Artists find inspiration in the Yampa Valley for their unique art work |

Artists find inspiration in the Yampa Valley for their unique art work

Artistry within the details

— Cutting, grinding, sawing, refining — the beauty of one man's work is found in the details. 

Using only a needle and copper plate, local artist Rick Peters begins to unleash his creativity, exposing Native American legends and stories of wounded warriors or watchful spirits. With each intricate etching, he leaves the viewer perplexed and fascinated as new details in the drawings continue to emerge. 

"I've always done art," said Peters, whose work was featured at the Depot Art Center years ago. "I don't read very well and am dyslexic, but when I was in school, people didn't really know what that was. So, I just started drawing."

Graduating with his bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking in Kansas, Peters moved to Steamboat Springs in the late 1980s with his wife to find work as a fine art printer at River House Editions. Finding that the work of a master printer was not for him, he began creating etchings based on the legends he heard while briefly living in South Dakota. 

"I use the same kind of press, ink and process as all the greats did, like Rembrandt or Francisco Goya, and I like that," said Peters, who uses a 1991 Sturgis Press. "I like that this medium hasn't changed through all of those generations."

But beyond the elaborate waterfalls, landscapes, meticulously crafted animals and figures found in his etchings, Peters discovered a new art form more than 10 years ago, one that would fill the space of his studio and a majority of his creative thoughts: dollhouses. 

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After purchasing a conventional dollhouse kit to make for his daughter's Christmas gift when she was 12 years old, Peters started collecting more and more dollhouse parts as the art form began to emerge. 

"The shapes inspire me, I guess you might say," Peters said. "One of the fun things about it is finding a piece that is made for one thing and using it for something else. I guess you could call it repurposing, but that's the fun part. It's rare for me to do a painting that's just a square 18 inches by 24 inches; it has to come from something else."

Having created as many as 15 dollhouses of varying size, color and utility, Peters said the tallest was six feet. Some, he said, were so large they had to be broken down into two or three parts in order to be transported. 

To learn what would work in the dollhouses and what wouldn't, Peters would bring in his projects to ACE Hardware, where he was employed before retiring. He learned what would make his dollhouses durable and resistant to curious children testing the cranks and gadgets he invented for the miniature structures. 

"It brings out my inner child, at least that's what my wife says," Peters said. "It's hard to explain why I do it. But how it all starts is I just get this crazy idea, then just start building. It's just like getting a brand new canvas." 

Down to a science 

Local artist Cherie Duty was always drawn to oil as an artistic medium, but there was something missing: room for experimentation. 

She found that missing room in the pursuit of encaustic painting, which involves the use of heated, colored wax in place of paint.

This spontaneous medium is also known as hot wax painting. The process of encaustic — which consists of natural beeswax and dammar resin (crystallized tree sap) — is done by melting beeswax and varnish to fusing layers of wax.

The wax — transparent or opaque — is melted on a hot plate, then brushed onto the encaustic board.

Duty adds personality to each piece by embedding old letters, pieces of amethyst, springs from an old bed, alluring hues of sea glass or varying textures of tree bark.

Duty uses pallet knives or cake decorating tools to sculpt each piece.

She fuses each additional layer of wax with heat gun to create a bond between the layers of wax and smoothes over any uneven textures.

"It's actually kind of more playing than art," said Duty, who grew up in Steamboat Springs. "I love the trial-and-error aspect of it, because when you figure out something cool, it's pretty amazing where it leads you. Especially with encaustic, because it lends itself to experimentation, and that's why I've been doing it — because it's so much fun." 

Studying studio art and then science at Colorado State University, Duty saw her inherent curiosity for science as a possible reason she feels the need to continually develop new methods and incorporate various items into each piece. 

About eight years ago, Duty said, she took a variety of classes and workshops throughout Colorado and a few in San Diego. She said developing the skills to work quickly before the wax dries and to work on a flat surface rather than an easel or wall can be a challenge. But it is a challenge she has overcome through the years. 

"I think the scariest thing for me now is when I try something new that is totally different from any of my other stuff for people to see," she said. "To me, that is a little bit scary, but the longer you do it and get out of your comfort zone to try something new and see what happens, the better."

Duty said she has recently been testing a new effect she hasn't seen anywhere else — setting fire to the shellac material covering a canvas to create what she calls a "crackle effect." Testing the luminescence of wax, Duty has also attempted to light the wax from behind plexiglass to create a fusion of colors and shapes. 

