When the adult coloring craze took off in 2015 after the New York Times featured its first coloring book on the best-seller list, Spencer Mahaffey Lightfoot was ahead of the curve. "I joke that I figured out that adult coloring is therapeutic way before The New York Times," said the Paonia artist. "I figured out how to get a college degree in it."
Lightfoot was selected by the Mountain Harvest Creative board to provide the artwork for the 18th annual Mountain Harvest Festival poster and marketing material.
"It came about as a complete surprise," said Lightfoot. She worked closely with the board to include all of the elements reflected in the festival -- the harvest, flowers, mountains, and music represented by musical notes floating across a blue Colorado sky.
She also worked on the festival logo created by musician and self-taught painter Justin Hess for the first Mountain Harvest Festival in 2001.
Lightfoot calls her unique style, "watercolor mosaic." She grew up surrounded by artists including dad Merrill Mahaffey, a noted Grand Canyon and Southwestern landscape artist, mom Jeanne Mahaffey, also a painter, and two very creative grandmothers. All of them had a big influence on her life. "Everyone was always working on something," and they always had a sketch pad and the best art supplies with them, she said. "I thought everybody had a sketch book growing up."
Her style began in high school as "doodles" drawn in sketch books with calligraphy pens. She started drawing animal and other shapes and filling them in with smaller shapes, then coloring them in with calligraphy ink. Like watercolors, the ink seemed to magically change colors.
Lightfoot is obsessed with color. To bring more color to her drawings, she started using watercolors. Everyone who saw it said her work looked like mosaics, "so I called it watercolor mosaics."
After surviving some not-so-nurturing art teachers and a rebellious period, she earned a bachelors degree in art studies at Arizona State University. She has painted professionally for more than 20 years. Lightfoot works at Second Story Studio above the Blue Sage Center, which she co-owns with painter Shannon Richardson and wildcrafter Kirby Wade with Wild Witch Medicinals.
Each piece begins with pencil sketches of a main theme or shape -- fish, feather, flower or other shape -- on paper attached to a sheet of plywood laid out on the floor. Because it's watercolor it has to lie flat, she said. She then pencils smaller shapes inside the main shapes. It's basically a few shapes drawn over and over and over, she says.
She then begins a "super obsessive" coloring process, choosing a main color palette, then creating 10 different shades of each color by mixing in other colors. "Ten of these, 10 of these, 10 of these, 10 of these..." Each shade is represented within the color scheme of each shape.
Then she turns on a book on tape and gets to work. "It's super therapeutic," she says.
The original piece created for the festival has sold, with half the proceeds going to the nonprofit Mountain Harvest Creative. It will hang with her other works at Second Story Studio through the festival, and prints are available. Lightfoot said she's happy to sign any posters at Second Story during the festival, except during Friday's Chili Cook-Off, for which she's the judges' coordinator.