Painting knife artist Jeffrey Desautels visits Vail |

Painting knife artist Jeffrey Desautels visits Vail

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado ” On a December day two years ago, Jeff Desautels was cruising down the Forever run in Vail’s Back Bowls when inspiration struck.

“I remember being there and stopping halfway down and thinking, ‘This is a cool view’ and taking some pictures,” he said.

The artist used that photo to create an oil painting called “Dropping in.” It was the beginning of a fascination for the Denver artist, whose skier paintings have been popular at Vail galleries.

Desautels plans to visit Cogswell Gallery in Vail Saturday, Feb. 7, for a show and demonstration. His paintings stands out because he works with a painting knife.

“Because of the fact that he uses a palette knife instead of a brush, you can get a lot more paint onto the canvas than you can otherwise,” Gallery Director Steven DeWitt said. “So it’s a really rich, almost buttery effect.”

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Desautels uses a series of diamond-shaped metal knives to spread paint on the canvas. He said the abstract effect captures movement.

“I want the paintings to not be very distinct,” he said. “I don’t want it to be very realistic because if it’s realistic, it stops moving, so I want the edges to be kind of soft, and in some cases, blurred a little bit.”

Desautels, 62, only recently turned his full attention to art. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served on submarines before enrolling in Yale Law School.

Desautels picked up landscape painting during his 21-year career practicing corporate environmental law. He started painting full time about 10 years ago, when the Denver law firm where he worked split up. His early landscapes focused on European scenes or mountain streams. In fact, one of Desautels’ mountain landscapes hangs behind the reception desk at the Arrabelle at Vail Square hotel in Lionshead.

Desautels said he switched from paint brush to knife about 10 years ago.

“It happened early on. I was taking a class in Denver, and one of the people in the class would use a knife to get certain accents,” he said. “I watched the woman who was doing this and I thought, ‘That looks kind of fun.'”

Most recently, Desautels has turned his attention to sports. He recently started painting cyclists who compete in the Tour de France. As Desautels sees it, sports action lends itself to painting with a knife.

“I can be more spontaneous with a knife,” Desautels said. “I can be a bit loose in interpreting things. I have a tendency, when I use a brush, to be more realistic than I wanted to do with my paintings. I don’t want the facial features on a person to be very precise. I’m not after a portrait. I’m after a gesture.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or

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