Collectible memories | VailDaily.com

Collectible memories

Eagle County artist Dawn Beacon creates limited-edition prints that showcase the area's local vistas and more

Vail visitors tend to take lots of
photos inside the gondola, intent on capturing the beauty that surrounds them — or of themselves — and to preserve the memory of a fun ski day spent solo or with family or friends. This past winter, illustrator Dawn Beacon took it a step further, so far she felt compelled to explain herself to the people sharing the small cab with her.

"Everyone was just sitting there like normal and I was standing taking a picture of every single car that went by, all the way to the top, because I wanted to catch the right angle. It was worse than if I had one of those silly selfie sticks," she says, laughing. "I had to tell them what I was doing so they'd stop looking at me strangely."

With snowboard in tow, Beacon was actually working that early season November morning, doing research for her illustration titled "Winter Wonderland," one of the collectible prints Vail-based Signature Colorado released in early 2016. In the limited-edition print, a family of four rides the gondola up the mountain as a snowstorm swirls outside the car.

"The faces and postures of the parents and two young children capture the pure joy of perfect family powder runs followed by snow globe gondola rides," says Rich Staats, who co-owns Signature Colorado with local creative guru Aaron Cessna. To date, the company has released six limited-edition prints, all illustrated by Beacon.

The family pictured in "Winter Wonderland" is imagined, though vividly so. A little boy in a red jacket, perhaps age 8 or 9, clutches his snowboard in one hand and gestures excitedly with the other while talking to his dad. "Maybe he's telling his dad how excited he was about that last run and what he just did," Beacon says. On the seat across, a little girl, age 5 or so, gazes down on the skiers below, while her mom leans in close beside her. The piece poignantly captures the beloved family traditions that have found their roots in Vail and Beaver Creek for generations.

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Beacon, a longtime local and respected children's book illustrator (she has more than 15 books to her credit thus far), has been the paintbrush behind the prints since the company's inception in 2014. "Winter Wonderland" is her favorite, likely because it posed more of a challenge than the others, she says. The challenge for Beacon, who is known more for her quirky, endearing children's book characters and fantastic coloring work, came with her unfamiliarity with drawing architectural elements like the gondolas, she says. Thus the dozens of digital photos she took to learn about the mechanical pieces above the cab and how the gondola car attaches to the cable.

She struggled to perfect the color, opting in the end to tone some of the initial intensity, which felt supremely odd to someone who spends most days adding rather than subtracting color to her work. "I didn't get the color right until we had a powder day and it was totally white out and I realized I had too much color in it," she says. Up until that point, the piece hadn't felt quite right to Beacon, but she hadn't been able to pinpoint why. "I was riding the lift and you could hardly see the mountain range across the way because it was so white," she says. "That's why it was magical — it was just white and beautiful and you couldn't see much."

Like most of Beacon's work, the piece started as a sketch in her sketchbook, before she scanned it into her computer and finished the "painting" digitally. She creates an under painting on the computer, and then superimposes her sketch on top. "I found that the industry is too fast moving to do it with paint anymore," Beacon says. "The deadlines are too fast." Plus, this way, the images come out very crisp and with less of the flaws that can happen when you paint a piece and scan it in.

Produced using archival-quality paper and a special five-color printing process, only 1,000 prints are created of each image. Of those, only 100 are signed by Beacon. 2016 is the second year Signature Colorado has released the limited-edition prints. To Staats and Cessna, the company's owners, Colorado's scenery is an asset to treasure, which is why they produce prints that showcase the area's stunning local mountains. Their hope is the prints become collectible art that both locals and visitors seek out year after year.

For Beacon, she's already scheming about the next illustration, perhaps one with a night theme. "A lot of people love to go camping and it'd be cool to do mountains under the stars, and it'd be a good challenge," she says. The research likely wouldn't be half bad, either.