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For the week of November 8 through 14, 2000

Watercolor world

In a continuing series the Mountain Express looks at resident artists and their work

Express Arts Editor

There are two currents in Tina Cole’s life that have, over time, come to flow together. One is that she simply loves to draw—she always has and likely always will. The other is her affinity for Asia and its cultures. These two themes have formed a symbiotic relationship in her life: her travels abroad inspire her watercolor paintings and, conversely, the paintings serve as means to transport her back to the given moment and place the art was created.

Cole has recently installed an exhibit of her work at the Sun Valley Athletic Club in Ketchum. In this particular show she has included several paintings of this area and one from Nepal.

While Cole received a degree in painting from the University of Washington Art School, she explained in a recent interview that her artistic pursuits began with a 1975 trip to Europe. For the three-month trip from northern Scandinavia to Italy, Cole made her first sketchbook journal. She has finished close to 40 journals to date. "I can open up to a page and remember the temperature, the smells, the sounds, everything about that time," Cole said.

She was formally introduced to watercolors by a sculptor, professor George Tsutakawa, at the University of Washington. Even though the students had to use newsprint instead of watercolor paper for their paintings, Cole was intrigued by the media. While in school she also had the good fortune of studying under Norman Lundin and Jacob Lawrence. Cole credits them with helping her with the basics of drawing, a skill she deems extremely important to painting.

"If you can’t draw, you can’t paint," she said. "I think it is really important to have the skeletal structure in what you are doing." Cole always sketches with pencil, ink, or hard charcoal before painting. With a structure in place, she will go back and paint.

Cole does all of her work on location, and on a good day that means producing two or three small pieces in an hour. What is especially important to Cole is that her work have a "sense of immediacy. It is important to me that they not be overworked, erased and manipulated too much."

Cole really pursued watercolors, because, as she said, "I was so miserable at it." She pointed out that one can’t afford to make too many mistakes with watercolors, because "[they are] pure pigment." The up side of that fact is that "you can really punch the colors and make them sparkle."

There is another benefit to watercolors as far as Cole is concerned: they are easy to transport. It is a feature that has fit in well with her affinity for travel. She has traveled to Nepal and Tibet perhaps eight or nine times. "I’ve never been happier than when at high altitude with the yaks. It is a big part of my life. I have friends there who I’ve known for probably 20 years." She added, "the colors, the art, the environment—everything there is very comfortable for me."

The colors she refers to are the five colors found in various combinations on Buddhist prayer flags. The colors have cultural representations: blue for sky, white for spirit and mind, green for water, red for fire, and yellow for earth. She offered that her having lived the first five years of her life in Japan may be why she feels such a connection to Asia.

Since the birth of her son (he is now 11) Cole has scaled back her traveling a bit. As a result, she has done more local paintings and several of the Grand Canyon.

If Cole isn’t painting or traveling with her husband and son, she is writing. She has been a free-lance writer for several years, not only for the Mountain Express but for Sun Valley Magazine and Powder Magazine.

"I never define myself as a writer, but I’ve always, always written. Probably every night since seventh-grade I’ve written in a journal. It’s like brushing my teeth. I’m very comfortable with writing," Cole said.

Still, she mostly "loves to draw. I much prefer getting out and painting, being out in the mountains. Living in this area offers such a nice opportunity to be around good [art] work and still be remote. This is a great place for artists."


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