A coloring book celebrates Aspen’s iconic architecture | AspenTimes.com

A coloring book celebrates Aspen’s iconic architecture

Artist John Aaron will set up his easel around town whenever possible to capture the local architecture.
Tim Benko, Benko Photographics/Courtesy Photo

Boulder artist John Aaron loves Aspen so much he decided to create an adult coloring book of the town’s architecture, “Color Me Aspen.”

He grew up in Michigan with school friends who skied in Aspen regularly. He was intrigued by their tales of the Rockies and knew it was a place he wanted to explore. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he took a road trip.

“Somebody gave me a name of a hostess in Boulder as I was driving out to California,” he said. “I was told she’ll give you a key to the house, so you can stick around for a couple days, and so I did. I crashed on the couch the first night, and when I woke up, it was right on Chautauqua Park. The living room window faced the Flatirons. I think, ‘I like this place,’ so I hung out for a few days and decided that my time in Michigan was over; and I packed up everything, and I moved to Boulder, rented a house, met a woman shortly after. We were ski bums.”

Artist John Aaron with his sculpture of The Wheeler building.
Jeffrey Riggenbach Photography/Courtesy Photo

Shortly after “around late 1980,” he visited Aspen for the first time on the recommendation of a friend. There he learned that drinking at 9,000 feet elevation was a very different experience than at 5,000 feet.

“A buddy of mine told me to get a drink at the J Bar at The Hotel Jerome. I bought a steak, and I had a couple Heinekens, and I got back to my room, and it was like I was on a rotisserie spinning around and sleeping with the lights on, sitting up,” he said with a laugh. “That was one of those hard lessons learned. I’m like, ‘OK, don’t drink very much while you’re up here until you get acclimated.'”

Luckily, that experience didn’t deter him from a lifetime love affair and creative relationship with the town.

“One of the things that really moves me about John Denver’s song, ‘Rocky Mountain High’ is that he sings, ‘He was born in the summer of his 27th year.’ I moved to Colorado when I was 27, and I felt he knew me and my experiences with discovering this place. It was just very exciting.”

Until 2017, Aaron worked in ceramic sculpture between his studios in Boulder and northern California with frequent stints in Aspen. One of his sculptures can still be found downstairs at The Wheeler Opera House. Unfortunately, he began having trouble with his hands due to the years of exposure to the materials he used for his work, and so took up drawing as a creative outlet.

He found himself in Boulder caring for a sick friend, and with not much to do, so he began walking around his neighborhood sketching old Victorians. His friend saw the drawings and mentioned that he should consider turning them into adult coloring books. So that’s what he did, publishing his first one “Color me Boulder” in 2019.

“Color Me Aspen” is a fun, adult coloring book highlighting the iconic buildings around town.
John Aaron/Courtesy Photo

His followup is the second edition of “Color Me Aspen,” which is the result of over 40 years of observing what he calls one of his favorite places.

The book features all the iconic buildings in town, from The Hotel Jerome and The Wheeler Opera House to the Sundeck on top of Aspen Mountain and the more modern Aspen Art Museum. Each drawing features a bit of history or a story about the property.

He acknowledged he is not a historian. He enlisted Anna Scott, archivist at The Aspen Historical Society, and credited her for giving him detailed feedback and notes to ensure accuracy.

But mostly, the book is about fun. His architectural drawings are whimsical and clever and don’t take themselves too seriously. He likes to hide historical Easter eggs along with nods to the past. Almost all his drawings include a dog or a cat of some sort and sometimes a horse or a recognizable cartoon character.

He also creates colorful, larger-scale paintings of his drawings. Folks who have been around town a while might recognize him sitting outside (when weather permits) with his easel set up and paintbrush or colored pencil in hand.

“I believe that as William Wiley, the famous Bay Area artist, said, ‘This lack of humor in art is serious.’ And he signed it, Sir Real. I’ve always really believed that,” he said. “Aspen has treated me really well through all the years, from all the crazy partying until now. I love it here and people treat me very respectfully for what I can do. It buoys my spirit and makes me want to do more.”

You can purchase “Color Me Aspen” at Aspen Art Museum, Carl’s Pharmacy, The Wheeler and Aspen Electric.

Aaron said he likes to keep his work colorful, whimsical, and not too serious.
John Aaron/Courtesy Photo
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