Chemist Steven Arnold uses watercolors to explore his creative side
You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.
"I never had any formal art training until I was in college and took a class in jewelry-making because I needed an extra credit," says Steven Arnold. In fact, he was a chemistry major with a minor in mathematics who went on to a job working with the state on environmental issues for four decades. But while art wasn't his academic strong suit, this "near native" (Arnold's been in Denver since first grade and classifies himself accordingly) executes watercolors with the expertise of a life-long artist.
That college-level jewelry-making class may have piqued Arnold's interest in creating things, but a hunt for home decor ultimately drew him into the art world. After Arnold married, he started perusing galleries for artwork for his house. When he couldn't find the right piece, he decided to take a class and paint something. "That kind of got me started," he says. In 1993, Arnold began studying art with Judy Patti in Littleton; he's been working at her studio ever since.
But he also paints outside the studio -- and often gives away his work for free. "Probably my most favorite thing is when we go on vacation and I set up my easel and paint pictures of things on the beach," says Arnold. He especially loves children and how they are "uninhibited by the people around them and the environment." The picture above of the girl with the boogie board was inspired by a photo Arnold found in a beach town's newspaper. He contacted the newspaper, and when he was finished the piece he gave the painting to the girl's family.
They were surprised, to say the least. "I explained that it was my hobby to paint pictures on the beach and then give away the paintings," Arnold says. At first, he sold his beach pictures. But early on, Arnold decided that if he really wanted to learn about painting and experiment with techniques, "it would be best to just paint and give the pictures away," he says. "Often I am asked how long it takes to paint a portrait like the girl on the beach, and I usually estimate the time at about twenty to thirty hours. But the best answer is it takes two people to paint a watercolor: One to apply the paint and the other to tell you when to stop."
It is in this generous spirit that Arnold shows his art around town. He's hung at Steam Espresso Bar, Stella's Coffeehaus and the Littleton Light Rail Station. He even has a few pieces up at his dentist's office in Sakura Square. Putting art on walls is more "about getting people moving along with their décor," says Arnold.
Keep reading for more art from Steven Arnold.
When Arnold isn't painting, he works in a permanent part-time position at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in the air pollution program. He's been there since 1972, starting as the program's deputy director before heading the technical services program, which does all of our state's air monitoring. During his stint in technical services, Arnold was the go-to guy whenever there was a problem, making public announcements. Now Arnold is semi-retired and works on special projects like the greenhouse gas inventory he's currently conducting; he also teaches environmental science classes at the University of Denver's University College.
The artist does mostly watercolor work along with some pen-and-ink pieces. His work is rich in color and deeply grounded in nature. "Most of the colors are what I see in nature," says Arnold. "I'm not trying to create something out of the ordinary and am always fighting the tendency to paint everything exactly as it appears in the picture." Arnold ultimately credits the "nature of watercolors" for making the resulting colors so vibrant and whimsical.
Arnold loves painting flowers, like the iris above. "You can stare at an iris for hours and think you know all about them 'til you paint them and you discover how intricate they are," he says.
Arnold doesn't currently have a website, but you can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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