate the detailed line work and then send my digital files to a printmaker who screen prints my design for me. This process both works for my lifestyle, space, and budget. 

I would love to have a studio one day, but right now the ease of being able to bring my art practice with me wherever I go is so convenient for my lifestyle. Digital art makes it effortless to create wherever I choose to be. I don’t have to think about packing up materials, or limiting my color palette when I travel, I have everything right on my iPad (no clean up needed)! 

We’re interested in the movement and repetition of feet running and hands drawing, in the way you work in fine lines and stippling. How does running relate to your creative practice? 

I like to think of my running as the uphill grind and my art as the downhill flow of a mountain. As I run up a mountain, I’m observing and absorbing ideas and inspiration. I observe and appreciate the small details of nature and how they are interconnected to build a greater view. When you run in the mountains, you can’t not look at those details and appreciate how each stride has propelled you to the top of the peak, just like how each branch adds to the forest, or how every rock brings you a little closer to the summit. 

Now I am at the top of a mountain, my cup is full, inspiration has peaked and it’s time to create. This is what I like to refer to as the downhill flow. Running down a mountain takes a lot of focus and concentration, but once you find your flow and let gravity do its job, you’re flying down with a big smile spread across your face. That’s how I feel when I work on my art. I’m focused but my hands know what to do. And once I start creating and get into that flow state, there’s no stopping me. 

The flow state I enter into while on a run has only ever been replicated while creating art. The two, though different activities, are fully connected to each other. My observations while running are stored in me while I traverse a landscape. And then when I sit down and draw it, it’s like the run continues and doesn’t end until I’ve finished a piece of work. My mind is at peace, and either my legs are repeating a motion or my hands are repeating the fine details I am drawing. The two intertwine and work together to create the end product, my art.  

How does photography play into your creative and outdoor life?

I discovered my Mom’s Canon AE-1 film camera when I was 18 and have had a true love for the grainy texture and patience of film photography my entire adult life. In a world of instant gratification, there’s something truly lovely about the slow process of film. 

This past year I explored a new photo project, and called it Indisposable Running. For years I’ve tried to capture the views and candid moments while on long runs. But running with a bulky/heavy camera is not ideal, and there’s something truly lovely about not looking at your phone while on a run. Then came to mind the idea of disposable cameras, they are light, easy to use, and deliver that beautiful grainy tonality I love so much on film. I started bringing a disposable camera with me on runs, they fit perfectly in the pockets of my running vest and weigh close to nothing.

When I would bring it out to take photos of friends, I discovered the most beautiful reaction—everyone was completely and unapologetically their pure self. I haven’t figured out why this happens but disposable seems to make everyone feel very comfortable in front of the camera. Instead of getting a posed perfect selfie at the summit, I focus on capturing the faces of pure exhaustion, endorphins, shoving summit snacks in your mouth, bad chafe burns, cool down creek swims, and friends being complete goofballs with one another.

This is the best part of trail running, people letting their guards down, being themselves, being weird, and having a blast in the mountains. And I capture it all on my disposable cameras.

A lot of the images from this project are then used for inspiration and reference photos when I sit down to draw. It’s a fun way to be creative on the go and inspires my work through the images and memories captured.


Learn more about Lily at LilyMcAlpin.com and see more of her work on Instagram @lily_mcalpin.

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