Susan Gill “Susie” Jackson lets out an easy, hearty laugh as she tells the story about how she was born on a turkey farm in Ohio—on Thanksgiving Day. “We had 700 turkeys, so now you know a real turkey,” she says. It’s not surprising that Jackson’s down-to-earth, Midwest spirit and authenticity comes through in her paintings and in her process. She prefers to paint plein air, the act of painting outdoors.
It’s a process that requires spontaneity, confidence, and dealing with the elements, but it’s the ability to combine her love for the outdoors with her love for painting that fuels Jackson’s work. “As soon as I learned about plein air painting, I was hooked. It is the hardest professional challenge I’ve ever had,” she says. “I love to be out in the elements. I love to paint everything I see—the light, the snow, a ﬂower that caught my eye. There’s so much to be inspired by.”
Jackson became interested in art from an early age, inspired by an older sister eight years her senior. “I’m one of ﬁve kids in my family and my oldest sister was an artist, and she was a big inspiration for me,” she says. Jackson dabbled in the arts throughout her schooling and studied graphic design in college, and later worked in advertising and graphic design back in Ohio. Then life happened: marriage and kids, and eventually, a move to Steamboat in 1995.
That’s when she met renowned local artist Jean Perry, took her ﬁrst plein air painting class and it clicked. “That’s been my focus ever since,” says Jackson. Her trajectory since then has been fueled by a path she created, in part thanks to the community of artists she connected with through the Steamboat Art Depot. Frustrated by a lack of opportunities for representation in local galleries, Susie and a small group of artists explored the possibility of opening an artist-owned gallery. The Artist Gallery of Steamboat opened 18 years ago on 10th and Lincoln with 28 local artists. “I was surprised there was so much interest, but there are so many good artists in Steamboat—It was so inspirational. Everyone had different expertise to bring to the table. We created this gallery and it really worked.” The gallery evolved into what is Pine Moon Fine Art today, on 9th Street. “A core group of us stuck together and we’re still doing the same thing. We’re a learning gallery, so you get the experience of running a gallery. Everyone contributes in one way or another, and it’s pretty great.”
Jackson works on canvas with oil, watercolor, and acrylic. “My studio is in a backpack. It goes with me wherever I go,” she says. Jackson says it’s easy to draw inspiration in a place like Steamboat, where you’re surrounded by natural beauty. “You see something beautiful, and you just have to go paint it. Some things just call to you, and that’s what you should paint. There’s a reason behind it.”
Working in plein air has its fair share of challenges, Jackson says, like dealing with the cold and a race against the elements in terms of light and shadow that’s quickly shifting, but she loves the challenge. “Being outside and painting at the same time, I can’t think of anything nicer—except maybe skiing on a beautiful perfect powder day,” she says, letting out a hearty laugh. “I’ll hike with my backpack and when I ﬁnd the spot, I throw the canvas up and then paint. Sometimes you get it, and sometimes you don’t but you always learn something in the process at least. It’s fun, and it beats staying home and doing the laundry.”
Jackson says the opportunity to create a painting for the Steamboat Winter Carnival poster was a huge honor, and one that required a little more planning than her usual spontaneous approach. “What came to me ﬁrst was the word ‘celebration.’ That’s what Winter Carnival is all about.” She was inspired by the history, the street events, and the coming together of Steamboat’s ranching and skiing culture. Jackson’s children participated in Winter Sports Club and she says the Club was an important and unique part of their upbringing in Steamboat. “I’m proud to be a part of it,” she says. In a rare break from her plein air process, she came up with a concept. “I saw it in my head and decided to paint ﬁreworks on a dark background, one exploding with skiers, one with snowboarders, one with street events,” Jackson says. She embellished the design with swirls of snowﬂakes and used acrylic on canvas.
Jackson is proud to be a part of the Winter Carnival tradition and to join the leagues of other local artists who have created these historical posters. It’s the same collaborative local spirit that inspired Pine Moon Fine Arts and how far the town itself has come in terms of its arts scene and earning a designation as a Colorado Creative Arts District. “It’s really grown and it’s so inspiring,” she says. Whether it’s painting outdoors or coming up with a concept for the Winter Carnival poster, or just having a good laugh, Jackson has plenty to celebrate.