Like many Steamboat locals, Joanne Orce wears many hats. She’s a former competitive triathlete with 7 full Ironmans and some 150 triathlons under her belt. She’s a swim coach and fitness instructor, mother of three, and an artist whose passions for athleticism and oil painting were fused in the creation of this year’s 110th annual Steamboat Winter Carnival poster.
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Orce studied business at the University of Melbourne and then went on to work for Mobil. During a year of unpaid leave to travel through Africa, she met her husband and moved back to his native New York to start a family. That’s where Ken encouraged her to finally pursue a lifelong interest in art, and study illustration at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“I fell in love with painting when I was pregnant with my second child,” she says. “That’s when I started to do some pretty interesting things with my career.” Her first foray into professional work was painting large-scale carnival sideshow banners. “Big, huge, vivid colorful carnival posters of animals and circus people became my jam,” she says.
As a mother of three, Orce put her career on the backburner until her kids were old enough for her to begin painting again. But it wasn’t long before she was picked up by Gallery 46 in Lake Placid, where she did the exact kind of local scenes that would lead to the work she’s known for today in Steamboat. “I painted a lot of Adirondacks scenes, and a lot of moose and bears, which have become like my signature.”
Orce continues to paint plenty of moose and bears in Steamboat, where she is a co-owner of Pine Moon Gallery and does commission work. But what really separates Orce from other artists is her process. “I stretch my own canvases. I buy strips of wood and stretch Belgian linen over the top and paste rabbit skin glue onto the linen, so it becomes firm like a drum,” she says. She adds other materials to the glue, like marble dust to make her own gesso, (the paste that’s used to form a surface) so she can create the perfect texture to paint on. “It’s like a science experiment,” she says. “I learned from a teacher back in New York. The old masters used to do it this way, and the gesso lasts forever. Essentially, it’s a centuries-old preservation technique,” she says.
Orce prefers the flexibility of oil paint and works in whatever scale and size is warranted by the subject matter, from as small as a few inches to over 9-feet. She draws inspiration from the natural world, especially landscapes and animals. She recently completed 35 pieces in that genre for her current exhibit at Pine Moon called “Iconic Steamboat.”
For the Winter Carnival poster, Orce drew inspiration not only from landscape, but from her roots as a lifelong athlete to arrive at the design that would be at the heart of the painting, a ski jumper in mid-flight. “I wanted the poster to be centered around the kids. One of my friend’s daughters is a Nordic combined athlete, so she sent me photos of Eva jumping and that’s where my concept began,” she says. And of course, there are a few of those bears and moose, too. “I had to throw a few in,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s kind of like Where’s Waldo.” Joanne’s 15-year-old son Kenny, a Winter Sports Club athlete, also makes an appearance on the poster.
Orce also polled the kids on her swim team to find out their favorite event, and the consensus was the Soda Pop Slalom, so Orce also integrated that into the foreground, including a lot of detail in what she describes as “this world on Howelsen Hill.” Orce says coming up with the concept took longer than the execution. “I thought about it for two months. I would ride my bike to Howelsen and sit at the bottom of the ski runs and think about what I was going to do,” she says. Ultimately, she relied on her most trusted sounding board, her 20-year-old daughter Teagan who is currently studying art as a junior at the University of Denver. “She is my best critic,” Orce says.
At the heart of the painting is a study in movement, especially as someone who devotes so much of her life to training athletes. “As an athletic coach, I appreciate the way the body moves in an athletic environment,” Orce says. “Understanding the body and being able to create and that sense of movement is something I really tried to achieve in this painting.” The final 40” x 30” piece will be reproduced for this year’s commemorative Winter Carnival poster, a milestone for this relatively new local. “I’ve only lived here for four years, but have felt so welcomed into this community,” she says. “I’m so grateful to be able to give back to the Winter Sports Club and put my heart and soul into this piece.” //joanneorce.com