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  • Artist John Aaron adds color to his drawing of a house on 6th Street and Highland Avenue in Boulder on May 22, 2019.

  • Artist John Aaron adds color to his drawing of a house on 6th Street and Highland Avenue in Boulder on May 22, 2019.

  • Artist John Aaron, left, shares a laugh with Stacey Arnett and her dog, Curly, while drawing the Arnett-Fullen house on Pearl Street in Boulder on Wednesday. Stacey Arnett’s great, great uncle was Will Arnett, who built the house in 1877.

  • Artist John Aaron adds color to his drawing of a house on 6th Street and Highland Avenue in Boulder on May 22, 2019.

  • Artist John Aaron draws the Arnett-Fullen house on Pearl Street in Boulder on Wednesday.

  • Artist John Aaron adds color to his drawing of a house on 6th Street and Highland Avenue in Boulder on May 22, 2019.

  • The Arnett-Fullen house on Pearl Street in Boulder on May 22, 2019.

  • Artist John Aaron gets ready to add color to is drawing of a house on 6th Street and Highland Avenue in Boulder on May 22, 2019.

  • Artist John Aaron adds color to his drawing of a house at Sixth Street and Highland Avenue in Boulder on Wednesday.

  • Artist John Aaron adds color to one of his drawings of historic homes in Boulder on Wednesday.

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Boulder has long been known as quite the colorful city, and now there’s a book enabling people to fill in its many hues, real and imagined.

“Color Me Boulder A Coloring Book of the City’s Iconic Architecture” is the latest creation by artist and author John Aaron. He has lived in Boulder at two different points in his life, makes his home now in Ojai, Calif., but is back in his old haunts again, focusing on getting the word out about his latest creation.

Aaron, 66, has been creating portraits of Boulder’s historic buildings for 35 years. The new collection of 21 intricately hand-drawn images is his third illustrated book and his first interactive publication.

Aaron’s enthusiasm for his new creation burns through the telephone line; and it’s clear the sense of whimsy some associate with the city’s eccentric character also imbues his approach to his art.

“People ask, how do you select the houses?” Aaron said. “I don’t pick them. They pick me.

“A number of times it has been with a crow or squirrel or dog that has come up to me and said, ‘Hi, you seem like a nice guy, you should look at this place.’ I had a crow lead me along on the lawn, saying, ‘You have to go see this side of the house.’ Is this a spirit guide or have I completely lost my mind? It’s Boulder.”

A full range of Boulder architectural highlights are featured in Aaron’s book, representing its commercial life (The Hotel Boulderado), its spiritual side (St. John’s Episcopal Church), its leisure amusement aspects (Chautauqua Auditorium), along with a smattering of private residences, several of them in the historic Mapleton Hill neighborhood.

Asked to pick a favorite, Aaron sounded like he might have been asked to pick between favorite children, although he did mention the Horace O. Dodge House at 590 Pine St., which dates back to 1895-96, for the fact that its top floor features four types of facades.

“It is like something out of a sorcerer’s home,” he noted. “I was so impressed with that — but I could not get into the backyard. I have a serious policy, not to trespass.”

Injury and inspiration

Aaron credits a number of people with helping him realize the project; among them is Wendy Hall, branch manager for Boulder’s Carnegie Library for Local History, for her invaluable assistance in providing accurate historical data on all the properties featured, including the library itself, built in 1906 at 1125 Pine St.

Hall “contacted me just before we were going to print in early April,and said if I could include this or that,  then the book would be really accurate,” Aaron said. “It’s like having a sixth grade teacher saying she wants you to get an A, so study this. And I’m, ‘Whatever you say. I’m so there!’”

Hall is a big fan of Aaron’s project.

Artist John Aaron adds color to one of his drawings of historic homes in Boulder on Wednesday.

“John approached us in the early phase of the book, showing us what he had already accomplished. It was exciting to see a coloring book for all ages that focused on historic preservation of buildings in Boulder,” she said in an email. “Since our archive contains history on each of these buildings, it was easy for us to assist John in fine-tuning the details of the house histories as well as fact check the addresses and dates.”

She appreciates the light touch he was able to introduce while at the same time staying true to the city’s history and early architectural character.