"Sometimes, I just start with a color or idea and I just go from there," Duty said. "There is no rhyme or reason for the process of it. I just do whatever comes to me. Sometimes, I just start a piece and see where it goes. There's a part of you in each piece, and I think this is just my way of giving back and putting a part of myself out there."

Out of the gallery, into the real world 

In true DIY fashion, Brianna Kole's signature as an artist could perhaps be defined by her resourcefulness and ingenuity in recreating seemingly mundane materials; it's seen in the form of shoes, jewelry, clothes and even cigar boxes. 

"When you see somebody take on your art and make it their own and appreciate it in such a different way than displaying it on the wall, it's a pretty fulfilling feeling," Kole said. "That, to me, is the coolest thing with my work."

Never interested in displaying her art on the walls of a gallery, Kole found the "DIY way" — or repurposing — to be the best method of bringing her work to the world.

"The big thing for me is being able to interact with people, and being an artist, it's an isolating life," said Kole. "As I've gotten older, I realize how much that means to me, and that's important. Many artists don't like doing custom pieces, because they want to do it their way with their own vision, but I don't find those boundaries when I work with people. I just find that you open up so much, and it really relies on intuition, I think." 

Originally from Steamboat, Kole dabbled in various art forms until she discovered her interest in the technical side of the theater program, initially building sets, then creating custom paintings and clothing. When she was 13, she moved to Florida and, following her passion for art, spent time in St. Petersburg in 2007. She graduated from the University of Southern Florida in 2009. During her time in Florida, she focused on creating fashion-related art to make her work accessible to the public. 

Rummaging through thrift stores, Kole acquired a collection of clothing items and jewelry to be repurposed. Her gallery was in the form of weekly fashion shows, a variety of fundraisers, dances and LGBT events. 

"It's evolved so much for me and continues to evolve in a lot of different ways," said Kole. "I like to put lots of typography in my stuff, because I just think that it's a great way for people to connect with art. To have something they can read and interact with, it evokes a feeling or memory. 

Back in Steamboat Springs after spending two years in New York, Kole works at Steamboat Specialities and continues to pursue her work creating custom footwear, jewelry and accessories under the name "Gold Guns Girls." Her work can be found at Urbane or on her website, But within every piece of clothing or accessory, there's art and a part of herself. 

"Art is the basis for everything I do," Kole said. "It's so much more freeing. I'm not worried about messing up or having that as a fear." 

Art and a life's passion come together 

For local artist Christie Stepan, printmaking is similar to the experience of going for a walk. 

"It's sort of like a random walk," said Stepan, owner and creative director at Make Studio. "What makes you turn left or right, what kind of things take you off course or make you retrace your steps? Did you find a short cut or stop to rest? That's sort of how I see my process and also how I hope people would view my work when they are looking at it." 

Drawn to the physical process that comes with the precise, yet indirect work of printmaking, Stepan earned a bachelor's degree in studio art from Colorado College and a master's degree in fine art from San Francisco Art Institute. While she works in a variety of media, from printmaking to drawing to installation to photography, she was also inherently drawn to teaching. 

"I've always loved teaching, but I just haven't done it in a traditional way," said Stepan. "With art, it's really fun to come up with concepts for the projects — explaining those and showing examples — but to also be able to leave the freedom for people to do it their way." 

Stepan is a teacher of many trades. In addition to her work at Make Studio, she is also an adjunct instructor of art at Colorado Mountain College and teaches dance at Elevation Dance Studio.

"In figuring out how to make it all work, that's how things came together," Stepan said.

From 2010 to June of this year, Stepan's studio was above Lyon's Corner Drug & Soda Fountain; she then moved into her new space at Hilltop Parkway, where she is equipped with the tools for printmaking, letterpress, mixed media, drawing, painting and clay. 

This summer, she taught eight summer camps with a few visiting artists, teaching workshops and offering fresh ideas on projects. Now, there are five classes per week at the studio, which offers art workshops for all ages, from adults to preschoolers and toddlers. 

Stepan often has her younger students compare and contrast the work of historical artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso to contemporary artists to explore the variety of mediums and methods they could use in their own work. 

