Sketching through time and place

How an Alaskan Artist captures landscapes and the issues they're facing.

Have Fun. Stay Curious. These are the words that come to mind when interacting with Max Romey’s work and that you can see on his website.  Based in Anchorage, Alaska, Max combines watercolors, animation, and videography to share stories of local Alaskan and global communities and to shed light on complex environmental issues in an inviting and hopeful way. We recently shot a photoshoot in Alaska with Max and other local artists and activists where they donned the latest Public Lands gear and let the landscape inspire them. For Max, this resulted in a few beautiful sketches of the surrounding landscape. After the shoot, we sat down with Max to learn more about his work as an artist and activist.

Public Lands: The impacts of climate change are affecting every landscape around the world. However, the Arctic is warming up three times faster than the rest of the globe. What have you seen and what do you want people to know about what’s happening in Alaska?

Max: We are already seeing major fluctuations in Alaska. Initially, the changes happening here were so close I couldn’t put them in focus and thought I had to go somewhere exotic like to a rainforest to see the impacts of climate change and other issues. However, after traveling the world and deciding to return to Alaska (since there’s no place like home!), I realized those problems that had felt so far away were also happening in my backyard. Luckily, I learned that you can make a big impact in the community you’re part of.

It’s the stuff you do at home, your voice, your connection and your roots that give you the power to make real change.  If you make a difference at home first, that change will spread.

Public Lands: You’re a Protect Our Winters (POW) Ambassador. How did that come about?

Max: I feel like no matter what we would’ve ended up connecting—it’s like groundwater–you eventually get to the same endpoint. It can feel scary and lonely when thinking about giant problems like climate change and it helps to work together with others. POW is an incredible group of people from all around the world who get that and are harnessing the adventurous outdoors state spirit to address the big complex issue of climate change. It makes something that used to seem scary be fun, which is what’s needed to face these issues.

An artist holding a notebook in front of snowy mountains.

Public Lands: You’re on a journey right now revisiting your late grandmother Lu’s sketches from around the world 30-40 years after she visited those places. Can you share more about how you’re using her over 6,000 sketches as a sort of map and time capsule?

Max: I’ve only done a handful of sketches so far, but what I’ve learned already is that art shows you both the extraordinary and ordinary. I use her sketches to stand in the same spot she did 30 years ago and do my own sketch. When comparing our sketches, I see that huge things have changed—like glaciers no longer existing or entire mountains being gone, or I see that things haven’t changed an inch. I hope this project helps people see things with fresh eyes. This process has been nice to reconnect with my grandmother and makes me appreciate how much a simple sketch can do. Sometimes I feel like the world is crumbling and wonder what a sheet of paper is going to do – but then I see how her sketches can transport me back in time.

My grandmother traveled all over the world but many of her sketches are right in her backyard. It’s another great example of how impactful your backyard can be -- you don’t need to go somewhere “Instagram famous” for inducing creativity. It’s about flipping that switch and looking at something with curiosity. The outdoors can feel so monoculture sometimes, but that’s not the reality. People get outdoors in all kinds of ways and it’s just as cool.  

Public Lands: What else do you want people to know?

Max: You don’t have to be the one chasing down your grandparent’s sketches. Sometimes you can be the one making the original sketches. I’ve been given this incredible gift of having this journey from my grandmother, but you don’t need all these ingredients to have an adventure. Whether you’re picking up something new or creating change, you can be that spark & leave something behind for the next generation.


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All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.