The Pleasant Valley curse

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Susan Gill Jackson didn't realize how many paintings she had of Pleasant Valley until she stopped painting, dropped her artist-tired body into an armchair and surveyed her latest body of work.

On canvas after canvas were the rolling purple hills of the land around Catamount Lake, examined from every angle.

° Opening reception for "Spirit of the Valley: One Woman Show by Susan Gill Jackson" ° 5 to 8 p.m. today ° Sleeping Giant Gallery, 624 Lincoln Ave. ° 879-7143

"Frankly, the Pleasant Valley curse is worse than the Yampa Valley curse," Jackson said.

Since Jackson moved out to a studio in the top floor of a barn in Pleasant Valley, her brush hasn't stopped moving.

The barn is in the middle of an open field in the elbow of Pleasant Valley. Hills and mountains rise in all directions. Water isn't far away, and hours spent outside painting usually involve several wildlife sightings.

This is Jackson's third winter in the studio, and her work tells the story of her time there.

Jackson moved to Steamboat Springs eight years ago. She had always been an artist of sorts -- drawing, illustrating, designing -- but it wasn't until she moved to Steamboat and took Jean Perry's Plein Air painting class that she discovered the magic of painting landscapes.

"The No. 1 reason I love painting landscapes is the chance to be outside," Jackson said. "And landscapes are more difficult than anything.

"There is so much to look at, and to focus in on one thing is difficult." Jackson goes out in the morning with her paints, a small metal easel and some water in her backpack. She hikes, sometimes, miles out until she finds the perfect spot.

She paints fast, racing the shadows.

"You don't realize how fast the sun and the clouds are moving," she said. "You have to capture the moment, and that's the challenge for me."

The difference between what she sees when she starts to paint and the way she sees the scene as she packs up to leave couldn't be more different, she said.

Jackson tries to finish her Plein Air paintings in one sitting, which is more difficult if she tries to paint toward the end of the day.

Jackson talks about her life like a woman who has been collecting puzzle pieces for years and those pieces are finally falling into place.

"I've always wanted to be an artist," Jackson said. "When I was in eighth grade my teacher gave us letters that we had written in first grade. I had written, 'I want to be an artist.'"

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