Impressions of the Summit |

Impressions of the Summit


Artist Mary Benke strives to convey the essence of her subject matter through her works in watercolor and pastel. The beauty that Benke finds in her everyday life constantly inspires her to create. And living in northern Colorado, Benke has no shortage of breathtaking and inspirational landscapes to paint.

“It seems that the longer I paint, the more I see – colors and textures, shapes and values,” Benke said. “I’m continually thinking of how I would interpret through paint and pastel what I see before me.”

While working a 20-year career as a magazine editor and graphic designer, Benke used to devote her free time to her passion: painting. Several years ago, she found her ability to make fine art a full-time job. Now, Benke enjoys her days turning her family’s adventurous exploits into exciting works of art.

Benke strives for a loose, more impressionistic feeling in her landscapes. She combines her creative use of texture, color and design to evoke emotion and a strong sense of imagery in her paintings. Often, while enjoying a hike with her husband and son, Benke will stop on the trail to do a small sketch and quick color study of her surroundings. While she enjoys plein air painting, it is the feel of the landscape that Benke strives to represent in her art. As a result, she will frequently finish pieces from her home studio, using her memory and photographs to put an impressionist’s spin on the beautiful trail she just climbed.

Over the summer, Benke and her family hiked the Mohawk Lakes trail just south of Breckenridge. The beauty of the tumbling Continental Falls provided plenty of inspiration for Benke to combine her two favorite mediums into a highly stylized representation of the Summit County landscape.

The finished piece, titled “Continental Falls,” began with a base layer of watercolor paints on pastel paper. Benke used pure pigments, in order to create a watercolor impression of the sky, mountains, trees and rocks. The waterfall itself, she left blank – at first. After the watercolors dried, Benke went back and applied hard pastels to emphasize the darker parts of the painting, add warmth to the rocks and color and movement throughout the waterfall. To complete the piece, she added highlights with soft pastels, using a third medium and layer of color. The combination of Benke’s favorite mediums gives a three-dimensional, textured look.

“Continental Falls” and many more of Benke’s award-winning works will be on display at the Art on a Whim gallery today through Sunday. In addition to landscapes, Benke has created several paintings of the wildlife found in the mountains. Her painting “Learning to Walk on the Edge” features a pair of bright white mountain goats walking through their home in the High Country. All told, Benke’s show this weekend promises to be a deep, colorful exploration of Summit County.

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