For local painter Lance Whitner, the idea of what constitutes a canvas has taken on new meaning.
Next up: the coveted Steamboat Winter Carnival poster.
When Lance Whitner got the green light to paint the side of a downtown Steamboat building, she turned it into a full-on community event. There was an after-dark painting party, a morning yoga class in the alley, and for almost two weeks there were kids and families and people of all ages who had never picked up a paintbrush jumping in to participate.
“There were so many people, ages 4 to 84 who wanted to paint,” Whitner says. “People loved having the opportunity to be creative and to take part in something they knew would be permanent.” Whitner created a painting and then projected it onto the wall at night and invited people to help spray paint the outline. From there, she made a template—kind of like a giant color by number—so everyone could pitch in to complete her vision. The whole project took two weeks to complete.
It was somewhat of a social experiment for Whitner, who describes herself as an introvert and whose work is typically very solitary. What was all too familiar to the 48-year old mother of three is the concept of landscape, since the natural world is the subject of most of her paintings. But to literally become part of the Steamboat landscape through such a large-scale work of art—the largest of her career—was a huge undertaking. “I was really concerned about that piece because I felt a huge responsibility to create something that would not only comment on the community, but become a part of the town’s history,” she says. “The answer was to involve the community, and I’m so happy with the way it turned out.”
It also turned out to be the first, but not the last public installation she’d be commissioned to create. Another unconventional large-scale canvas is the atrium staircase in the new Steamboat Mountain School building, where her child is a student. Whitner created a painting, photographed it, and had it sublimated onto metal (the same process used for top sheet graphics on skis) that was then cut and glued to fit the stair risers. “It’s a very prominent piece in the new building—it’s really the first thing you see when you walk in,” Whitner says. “I am so grateful to the school. It’s such a unique and wonderful place and very outdoors-oriented. I knew I had to do something really cool.”
Whitner, who is originally from North Carolina, always knew she wanted to be an artist. She began studying art at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington DC, then graduated with a BFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder and was originally focused on ceramics. But after three kids and the purchase of a very old—and somewhat small—home in downtown Steamboat, she became a painter for practical reasons.
“I work in acrylic for the very practical reason that I started out as a painter, working in my living room with three little kids,” she says. Soon they converted the garage (a former 100-year-old carriage house) into a studio. “I love my medium. I know my colors and the personality of each color and what I can do with them,” she says. She mostly paints on canvas or wood panels and stays busy with studio/gallery work and commission work. The downtown mural and the stairs both happened in the last year. “It’s just me saying yes to opportunities,” she says. “I don’t want to ever be stagnant. It’s important to continue to grow and try new things.”
Her next big project? Whitner has been selected to create the art for the coveted annual Steamboat Winter Carnival Poster that will be auctioned to raise money for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. This poses a different kind of challenge for Whitner. “I don’t ever paint people, but this event and its long history and tradition are so much about the kids and the athletes. I have a lot of ideas swirling around about how I represent that and make it authentic to my style.”
Whatever she comes up with, Whitner says it’s a huge honor to contribute something to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, where all three of her kids learned to ski. “I’m excited and flattered. It’s important to give back,” she says. “I love my community.”