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Leading Lady

A BKB Interview with Illustrator + Pattern Designer, Claire Van Winkle

Beyonce once asked, “Who run the world?”—as if she didn’t already know the answer: Girls. Badasses. Womxn. Ladies. Bosses. Queens. Powerhouses. Whatever word you choose, here’s the bottom line: It’s March, which means it’s time to celebrate *Womxn’s Month at BKB and beyond. We’re stoked to amplify womxn’s voices together, focus on their stories, their art, and on the pivotal role they play in leading our communities.

With that in mind, we are proud to feature Claire Van Winkle, a skilled artist, climber, and adventurer based out of Chicago. Claire’s playful designs are now being featured on upcoming BKB apparel, including a design called “Women on Lead” that will be featured on tanks, tees, and chalk bags (get yours here). To learn more about Claire, her artistic inspiration, and what it means to be a woman who leads. Check out our conversation below. You can also head to her IG and website to see more of her work.

*For those who are curious, womxn is used to encompass all womxn, including trans womxn.  

Claire, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! First up: How did you get started with your art?

Of course! I’m stoked to be partnering with Brooklyn Boulders. I’ve been doodling and playing with colors since I was very little, but it wasn’t until college that I really started getting into art. I took a few classes and then bought Photoshop. After that, I totally fell into a rabbit hole of colors and patterns and started creating surface patterns for international competitions. At around the same time, I started traveling more, both for work as a backcountry guide and with friends for fun. All of these experiences wove together and I started creating artwork around the outdoors and my experiences in them.

Alongside the outdoors, how does climbing specifically inspire your illustrations and prepare you to get creative with your work?

Climbing has been an amazing outlet and release for me. When I first started bouldering in Chicago about three years ago, my only intention was to crosstrain for trail running. However, I was struck by the community of people who genuinely wanted to solve problems and sweat together. Everyone was so laid back and friendly, intelligent and driven. They were all athletes, but there was a sense of community and purpose which I was instantly attracted to and wanted more of. I became hooked and started bouldering several times a week.

From an artistic perspective, I love the twists and turns of the walls in the gym, the colorful holds, and the constantly changing routes. One time I heard a route setter say to another setter: “this route is like a sandcastle. It is only meant to be here and to be beautiful for a short period of time,” and the visual stuck with me. I tend to draw the things that I am passionate about or find uniquely beautiful and climbing is definitely one of them–because we are all a bunch of deeply philosophical athletic oddballs.

It is meant to highlight the diversity of female climbers out there and is designed to celebrate both the Instagram-studly-mountain-crushing women as well as the diversity of women who turn up for the climbing community.

So it’s two-fold, the environment influences your design, and at the same time you’re noticing and recognizing the patterns of design in your environment. What do you think is the best part about being a designer and illustrator?

The best part is the community of friends, creators, and athletes who inspire and support my work. Everything’s better when it is shared, and I’m lucky to have some pretty awesome friends to go adventure with, and a network of rad humans who challenge me to try new things and tell me when I need to go back to the drawing board.

Speaking of the drawing board, your artwork is now being featured on BKB retail, which features a design called “Women on Lead.” And we. are. here for it. In honor of Womxn’s Month, can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this particular women-led design?

HECK YEAH, I’m PUMPED! My Women on Lead design is inspired by all of the amazing and incredible women out there. It is meant to highlight the diversity of female climbers out there and is designed to celebrate both the Instagram-studly-mountain-crushing women as well as the diversity of women who turn up for the climbing community. The ones who show up after work to be weird, to be silly, to sweat. To solve challenges and move their bodies. And to be a part of something.

On another level, the design was also inspired by a film called Break on Through that I saw at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. The film follows Margo Hayes on her journey to become the first woman ever to climb a 5.15. HOLY POTATOES. SHE IS A BADASS. She is definitely a woman on lead.

On the topic of pushing things forward, what’s next?

This is a tough question! I think that my biggest goal for this upcoming year is to continue to tell my story and create artwork that celebrates my journey. This past year has been all about forming partnerships with organizations and companies and I’m looking forward to a few of those juicy-just-for-me projects.

Do you have any advice for artists in the community working on honing their craft?

Just like with climbing, persistence and patience are key. Keep showing up and putting in the effort. Develop a network of friends who will support you and push you just a little bit outside of your comfort zone. You don’t have to be unique, you just have to be you.

And lastly… a BKB favorite: What’s one weird fact about you?

Oooh getting weird. Love it. I still build snowmen at the ripe old age of 27. I eat so many sweet potatoes each week that the palms of my hands are more or less permanently dyed orange. I’m recently hooked on saunaing. And I typically cry (tears of joy) when I see mountains.

If you’d like to find out more about Claire and her work, visit her website ( or connect with her on Instagram (@clairekalinadesigns).

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