Social media often gets a bad rap, discounted as a frivolous pastime or even a malicious place where people portray and compare manicured truths. But it’s also a place where people can express creativity, build community and grow engagement for their brand or business.
Or simply have fun.
Colorado’s top Instagrammers have interests that range wide, but they all congregate online, where they share their work, solicit feedback and find audiences for their shared obsessions.
Here are twenty of our favorite Instagram accounts to follow, bringing you the best content from every corner of the Colorado experience.
Doug McConville accidentally started an international community that celebrates the splendor of bare butts.
@CheeksonPeaks got its start when McConville realized that he was jealous that the topless mountain photo trend seemed to be reserved for women. So one day when he reached a summit, he stripped down and struck a pose. “Turns out, it's an amazing feeling,” he says.
It didn’t take long for the Internet to echo this sentiment, as people quickly rallied around McConville’s hashtag, #cheeksonpeaks. Soon he was receiving submissions from around the world. But the fun of @cheeksonpeaks isn’t relegated to the Internet: Leading by example, McConville and his girlfriend often turn strangers into cheeks-on-peakers when they’re out for a hike.
McConville wants folks to know that nudity doesn’t have to be sexual, and that @cheeksonpeaks is all about self-love. “The account is proud to be an inclusive community,” he says. “All butts are welcome, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation/identification, body, ability, political affiliation, etc. We just ask that you send us an ass with a view!”
Follow @cheeksonpeaks for hiking inspiration and butts. Lots and lots of butts.
Sofie Birkin of @sofiebirkinillustration has indelible style, both in her art and her personal life. Asked to describe herself, Birkin points out that she has an enormous collection of berets, her house is haunted (but not as haunted as the last one), she used to be a designer for Dr. Martens, and she has a passion for thrift shopping.
And Denver has a passion for her work: among other things, Birkin has illustrated a cover of Suspect Press, painted two murals inside the Mission Ballroom, and projected her art on the side of the Daniels & Fisher Tower as part of the new Friday Night Lights installation. Her art has also appeared in Playboy and Cosmopolitan, and she’s gearing up for some big projects in the future, such as her first large-scale installation inside the eagerly anticipated Meow Wolf Denver.
Birkin describes herself as “a queer illustrator who plays with bright color and bold shapes to create a diverse range of empowered, playful characters.” Her work “centers queer visibility and the power of daydreaming, and is heavily influenced by fashion photography, contemporary feminist art, 19th century aestheticism and marginalia.”
Follow @sofiebirkinillustration for playful images where everything is personified and bodies are represented with radical compassion.
Wanderlust is often a reason that people don’t commit to pets. That was the excuse used by adventurer JJ Yosh, the man behind the now-viral @backpackingkitty account that features his cat, Simon.
A few years ago, Yosh’s Boulder landlord rescued a litter of kittens. Without much thought, Yosh ended up with a cat that he thought hated him. But after a few weeks of hiding, Simon decided he was ready to be Yosh’s best friend.
Now their life is the cat’s meow. “Simon is the love of my life. We do almost everything together!” Yosh says. “I even took him to my sister’s wedding in California earlier this year. He was dressed in a tiny cat tuxedo.”
Even though he cleans up nice, Simon isn’t a pussy. He loves kayaking, swimming, rock climbing and hiking. Yosh discovered this because Simon “would try coming out the door with me when I would go for hikes and adventures,” he says. Eventually, Yosh “got a harness and leash and tried them on to see if [Simon] would mind — and he didn’t!” Delighted by this discovery, Yosh (with Simon's help) has since made it his mission to inspire people to take their cats outdoors.
Follow @backpackingkitty if you want to see a cat in thousands of surprising scenarios, including in a pool, on a surfboard and dressed up as a slice of pizza.
@Streetartnetwork_denver began as Cori Anderson’s hobby account where she admired Denver’s murals, but she soon found that her page could wield power for artists in the local street scene. “As soon as I started the account, requests and questions came from all directions — where to find a mural, how to commission a mural, who painted a mural, what does this graffiti say,” and so forth, she recalls.
Realizing this “huge void of knowledge,” Anderson was inspired to start her business, The Street Art Network, “which educates lovers of street art, connects artists with opportunities and resources, and documents the ever-changing scene.”
Anderson is proud of Denver’s street art, which in large part is “steeped in Central and South American iconography” that pays homage to the Chicano-rights movement, she notes: “We have some amazing cultural traditions in Denver that have survived almost exclusively through the art of murals." Despite the community-building power of Instagram, she admits that she wants “to see more street art with purpose and technique, and less street art that looks good as an Instagram backdrop.”