"The most exciting part is to see how everybody responds to the concepts or projects differently, especially the kids," Stepan said. "Kids are less influenced by outside things, and you can really see their tastes and sensibilities start to emerge. They soak everything in but also have their own way of doing things. Each person has his or her own style, even from a young age, and that is cool to see."

A reflection of place

There is something about textures local artist Barbara Sanders just can't tear her eyes from. 

Inspired by ingrained wood on old barns, rusted flakes of paint and stones hidden throughout a concrete wall, Sanders is one of the few artists specializing in photogravure, a printmaking process in which a copper plate is imprinted with a film positive and then etched.

"I just bumble along with my eyes wide open, and sometimes, I just can't turn my eyes off — I can't," said Sanders, who has lived in Steamboat for the past 14 years. "I just see stuff, the textures and repetitions." 

About 35 years ago, Sanders took her first photogravure workshop in Hawaii, where she and her husband lived for years before relocating to Steamboat, and became enamored with the process. 

This intaglio printmaking technique, which originated in the late 1800s, is a way to artistically reproduce photographs taken with Sanders' digital camera.

Sanders discovered her passion for this type of work when she examined a version of one of Georgia O'Keeffe's prints in a coffee shop. When she examine the piece more closely, she observed it reflected the light, obscuring her view of any details in the image. 

"You can tell the difference in the quality of the photographs and the richness of the imagery," Sanders said. "If you look, there is no reflection in the photogravure pieces. It's really solid, and I like that, and as a printmaker, I like black." 

Sanders said she finds history and beauty in the most surprising places. 

"I see these types of things, and I think it's neat, and I'm wondering if anybody else thinks it's neat," Sanders said. "I slow down, and I don't take it for granted, because there is so much history around, and there is so much beauty to be found."

Sanders was recently informed by the Colorado Artists Guild that U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner had selected her photogravure etching "Weston #1," an image from the area of Weston, Colorado, that depicts a two-story adobe warehouse. The image was selected through a contest to represent the arts in Colorado and will be hung in Gardner's Washington D.C. office.

"It hasn't sunken in yet," Sanders said. "I do this because I really like what it looks like, and I hope other people do, too. It's so specialized, because I reflect a sense of where I live. This is just a way to show how I see things." 

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1


The initial design starts with something as simple as a beetle-kill pine tree branch or a household item like a breadbox or medicine cabinet.

Once artist Rick Peters finds a piece that could be incorporated into a house, he visualizes the outcome and starts to hallow out the tree and adding anything from parts of an old chair to salvaged trinkets.


In etching, a metal such as the copper, is covered with an acid-resistant wax on which Peters draws with an etching needle.

When the plate is immersed in acid, it exposes the lines of the drawing and becomes eroded.

The depth of the etch, is controlled by the amount of time the acid is allowed to ‘bite’ the metal.


Rummaging through thrift stores, Kole started the idea for her artwork by acquiring a collection of clothing items and jewelry to be repurposed. Her gallery was in the form of weekly fashion shows, a variety of fundraisers, dances, LGBT events and more.

With commission-based pieces she will ask a client’s favorite colors and favorable lyrics or typography

Kole starts with a base layer of paint and lets the intuitive process take over with each piece.

Intaglio Printmaking

Technique where a plate is incised so the ink lies below the plate’s surface and the image is transferred under pressure.

To print an intaglio plate, ink is applied to the surface by wiping and/or dabbing the plate to push the ink into the recessed lines, or grooves. To create the actual impression, ink is pushed onto the etched grooves then wiped clean and placed on a press with dampened paper and pressed through.

Photogravure process

By converting the photo to black and white, an overhead transparency is made from an inkjet printer.

A process of soaking the gelatin-coated paper in potassium dichromate makes it light-sensitive.

The gelatin paper and the transparency, as well as a continuous tone screen are exposed together under a UV light.

The exposed gelatin paper is then remoistened and adhered to a copper plate and placed in warm water.

The gentle agitation of the water removes excess gelatin and where the UV light went through the light areas of the transparent image, the gelatin hardens.

To help create the image, the light-hardened gelatin areas resist the etch of the ferric chloride, a corrosive salt, while the soft areas allow the etch to make the tiny impression which will hold the oil-based ink when it is placed on the copper plate.

After the ink seeps into the impression, it is wiped off the smooth surface and placed on a bed of a press with a piece of dampened paper, then rolled through the press.

The paper then picks up the image as a print and the process can be repeated starting with the plate being re-inked.