“While his artwork is finely detailed and focused on the homes,  the book has a whimsical nature to it. His playfulness in describing the homes includes some historic vignettes and observations of people and animals who are associated with the homes,” she said. “On most pages he selects a word on each page that he uses to educate the reader about architectural styles and preservation.”

‘A consummate artist’

Like any good book, Aaron’s project carries a compelling backstory. Such a book was not even in his plans, until the spring of 2018 when a friend of his from Ojai who was visiting Boulder, was struck by a bicyclist and suffered a serious head injury. Aaron volunteered to her family members that he would fly to Boulder, since he knew the turf, to check on her welfare and offer the immediate support that they were not in a position to provide.

Aaron got to town and saw to the woman’s needs during her first weeks of recovery.

“My attitude is, if I had been in a strange city where I knew no one and I was seriously injured, I would be praying for some kind of angel to show up and say. ‘I’ve got your back.’ The most you can do for a friend is to be their friend.”

Before too long, Aaron’s friend, who also is an artist, went to Boulder’s Two Hands Paperie, to buy pens and post cards designed to be colored in. Aaron, in turn, was inspired during his free time to start sketching some of the homes that caught his eye on Mapleton Hill, and it was his recovering friend who offered the idea that his sketches could be developed into what is now “Color Me Boulder.”

“I’d have to say her perception about its possibilities as a coloring book were pretty prescient for someone who had recently been knocked silly” in an accident that Aaron said made local television news.

“I’m pretty impressed how much she’s recovered over the past year. Evidently she gave me a sage piece of advice,” he said. “I would guess her self-imposed therapy of coloring to regain reality was pretty effective … It had never dawned on me in 40 years of art to make a coloring book.”

Artist John Aaron, left, shares a laugh with Stacey Arnett and her dog, Curly, while drawing the Arnett-Fullen house on Pearl Street in Boulder on Wednesday. Stacey Arnett’s great, great uncle was Will Arnett, who built the house in 1877.

Aaron is quick to credit others on the project, including Longmont’s Dynamic Designs Printing & Marketing, which printed the book, and friends such as Tim Benko of Benko Photographics in Gunbarrel, who assisted in art preparation of the final product, saying Benko was “absolutely a monster” in the help that was provided.

Benko dismissed the praise, saying all he really did was convert Aaron’s original work into a larger format, that would work in the book, along with darkening the intricate lines of Aaron’s artwork so it would reproduce well in the finished collection.

“I’ve known him for about 30 years,” Benko said of Aaron. “He’s, in my opinion, a consummate artist. He lives and breathes art. He’s also an incredible sculptor. I have his pieces in my house,  including a dog that stands 3 feet high. He’s done wall hangings at the Hotel Boulderado, and all kinds of stuff.”

‘Crazy camp counselor’

Another member of his team is Boulder artist George Peters — known internationally for his unique kite art — who gave Aaron a place to stay while he was working, designed the book’s cover, suggested the book’s name, and has been an encouraging voice throughout. He sees the finished product as a celebration of the historic nature of some of the city’s oldest homes. Peters’ own residence on Spruce Street dates to the 1890s.

“All cities have these places that aren’t really well known unless there is a historic society or a historic museum. We’re lucky to have both in Boulder,” Peters said. “It’s the history of the place that’s the important thing. The coloring is the part that, you buy it for your kids — and then you start reading the stories underneath each one, and it has a great adult appeal, as well. You start to learn your own history.”

Aaron brings a wealth of energy to beating the drum for his book, the same passion that has fueled his work as global project director of Chalk4Peace, which originated nearly 15 years ago as a campaign to encourage young artists across the world to draw their vision of peace in public and private places with sidewalk chalk.

“That project has very much informed the way I approached making this book and marketing the book,” Aaron said. “Chalk4Peace as been worldwide and has been in 40 countries and had over 40 events, at schools and at the U.N., and Ferguson, Mo. … I’ve gotten good at being a crazy camp counselor.”

Artist John Aaron draws the Arnett-Fullen house on Pearl Street in Boulder on Wednesday.

Reaction to the book has been strong, Aaron said. It is available at 11 different locations in the county —The Boulder Book Store, check, McGuckin, check — and there have been inquiries about producing similar books for Aspen, Fort Collins and more.

“It was a bunch of serendipity that brought this book into existence, from a very serious injury of a dear friend of mine to activate this a year ago,” he mused. “It has been a fascinating ride.”

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