Out of Plein Air

Local artist chosen for 2006 Steamboat Wine Festival

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Susan Gill Jackson has to paint fast.

"I have to because of the weather, the clouds and because the sun changes," Jackson said. "It's a race with the shadows."

Jackson is a plein air painter, which means she sets up her easel and produces her paintings outdoors. The goal is to capture the light and color particular to a place.

Jackson recently was selected by the Steamboat Springs Arts Council as the featured artist for the Steamboat Wine Festival, to be held Aug. 3 to 6.

Nancy Kramer, the Arts Council's executive director, said the group was looking for a plein air or impressionist artist. Jackson possesses talents for both, Kramer said.

"Some of the things that have been great about working with Susie is her energy and enthusiasm which come through in her work," Kramer said.

Jackson was commissioned to create a painting of the famous Steamboat (More) Barn. The artwork will be donated to the silent auction during the wine festival.

The subject will suit Jackson well.

When she moved here 10 years ago, she painted murals in homes and condos. "Give me a wall, and I'm really happy," Jackson said.

She also has illustrated children's books, produced stained-glass art windows, designed book covers and done art for board games.

She hooked herself on plein air painting as soon as she started it.

"When you paint outside, you see so much more color," Jackson said. "The snow reflects everything around it."

Her studio is in a barn near Catamount Lake, but she takes her paints everywhere she goes. She works early in the morning or late in the day, when shadows are longer.

"The whole process is a meditation. It consumes me," Jackson said.

The project that most excites her is an artist co-op she is helping to organize. Jackson said Steamboat soon will be on the map as an art destination.

"There are so many local artists rallying together to bring the art community together," she said.

The Arts Council spread the word about the co-op and helped organize interested artists, but Kramer said the co-op itself will be the artists' "baby."

More than 30 people met a month ago to discuss the project, and a small group -- including Jackson --re working on a business plan.

"It would be great to have a group of local artists have their own gallery, and it will create more opportunities for the arts downtown," Kramer said.

Jackson also is involved in a group that will allocate city funds for public art projects.

The possibilities of a co-op and public art projects give Jackson a lump in her throat. But her true passions are color, art and the outdoors.

"When you're an artist, it's hard to zero in on what you like to do the most," Jackson said. "I love to paint, and I love to be outside."

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