Art and soul | VailDaily.com

Art and soul

Daily Staff Report

Preston Utley/Vail DailyCarmel Walden, a local artist from Gypsum, looks at the branches of a cottonwood tree while she paints Thursday at Brush Creek Pavillion in Eagle.

GYPSUM – In Gypsum artist Carmel Walden’s paintings, flowers don’t just grow prettily in the ground; they dance. In her pictures, birds soar jubilantly, children lasso the moon, and fish fly, radiating joyous beads of colored light.All of Walden’s paintings – whether tranquil or mysterious – are imbued with a spirit that celebrates the beauty and splendor of nature – human, animal, floral and mineral.”By focusing on something they might otherwise pass by, I try to make (viewers) aware of (that thing’s) beauty,” states Walden. “I’m hoping to connect them to art through nature; a respect for creation is very important to me.”A watercolor artist, Walden spent years teaching art in local and distant schools, only recently turning her full attention to creating her own artwork. In fact, there were many people locally who believed in Walden’s talent before she did. (She says, gratefully, “they’ll know who they are.”) Because of that belief, Walden’s work is now soaring as high as the birds she depicts.Locally, she is perhaps best known to her clientele for her portraits of people and pets. So popular are her portraits of families, kids, dogs and horses, that her sittings are currently booked until February 2006. It’s easy to see why. Rather than merely capturing what her subject looks like on the surface, she tries to capture a bit of his or her spirit as well. Walden delves into a subject’s uniqueness and personality, and seems to successfully intuit relationships. In a family portrait of children, their joy of life shines through in their portrait eyes – as does a hint of mischievousness. Another Walden portrait exudes the love the subject, a young girl, feels for her newborn brother; and, in yet another portrait, Walden’s cowboy and horse appear vibrantly alive.

Nature portraitsAs wonderful as her human portraits are, Walden is becoming increasingly known for her nature pictures. Although Walden calls herself a watercolor portrait artist, she extends that distinction to her other favorite subject – nature. Her “nature-portraits,” as she calls them, are mostly of Colorado scenes: Aspen, wildflowers, and wildlife. Mount of the Holy Cross is one of her favorite regional subjects, and graced the first Christmas card she created for friends and family.When Walden is not painting, she is roaming the wilderness and finding new subjects to capture. Walden explains that, early in her career, as she practiced painting flowers again and again, she found herself falling in love with them. What began as realistic pictures of nature, soon became expressions of what she felt with her heart.”I paint not only how the object looks,” she writes in her bio, “but also what it says to me.” In a meeting at the Eagle Public Library, she adds, “I’m focusing on it (nature) as a person.”Walden’s artwork is never static; even when painting a Southwest adobe dwelling the air swirls above the structure with an uplifting presence. A picture of a hollow, dead tree becomes a thing of mystery, a symbol of something far more enduring than life on earth. In her picture, “Mountain Music,” dandelions are literally grooving to the music. (The picture was chosen for the 1999 Carbondale Mountain Fair official poster.) “”I try to pay a lot of attention to light and movement … I try to make it dance,” explains Walden.

Walden paints exclusively with transparent watercolors, created by blending three primary colors. She leaves the white of the paper untouched to radiate light, while using water to pull colors into flowing movements. “I think watercolor is a very fluid medium, so I try to accentuate that movement and water quality,” she notes.She particularly likes the way watercolors don’t always do what the artist intends. She observes, “I think it’s some of the unexpected that happens in my paintings that turn out to be the best part.” Although Walden says she does not begin a painting with any special meaning in mind, her pictures tend to become metaphors for something deeper. The titles of her pictures often give a hint of what that might be. For instance, in “Together,” the entwined aspen speak of a relationship beyond a freak of nature. Her painting, “Opening,” shows a columbine reaching for more than just the sunlight; and in “Morning Song,” Walden has contrasted the prickliness of a cactus with the softness and beauty of its flower and the promise of the morning in which it blooms.Walden breaks her artwork down into different categories: Traditional portraits of people and pets; wildflower scenes; desert scenes; her aspen series and her bird series; as well as a mountain series. More recently, she has added a series of Colorado trout, and then there are her pictures from her travels, such as the waving palm tree that plays host to blackbirds in, “Blackbird’s Rest.”In addition to her original paintings, she creates prints and gift cards for sale, too. Nature’s child

It’s not surprising Carmel Walden has an interest in art and a passion for nature. She grew up at the knee of an accomplished artist, and spent her summers hiking the mountains around the family ranch: Golden Eagle Ranch, in Gypsum Creek. Her father is noted bronze sculptor Bill Walden. Walden says, “he was very influential” in her love of art. Her parents encouraged her “artist eyes,” by continuously pointing out the wonders of lichen growing on rocks, or the way the wind swirls and dances, she adds. Even when the family retreated to Glenwood Springs – Walden’s second home for the winters – she was snuggled in the mountains’ glories.”All my work is inspired by nature,” Walden explains. “It’s what I was always so passionate about.” Despite growing up with art, Walden did not consider pursuing a career as an artist herself until recently. True, she headed to Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., to study art and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art. But it was with teaching in mind that she headed back to Eagle County. She taught art at Eagle Valley Elementary School for three years, from 1993 to 1997. Later, she returned to teach at Red Hill Elementary. Yet it was a stint teaching on Navajo and Hopi Reservations in Arizona for three years that helped shape her future.Initially, she was supposed to be on a temporary sabbatical. But while in Arizona, Walden says she became a student of the land. More importantly, she embraced the Navajo’s and Hopi’s respect for art, nature and the Creator. At the same time, she pursued a mater’s degree in psychology, which helped her explore the connection between people and creation, and God.”It was while I was teaching at the reservations that I started to focus on watercolor,” notes Walden. And, a new spirituality began to emerge in her art.

Walden believes painting is a divine process, inspired by something much bigger than she. If people see beauty in her work, they are really seeing God’s gifts of nature and the ability to portray it, she says.Painting, Walden elaborates, is a form of prayer for her. “I’m hoping (my paintings) reflect that.” She explains that, “connecting with nature is one of many ways that we connect with God, its Creator and our Creator.”She writes in an e-mail, “That’s why I am hopeful that, if we all slow down enough in our lives to really look around at the beauty that surrounds us, that we might learn a great deal about nature, God and ourselves, and, we might not be so hasty to destroy God’s handiwork.”Taking the plungeA year-and-a-half ago, the time seemed ripe to delve into her own art in earnest.

“I thought it was a good time for one thing. Business was really building,” Walden explains. Although she misses teaching children, and currently teaches limited art courses at Colorado Mountain College, her artwork has taken on a life of its own.Yet, Walden is still at a point in her professional art career that she is surprised whenever her artwork draws a compliment. “I’m still at a point that I don’t expect a painting to turn out. It’s still a gift,” she says.Carmel Walden can be reached at (970) 309-3274; or, visit her website at http://www.waldenwatercolors.com.Vail, Colorado