Follow @Streetartnetwork_denver for the latest on Denver's changing walls and the artists who make them happen.
There’s no shortage of music- and musician-obsessed photographers in Colorado, but Juli Williams of @juliannaphotography is capturing artists with a signature style.
Using a variety of filters, glass and random objects that she’s collected over the years, Williams loves to distort and embellish reality. With her collection of tools, she manipulates light to make marks on her images, resulting in colorful prisms, kaleidoscopes, shadows and bokeh. The result is psychedelic photography that is both playful and enchanting.
Recently, Williams has also started to explore arts beyond photography. She wants to offer musicians a wider variety of assets, she says, “things such as concert posters, album covers or even promotional videos. I’m currently editing a music video I shot for the artist Neoma, and it has really ignited a new love of video editing for me. It’s been a blast exploring new avenues for my creativity!”
Lots of people have a “WTF” moment when they stop and wonder why their life feels so much like they’re just going through the motions and so little like intentional living. Meghan Fisher, the woman behind @chroniclesofasassquatch, was once one of these people.
At first, Fisher took the traditional self-improvement route of stepping back from her tired routine and seeking guidance. But her breakthrough moment, she says, was when a mentor told her, “Stop trying to get rid of the monster inside of you. Why don’t you change your relationship to the monster? Why don’t you dance with the monster? Why don’t you create with the monster?” And so Sassquatch was born.
This sassy monster has stirred up quite a following on Instagram, and Fisher recognizes that the character serves as an inspiration for many. “When we share our troubles, our joy, our shame, we realize we are all in this together,” she says. Although “self-help” narratives can be hard to swallow, seeking inspiration from a Sassquatch is a great way to learn how to dance with your demons.
Follow @chroniclesofasassquatch for inspirational quotes and endless smiles induced by a woman who loves nothing more than hamming it up in a skin-tight Sasquatch suit.
Kevin J. Beaty is a photojournalist for Denverite, covering “a really wide range of subjects,” all of which he sees “as one body of work about the city.” His photos are not only technically impressive, but they offer an empathetic look at Denver, as well as the citizens and issues that define it.
On his account, @kevinjbeaty, he says he tries “to find something new in every shoot.” To that end, he explains, “you can usually find me on the ground or on top of something as I try to find fresh angles.” This is evident in his work, which ranges from cheeky photos of wildlife, such as Denver’s newly edible geese, to sobering images from the post-shooting vigil at STEM School Highlands Ranch.
For his feed, Beaty posts images in trios, which works well with Instagram’s three-across “grid view.” He admits, though, that this creative choice is also “an exercise for me to think about pushing myself, even on visually boring or challenging assignments.”
Follow @kevinjbeaty for the latest in Denver’s visual news, plus the occasional illustration, time-lapse and even some .gifs.
Colorado is known for many things, but fashion isn’t one of them. This state’s residents, who take pride in wearing socks with sandals, are at best quirky and at worst homely. But Coloradans do have a strange affinity for loud, retro gear — likely stemming from the ski-fashion days of the ’70s and ’80s — and local brand B Fresh Gear is capitalizing on that gaudy and glorious Colorado taste.
B Fresh, run by a staff of mostly “unicorns” (that is to say, rare and elusive natives of this region), makes retro streetwear with a focus on visor shades, fanny packs, printed swimwear and puffy vests. But it’s not just these fun and flashy designs that make B Fresh Gear’s feed so great. It’s the chuckle-worthy photo shoots and larger-than-life personalities that make the brand a true spectacle.
As founder Brian McBroom likes to put it, “You could say we know how to have some flippin’ fun!”
Follow @bfreshgear for patterns and power stances.
In true hipster fashion, Christian and Ashley of @hungryhungry_hipsters met while working in a photography lab and “bonded over weird memes and gas station hot dogs.” After finding each other, they decided to uproot their lives and move to Denver, where they found that dinners out were when they felt the most connected to each other, as well as to their new city.
Without friends or family in Colorado, they started @hungryhungry_hipsters as a way to document their dining adventures and keep in touch with loved ones back home. “We post on our page to encourage others to get lost in their meals and their partners and to hopefully feel inspired to find connection to something meaningful, whatever that may be,” they say.
