This was one of the first articles I wrote for the Register-Guard’s Weekend section when it was created in early 2014. This was also the second time I had interviewed Bets Cole and I found her charming and generous both times.
Bets Cole’s light-filled studio satisfies this painter all year-round
By Vanessa Salvia
Bets Cole is an accomplished painter most known for her plein air landscapes. During the winter when she chooses not to paint outdoors, she works in her studio. Two winters ago she embarked upon a series of 50 portraits of local professional women. Her studio is upstairs in her home on an 80-acre farm in Elmira.
How do you use your studio? Do you prefer to have your studio in the house or separate from the house?
In winter I use my studio quite a bit. Some of my friends who are women artists like to have their studio separate from the home because it eliminates the urge to grab a cup of coffee or wash a dish. My former studio was a yurt and separate from the house. I like my studio in the house because I can run up to my studio anytime of the day to work. With the studio in the house I don’t have to wrap myself or the artwork up to protect it from the weather to bring it into the house.
Your studio is on the south side of your home, which is different from what most people might choose.
When we were building the house I knew that I wanted the studio to be on the south side. Usually studios, or at least the windows, are on the north side because of the filtered light. We installed the windows on the north side of my yurt and it didn’t work for me. It’s so rainy and overcast that I wanted as much light as possible. Even on rainy days I have much more light in the studio than anywhere in the house. It is uplifting and welcoming. In the summertime the light is very strong and hot but I don’t paint in my studio in the summertime. I’m out, traveling or painting outside. If we redesigned the studio I think the only thing I would change is that I would add more storage.
What’s your workweek like?
On weekends I farm and garden and have family time. Each day during the week I listen to NPR, have my smoothie and then I go up to my studio. I had my first child during graduate school so I really learned to focus in order to finish my work and take care of Nik. You may feel like doing the work or you may not but in the end you just have to do it! Now that the kids, McKenzie and Nicholas, are on their own I have lots of time so my art world has grown in a huge way.
Tell me about your portrait series.
During the milder times of the winter I’ll go outside and paint (rain or shine). At other times I invite professional women from the community to my studio to sit for three hours and I paint them. I’ve completed 28 portraits and plan to do up to 50.
Most artists will specialize in some form or technique, or they’ll go through periods where they’ll do different things, but you’re so versatile.
It’s hard for me to do one thing. That’s how I can have a landscape show and then I can have a figurative show. The whole act of painting, the process, is valuable to me. I’m always practicing.
What are your favorite places to paint?
I like to explore new places. I am fascinated by landscapes that are very different from Oregon’s. Utah and the Oregon High Desert are among my favorites. The landforms of both these areas are raw and naked. Ireland was fascinating to paint because it is very much like Oregon and is patterned by old rock walls. Brittany was intriguing to paint in that the architecture decorates and texturizes the landscape. It is a place where man and nature have worked well together.