Falls are artist's favorite place to paint

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Bonnie McGee's plein-air passion for vast, brilliant, high-altitude landscapes is inhibited only by the weight of her tripod. The oil painter said she forever wishes she could drag her equipment higher.

But practicalities aside, McGee said Steamboat Springs' readily accessible Fish Creek Falls is her favorite place to paint.

What: Opening reception for new plein-air painting exhibit by Bonnie McGee When: 5 to 8 tonight Where: Sleeping Giant Gallery, 624 Lincoln Ave. Call 879-7143

McGee is exhibiting her richly hued landscapes, which are painted at the falls, around the Yampa Valley and in other Western locations, at the Sleeping Giant gallery in downtown Steamboat through July. The show explores McGee's investigations into the nuances of light, shadow and color.

"I really think art changes the way you see the world," McGee said.

She said she tackled her inspiration almost six years ago, after taking a Plein Air Painters of America workshop in Steamboat. Although McGee had painted since she was a young girl, she pursued professional roles as a high school English teacher and then as a real estate agent for 28 years before devoting herself to full-time oil painting. It was the plein-air workshop that got her hooked, she said.

McGee typically paints outdoors, on-site from start to finish, she said.

"That's the joy of it. You're catching that fleeting moment and then it's gone," McGee said. "Outside you have 15 minutes to capture the shadows, then you go from there."

But rapid change also is a sad reality for McGee sometimes.

"I realize that a lot of what I've painted in the Yampa Valley is gone now," McGee said reflecting on the changing schoolhouses, the cycles of agriculture and a herd of sheep that no longer grazes near a particular barn.

McGee paints in deep, earthy colors. She starts with a light wash of oil paint and builds to thicker, more textural, full colors. Sometimes she goes back to remove layers of paint to create particular highlights.

This summer, McGee will return for her second invitation to the Estes Park Plein Air painting event, where she will spend time in and around Estes Park capturing some of the Rocky Mountains' most notable scenery along side artists she holds in the highest regard. She said she marveled at the incredible energy and exchange of ideas among the world-famous artists she met in Estes Park last year. Several of the landscapes in oil that she created amid that inspiration are part of her new exhibit.

McGee's show opens with an artist's reception from 5 to 8 tonight at Sleeping Giant Gallery, 624 Lincoln Ave.

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