Denver is a bustling place to be a foodstagrammer, but Christian and Ashley say that their niche is the two-for-one approach: “Since we both have diverse and often vastly different flavor profiles, anyone who follows us gets double the recommendations! One of us prefers vegetarian-focused cuisine while the other is a total carnivore. One likes smokey, full-bodied cocktails and the other is a wine drinker. We hope there is a little something for everyone on our page.” And indeed there is, with beautiful photos and up-to-date specials that can help any Denver foodie decide where to eat next.
Follow @hungryhungry_hipsters for glorious food porn, date-night inspiration, and maybe, just maybe, an elusive gas station hot dog.
Art collecting is often viewed as cost-prohibitive, a pastime reserved for the wealthy, or those who make a serious, concerted effort to budget.
Remington Robinson paints with this dilemma in mind. Though he started his tiny, hyper-realistic collection because he wanted to be able to complete a scene in one sitting, he also loves how his works make owning original art more affordable and accessible.
When he finishes a scene, the tiny painting is sold in its container with the original palette used for the artistic process. In this way, Robinson says, his work is “almost a crossover between painting and sculpture, with the palette being a sort of behind-the-scenes element to the piece.”
Follow @remingtonrobinson to see the best use for empty mint boxes as well as fine art fit for studio apartments, tiny homes and even campers.
When Stephen Martin left the Army, he moved to Colorado to pursue a degree in exercise science. At the time, his sister was working as a veterinarian at a local clinic, and she encouraged her brother to adopt a tiny, eight-week-old pup.
Now that pup is the star of the online empire @explorewithollie. Martin insists that Ollie “was the catalyst to helping me find the great outdoors” in Colorado, and says that he “continues to be a consistent reason to stay motivated and accomplish new challenges.” Challenges that include 38 fourteeners, countless nights of camping, and at least a few romps with really big sticks.
In addition to easing Martin’s transition into civilian life, Ollie has helped Martin find his passion. Even as he studied exercise science, Martin’s calling as an artist began to shine through as he worked to grow @explorewithollie. Today he’s a full-time photographer and videographer, “completely leaning into the creative spark” that Ollie ignited, he says.
Follow @explorewithollie for adorable dog pictures and some serious inspiration to start exploring with a four-legged friend.
Sierra Voss is a multi-talented artist who exercises her creative muscles in photography, wardrobe styling and set design. She’s built a career as an art director, passionate about imagining worlds and bringing those worlds to life. Her account, @vossling, showcases her work, ranging from product promotions to experimental arthouse shoots.
Born and raised in Denver, Voss is deeply embedded in the local arts community, and she collaborates with many Colorado creatives. Though her clients range from beauty product companies to rock stars, her work is always infused with a singular creative vision, never straying from bold designs, bright colors and perfection in the details. Aside from her work as a creator, Voss also offers creative counseling for artists, brands and independent projects.
Follow @vossling for all things beautiful, and proof that no matter the subject, there’s magic to be made.
Some men love holding fish. (The New Yorker even wrote about this phenomenon.) And while some people are born to hold fish, others retire into it.
Rob Herrmann, of @rherrmannphotog, is one of the latter. A former professional baseball player, he discovered his love of photography while traveling the world as an athlete. When he retired from America’s favorite pastime, Herrmann began to pursue photography full-time. Focusing his work on the outdoors, he’s become a master of hunting and fly-fishing imagery.
Herrmann says he’s found that his Instagram account allows him “to meet and connect with people all around the world” as he pursues his goal to “inspire adventure and show people that social media can open our eyes to the true beauty of nature.”
Follow @rherrmannphotog for wildlife shots so beautiful, it won’t matter if you like fish.
Ask the founder of a wonton truck, “Why wontons?,” and you’ll likely hear this: “Why not?”
Penelope Wong, the chef behind Denver’s favorite new food truck, Yuan Wonton, has been taking Denver by storm. Her handmade dumplings draw a crowd of eager eaters on even the coldest of days. “Most dishes I love cooking and creating are all very nostalgic to the flavors of my childhood,” Wong says. “It brings me so much joy to be able to share these types of foods and the foods I grew up on with the public.”
And share with the public Wong does, posting religiously on @yuanwonton’s Instagram. Coming off of twenty years as a private country-club chef, she’s used Instagram to “share my food with the public without having to share my food with the public, and it’s helped create the brand that is now Yuan Wonton.”
Follow @yuanwonton for more on the delightful art of dumplings and the people who love them.
Tanner Barkin is an apparel designer by day and a doodler by night. Though you can see his professional creations on @moorecollection page, his more personal works live on @campcupdesign.
