Gypsum plein air painter Ian Clark is drawn to local scenes

Caramie Schnell
"Below Game Creek," by Ian Clark.
Special to the Weekly |

See Ian Clark’s work

Art of the Gallery in Avon represents Gypsum artist Ian Clark. Visit for more information on the artist.

Life changes constantly. Even in an idyllic, seemingly still landscape, the view can be dramatically different from one moment to the next. Moving clouds and shifting light can change a scene in mere minutes, especially in the spring, when it might feel like July at noon, and then resemble a February blizzard five minutes later.

That’s part of what makes plein air painting challenging, as well as interesting to Gypsum artist Ian Clark, who paints full time and makes a living selling his work. At Art of the Valley Gallery’s recent Paint-Out & Art Show in Avon, Clark chose to paint near the bridge in Avon. His piece, called “Below Game Creek,” depicts a flyfisherman on the river.

“Right when I pulled up there was one guy fishing,” Clark said. “I did a quick sketch of him. After that there wasn’t anyone else in the river. I was hoping there’d be a little more action there; it’s usually a popular spot. But thankfully I was able to get enough for my piece.”

Because of the transient nature of, well, nature, some landscape artists take photographs of the scene, which they take back to the studio to use as reference.

“A lot of artists will start in plein air but complete it in the studio,” said Clark, who tries to start and finish his paintings on location whenever possible. About 75 percent of Clark’s work is painted outside.

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“For me, that’s what I saw,” he said.


Art of the Valley Gallery in Avon, as well as Leomyka Gallery in Leadville, represent Clark. The paintings hanging at Art of the Valley Gallery are full of emotion and color. They have an impressionist feel, with visible brushstrokes.

Clark calls his style “impressionist realism, but with an abstract foundation.”

“It is not about making a photo out of a painting, but rather how you express it to make it come alive and excite you,” Clark writes on his website,

Clark has even painted large pieces, 60-inch-by-40-inch paintings and bigger, completely in plein air.

“When I first started out, I used to paint this one barn scene. I did two similar scenes, of an old ranch road scene near the area I live in,” he said. “I sold them instantly.”


Any plein air piece is a risk.

“Things happen and sometimes it’s not so fun,” he said. “The wind will take your easel while you’re working, or a breeze will blow by and knock your finished painting to the ground, but I don’t get too discouraged.”

That’s because good things happen, too. Four years ago, Clark was painting a scene depicting a coal train. A character wearing a top hat and an old coat emerged and got on the train and Clark was able to capture it. This past winter, he was back in Glenwood Springs, painting the same scene when the same man appeared.

“It was pretty serendipitous,” he said. “I saw him again and put him in the painting again. It makes for a timeless image that looks like it’s from the 1930s or ’40s, but it’s a contemporary painting.”

This spring, Clark plans to take a few painting classes — “there’s so much to learn; I try to better myself whenever I can,” he said — and come August, he’ll head to Aspen. He got into Red Brick Plein Aire Festival, which is a juried show held Aug. 9-15 in Aspen.

“They select 30 artists from around Colorado,” he said. “Every artist paints six pieces and then they put it up for display and have a quick draw toward the end of the week. There should be some really good art.”

Along with the two galleries, Clark also sells his work at the Vail Farmers’ Market, where you can often find him painting at his booth. Right now, before the ski resorts close, Clark wants to get on the hill a few more times, but not for turns.

“I want to (paint) some skiers and mountains in the background, something that reminds you of Vail,” he said. “I try to paint stuff that’s iconic. I’m drawn to farm scenes, rustic mountain scenes. I paint a lot of bikes and people and I like to get on the hill a little bit, too.”

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