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Capturing Steamboat

Autumn Phillips
"Summer in Steamboat," an exhibit of paintings by Janice Lawrence The small works gallery at the Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St. 9 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 20. 879-9008

It took Janice Lawrence a while to figure out what made Steamboat Blue — the color in the sky that is unique to this area. After months of experimenting, she created a match so close, she should patent it: a little ultramarine mixed with fallow blue, yellow ochre and white.

Lawrence is a part-time Steamboat Springs resident with hopes of moving here full time. And as someone who doesn’t wake up here every day, she paints Steamboat with a fresh eye but also uses angles chosen by someone who knows the area well.

An exhibit of Lawrence’s paintings opened last weekend in the small works gallery of the Depot Art Center. Her realist landscapes offset the more experimental artists in the main gallery, which isn’t to say that her work isn’t full of risks.

This is Lawrence’s first show, marking the end of the first chapter in a journey she started three years ago.

Lawrence studied art in college but let the paint dry on the brush for nearly three decades as she pursued a career as a technical writer and a life as a mother.

One of her two children was autistic.

“He’s recovered now, but it took enormous effort to get out of the woods,” she said. “We’re 50 now, and we’re at the end of that tunnel.”

With time on their hands and success in their past, Lawrence and her husband sat down to discuss what was next. At 50, they decided to pursue passions they had abandoned in their 20s. Lawrence’s husband became a seventh-grade teacher, and Lawrence picked up a paintbrush.

“It has been great,” she said. “Now, I tell people to just do what you love. It has been an amazing experience for us.”

Lawrence dug some old paints and her old student easel from the basement of her house in Fort Collins.

“I hadn’t painted in 30 years,” she said, “but it was like riding a bike. I’d always sketched, and I’m a very visual writer.

“I love painting landscapes. God makes everything so beautiful. All I have to do is capture it. And I think people really connect with landscapes.”

Lawrence speaks about art in skier analogies.

She admits that she is still “intermediate.” She can make it down the black runs (an analogy for technically difficult paintings) but “not very elegantly.”

She’s honest about her weaknesses, but as a woman who has been successful at everything she has done in life, she sees the path she needs to take and has set goals to get there. Lawrence’s path as a painter leads well into old age.

One of the best things about living in the mountains is watching an entire weather system come and go, in some cases without a drop of rain or a flake of snow. Lawrence captured the feeling in her painting “Storm Coming In” that she painted outdoors on a service road near the Rendezvous Saddle. She chose the spot for its expansive views of the entire valley.

It started out as a beautiful morning but turned into a day of natural theater as a violent thunderstorm rolled in, then rolled away not far from where Lawrence was sitting. She stayed dry but painted as fast as she could to capture the event.

Lawrence is not a Plein Air painter, but she sees that in her future.

“I’m not there yet, but I look forward to my 70s — camping and getting up in the morning to paint.”

For now, she uses photographs and sketches to bring what she sees to life in the studio.

“I love that my first show is in Steamboat,” Lawrence said. “People will connect with the paintings because they’ve been to those places, but I hope I help them see it a little differently.”


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