The great thing about @campcupdesign is that Barkin gives his followers a behind-the-scenes look at his artistic process. Many artists choose to share only their polished works, but Barkin likes to share all the steps along the way. Instagram’s story feature “has really motivated me to show more of what I do day to day versus capturing a single moment in time,” he explains.
Barkin does a great job of starting conversations, soliciting feedback and building community via his account: “I want to encourage all of the young artists out there to share their work, experiment and see how Instagram can be a great place to find out what [they] want to do,” he says.
Follow @campcupdesign for illustrations featuring outdoor scenes, coffee cups and playful characters, all inspired by antique packaging styles and vintage Disney comics, designs Barkin loves.
The term “blue hair” usually refers (not so politely) to little old ladies. But for Grace Penhale, the beauty blogger and badass biker behind @mydarlinglight, “bluehair” takes on a whole new meaning.
Penhale, co-owner of Holistic Salon in Zeppelin Station and co-organizer of the Denver chapter of the female biker collective The Litas, is “passionate about supporting women in chasing their dreams” while empowering them to be “unapologetically themselves, always,” she says.
A longtime Instagram user, Penhale acknowledges that the platform makes it easy to “compare yourself to other people’s highlight reels,” which is why she doesn’t stress over likes or follows. But she does think that Instagram is a great tool for building community...something that, as a leader and a founder, she’s learned firsthand.
Follow @mydarlinglight for edgy style inspiration, motorcycle adventures and the occasional plant photo.
There aren’t a lot of places where becoming a cannabis influencer is an option.
Justin Wiedman, a New Jersey native, knows this firsthand. “I set goals for myself that people not only laughed at, but looked down on for years,” he says. But he knew that he had to pursue his dream of becoming a cannabis influencer, so he made the hard decision to “leave behind family, friends and a lifetime of memories” in order to chase his dream to Colorado.
His dedication, as well as his ability to hustle, have garnered him the following he dreamed of. Today, “a little over two years and over 37,000 followers later,” Wiedman says he’s “more than proud to be a walking example that dreams do come true with enough hard work, dedication and a mindset that anything is possible!”
Follow @jweeds_420 for all things cannabis, including product reviews, handfuls of joints, and crystalline nug porn.
Ultra5280 is a Denver-based online publication that promotes music, fashion and events in the Mile High City.
Founded by Robert Castro, the publication gives voice to a variety of contributors who share his passion for arts and lifestyle in Denver.
“Being creative in Denver has been amazing,” Castro says. “Seeing this city grow in just the last ten years has been great to capture and document on our Instagram.” Castro takes pride in this, as he advocates for creatives trying to reach a larger market. “I think as a city, there is always room to grow,” he adds. “I see a huge emphasis on art right now and how many local artists are starting to be able to showcase their work, more now than ever.”
One of Castro’s favorite @ultra5280 projects is the “Unplugged” sessions, which capture portraits of musicians “outside their live performance element.”
While working a full-time corporate gig by day and a pizzeria job by night, Julie Rodriguez toyed with the idea of going to culinary school. At the time, she was encouraged to eat out as much as possible to figure out which cuisine intrigued her. And although she never pursued a culinary degree, that period of exploration led to @julielikesfood.
Now, Rodriguez works to champion Denver’s community of both chefs and foodies. “My goal through my page is to highlight the full experience, from service to plating. I give as much real, honest feedback as possible and make it personal,” she says. These personal touches include responding to direct messages with video replies, sharing her struggles as well as her successes, and even helping to plan special occasions. “I once sent someone to El Five to propose to his girlfriend, and when he sent me a photo of her saying ‘Yes,’ it was such an incredible moment,” she recalls.
In addition to @julielikesfood, Rodriguez is working on a blog, going to spin class, reading as much as possible, and trying her hand in her own kitchen.
Follow @julielikesfood for drool-worthy food photography, helpful reviews, and an intimate online community dedicated to Denver’s food scene.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Lars Leber’s landscape photography is glorious enough to be required as the stock images for every screensaver in Colorado.
Leber loves to explore various techniques and devices, including a tilt-shift lens that allows him to adjust his focal plane and capture crisp images of both a foreground — such as wildflowers near the lens — as well as mountains way off in the distance, all in one shot.
By 2016, Leber’s photography had taken off enough that he could quit his day job, and now he gets to focus on his art full-time. He teaches photography workshops, makes calendars and covets the Colorado Springs Gazette’s “Best of the Springs” Fine Art Photography award, which he’s held for five years running.
Follow @larsleberphotography if you want to bask in the glory of Colorado landscapes and learn a thing or two about photographing your own.