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Creative Connections: Design as a selfless puzzle, quarantine as an opportunity for growth


Sarah Valentino
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — You might not know Kurtis Jackson’s name, but you definitely know his work. You might even have it in your house. Jackson is the graphic designer behind the Powder Tools Board Shop logo — the iconic snowflake and gear that plasters hats, snowboards, light poles and street signs across Northwest Colorado.

Even before society turned online for entertainment and shopping, our lives were filled with visual imagery created by graphic designers. Jackson takes pride in seeing his work infused in local culture and beyond. He even recalled an encounter when he was living in San Diego, meeting a neighbor after seeing a Powder Tools sticker on his snowboard.

Jackson first redesigned the snowboard shop’s logo nearly 12 years ago; that project inspired him to pursue a design-focused degree in advertising. He attended the Art Institute of California in San Diego before returning home to Steamboat Springs. Beyond logo design, he said the bulk of his ongoing work includes video editing, animation, photography, social media, print designs and consulting. Jackson’s client list includes Acura, The Scooter Farm, DC Shoes, Harwigs and Smartwool.

To Jackson, design is a unique profession that is inherently selfless. When working with clients, he sees himself as the visual interpreter of their ideas, working to figure out the puzzle of what is in someone else’s imagination.

“Between art and design, it’s a fine line between what I want and what the customer wants,” Jackson said.

Accordingly, designers rarely have their own name attached to their work; Jackson recalls maybe three times in the past decade that he has been publicly credited. Further, design is a process of testing out ideas and only keeping what works.

“The majority of your work will never see the light of day,” he explained. “You can’t take it personally … otherwise, your heart will be broken every week or every day.”

To balance the work that he does for others, Jackson also enjoys personal projects, where he said he can be selfish. His signature style is contemporary, minimalist and textured.

A photo of surfing in Oahu taken by Kurtis Jackson.
surf_float_oahu_1

“That is what makes art so liberating, because it was completely your own freedom that got you there,” Jackson said.

The youngest of three kids, Jackson said both of his older siblings became creative in their own ways. His brother Chris is a talented engineer and illustrator. His sister Mary excels in theater and writing.

He credits his mother Susan Gill Jackson for being the creative spark in his family.

“(She was) the reason we were all drawing, doodling, sewing and just crafting as kids,” Jackson said.

Gill Jackson has enjoyed a long career as an artist, working with watercolors, oil paints, pastels and stained glass. In 2016, she helped open Pine Moon Fine Art Gallery, a Best of the Boat local favorite in 2019.

In remembering her advice on success to her children, Gill Jackson said, “Money’s not everything … but if you can make a living doing something you love, then that is very successful. They are the ones who had to zero in on their own passions.”

Steamboat Springs graphic designer Kurtis Jackson created this iconic logo for Powder Tools.
PowderTools_logoCOLOR_whtFILL

On her son’s path in design, she said, “He’s always been very creative, always drawing. … I always made sure the supplies were there. He’s a natural at what he does.”

Jackson said seasonal business has been slower due to the COVID-19 global shutdown. The nature of his work means he can continue to work in quarantine, but it takes more initiative. Rather than waiting for projects to come in, he has reached out to past clients to see if they need anything.

“If you have people you have already worked with, they’re struggling too, and if you help them, it helps you,” Jackson said.

He said online presence can make a big difference right now.

“If you happen to have a digital platform, that’s a huge resource (during this time),” he added.

Over the last several weeks, Jackson has focused his time on personal projects, working in his favorite medium — videos. He also has opened old textbooks and rediscovered computer programs he hasn’t used in years.

“There’s plenty to do — sometimes you gotta create it yourself. Plant a seed and water it and wait for it to grow.”

Kurtis Jackson, Graphic designer

“It’s forced me to sit down and actually work on things that I have not been as good at,” Jackson said.

Jackson is thankful to have a positive outlook and plenty of ideas to play with.

“Practice is OK to be doing right now,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be making you money if it’s making you better.”

If nothing else, he sees his current personal creations as skill-building for future business. He encourages others to use these times of uncertainty to focus on things they can improve and try something new.

Another logo Kurtis Jackson designed for Rooster Scooter.
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“There’s plenty to do — sometimes you gotta create it yourself. Plant a seed and water it and wait for it to grow,” he said.

Explore Jackson’s portfolio and connect with him at kjackson.ninja. During the winters, find him returning to his other passion, talking snow and turning screws at Powder Tools.

Routt County is home to a diverse collection of creative people and practices. Inspired individuals thrive at our crossroads of the wild outdoors, rustic grit, and fun lifestyles. To share your creative story, contact Sarah Valentino at sarah.e.valentino@gmail.com.


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