Features ~ Sonoma Valley Sun


Sonoma artist named president of National Watercolor Society

Posted on February 7, 2008 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Dick Cole was recently named president of the National Watercolor Society. His goal as president is to increase membership and outreach to public schools.
Ryan lely/Sonoma Valley Sun

At age 80, watercolorist Dick Cole doesn’t believe in retirement. He’s been painting full-time for a dozen years and one third of his watercolor work is freelance illustration, including calendars such as one with scenes of Marin and Sonoma for the Bank of Marin, and one called “Just Cows,” published by the Lang Companies for the past five years. He’s currently developing a calendar on American diners.
A fourth-generation Californian, Cole grew up in Redlands, near San Bernardino. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in art, he enrolled at the Art Center College of Design, now in Pasadena, to earn a BFA in what was called advertising illustration so he could earn a living.
He recalls a teacher there saying water runs downhill as a way of getting across to students that watercolors aren’t that complicated. All painting is about the value of light to dark, Cole explains, and his teacher provided a good foundation by limiting students to only three tubes of paint – white, black and burnt sienna – to keep them from getting sidetracked by color choices.
Cole then moved to New York to work as an art director at Young & Rubicam, a large advertising agency, where he helped create magazine ads for Dupont fibers Nylon and Dacron. This being 1956, on the first day his boss took him shopping at Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue, advancing him the money to buy a couple of conservative gray suits for work. Five years later he transferred to the agency’s San Francisco office.
In the early 1960s, he joined designer Primo Angeli to start Cole & Angeli, a graphic design studio with offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto, and such clients as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Memorex. Although he always wanted to get back to painting, Cole wasn’t doing much of it then, but did take occasional classes at the San Francisco Art Institute to maintain his skills.
In the early 1970s, he sold his share of the business to his partner and became a freelance illustrator, doing lots of work for textbook publishers, mostly pen and ink and some watercolors.
Cole moved to Sonoma in 1991 to get out of San Francisco, first living in Schellville, now on the east side. He started doing more watercolors after American Express hired him to paint a series for ads promoting various resorts.
Transparency is an important aspect of watercolors that Cole likes, as well as their immediacy. “I must keep my brain one step ahead of my hand,” he said. Unlike oil and acrylic, watercolors don’t allow the artist to scrape off the paint and start over.
In addition to illustration and his own work, Cole accepts commissions for portraits, for which he draws pencil sketches before starting to paint. He sells his work at the Fairmont Gallery here and at the Metro Gallery in Bakersfield.
Recently, he became president of the board of the National Watercolor Society, based in San Pedro. One of his goals is to increase the organization’s membership and its outreach programs in public schools. He’s also on the board of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.
Cole also likes to share his knowledge. In the 1980s, he taught graphic design and illustration at San Jose State and the San Francisco Academy of Art. Last November he led a watercolor workshop in Yosemite, and this spring he’ll lead three days of plein air painting at sites near water, so that painters can work with reflections.

Dick Cole Studio
819 Virginia Court

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