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SoCo Stars: Timothy Ellis Cole of Partner Projects


Tim Cole gets to work on the Groundwork! mural.

We’ve been crazy about the artwork of Tim Cole of Partner Projects ever since we saw it at last year’s Craftorama. Dena and I also went to high school with Tim’s wife, so the world of Groundwork! keeps getting smaller and smaller. We finally met Tim at the EforAll pitch contest this fall, we’ve been collaborating since.

Tim’s mural has quickly become the centerpiece of life at Groundwork!, transforming our kitchen wall with a vibrant explosion of greens and blues, detailed line work, and leaves that meld into ocean waves. The mural speaks to interconnectivity and organic evolution, two themes we think about daily as we build our coworking community.

When we suggested hosting an opening reception to celebrate the mural, Tim was off and running with ideas for a collaborative show he aptly named “Nothing Without Everything“. In this interview, Tim shares about his life and work, and why interconnectivity defines our existence.

What do you create?

What I create can be pretty varied, but one consistent facet I find is that I can only be so deliberate in my plan or I get trapped by the tentative parameters I set. It usually helps me to have a general concept to work within and let the specifics author themselves as things take shape. There are many aesthetic criteria that I operate within, mostly unknowingly, but I find that what I feel works as I make tons of little decisions throughout the process of drawing or whatever the medium. The subject matter of what I create can be pretty broad too. Some of it can be campy and cute, while other projects are more sincere in their content. No matter what I’m making, I always leave a good amount of room to let it take its own shape throughout the process from the conception of an idea to the physical execution of it. The forms and patterns in what I make seem to be the most reoccurring elements and I’m not sure how much control I have over that. I’m seldom not surprised by the outcome of things. Usually, I’m pleasantly surprised by the outcome, but sometimes not so much. Either way, I accept it without any self-criticism and move on to the next project.


One of Tim’s amazingly detailed drawings, an illustration commission for Codtown: a skate/surf apparel brand.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

A typical day for me revolves primarily around my son, Mackinac. He’s totally rad. My wife, Jennie, and I will typically eat breakfast with him and both help get him ready for his day. One of us takes him to school and the other will usually pick him up if its a school day. If not, there are adventures to be had with him while trying to get a few other things done in the process. Throughout the day, I’m constantly giving thought to studio related stuff. If I have time to work, I go in with a decent plan on what I want to get done. A few nights a week, I’ll spend a lot of time in the studio really getting into projects. Outside of that, I try to skateboard when I can. If it’s a day that I’m in the studio, I usually start by walking a block further to spend a few minutes on the beach to get my head on straight.

What is the biggest challenge you face as an artist?

The biggest challenge I face as an artist is financial. I’m all over the place with ideas and relatively prolific in my output of work, but I really need to get a solid grasp on how I will make each endeavor worth pursuing financially. My other hurdle would be focus and completion of tasks. I have a touch of ADHD, no question.

Do have any routines or activities that you do to encourage creativity?

My main routine to encourage creativity is to be open to taking in all that surrounds me in my environment. All the stimuli around is pretty huge, so I try to slow down my thoughts and take it in for the sake of it inspiring me down the line.

What do you listen to while you work?

When I’m working I listen to so many different things, but I often go to music that friends of mine have made. Knowing the people behind what I listen to can be really motivating because there is a personal feeling that goes along with hearing it. It keeps me motivated and on task most of the time.

Where did the inspiration for “Nothing Without Everything” come from?

The inspiration for “Nothing without Everything” comes from the idea that we all lack identity and purpose without our relationships to other beings, phenomena, etc.

In a sense our existence is dependent upon our interconnection. The Japanese word engi literally translates to “arising in relation.” Engi was the working title for the show until I found my own words that captured the concept with personal relevance. I need to remind myself that I’m “nothing without everything” to spend my time constructively and in positive way that benefits all of the facets of my world that make me anything at all. My existence can only be meaningful in in relation to others.


A detail of the finished mural at Groundwork!

The symbolic use of water throughout my work in this show and beyond references the presence of water in all organic matter. The leaves in the work often turn into water and waves to show the light that gives life and color to the leaves that contain mostly water. The tree in the mural stands tall and strong because its roots anchor it in the ground while gathering the water it needs from the soil. All of these cyclical attributes in the mural and other work simply illustrates this interdependence between light, air and water and how none could function without all the pieces. This can carry over into anything as simple as my existence as a father being defined by my relationship to Mackinac, my son. There are a myriad of aspects to any of our identities that exemplify this concept.

The addition of collaborators to contribute elements to certain pieces in the show is another way I chose to show this. My friends make beautiful things with a lot of passion and forethought. They inspire me to try to do the same. My relationships with them inspire ideas and motivate me to create. Their work is different than mine in style and medium, but is entirely complimentary and will add so much to the experience of seeing the exhibit.

Basically, the show is inspired by a ton of things, but all of them revolve around my relationship to the world around me and the idea that my existence has no meaning without the context of these relationships.

How does collaboration influence your work?

Collaboration is a huge influencer of my work. I am confident in my abilities, but if I’m working on something that has someone else attached to it, I tend to make it a bigger priority and draw a great deal of inspiration from their contributions or just their personality’s positive effect on me.

How important is your community as an artist? How can coworking spaces better integrate with and support artists?

Community is hugely important as an artist. When I first had a din of creative friends in my late teens in New Mexico, I was a part of a bigger ball of creative energy than I ever knew about. We were all into so many different things and somehow would throw together totally cohesive collaborative projects, regardless of how much we may have differed. The community promotes dialog, shared resources, motivation through seeing other’s work and a general sense of belonging. People who decide that they are pursuing the arts are generally very unique and being around them is hugely empowering.

Coworking spaces can better integrate and support artists by establishing a network with other professionals and a venue to engage in dialogue. If there were more artists in a coworking space, I think it would also encourage artists like me to function better as professionals and take their work seriously because it is a tough hustle to get compensated fairly out there.

What is the most surprising or unusual aspect of your life?

The most surprising aspect of my life is that I’m healthy and alive. I spent a lot of time dealing with substance abuse issues and luckily took the decisive action to relocate and get myself better. Things were trending in the right direction. The real reason I’m still okay was that shortly after getting my life mostly together, I met Jennie and things became bigger than me thanks to love. Treating myself poorly came at a price bigger than me. I’d be letting down someone I loved. It is a similar motivator to why I take commission work or collaborative projects more seriously, they’re about more than just me. I’m happy to report that despite a scary amount of friends being taken by addiction, I’m in awesome shape and have been for over a decade. Love is pretty powerful if you let down some walls and let it in. Now with Mack on board, the love is of epic proportions.

What inspires you?

It’s my best guess that I’m inspired by the people I love first, the aspects of my surroundings second and the backlog of memories (conscious and subconscious) that I have. I think my work changes as I do based on the influence of what I’ve seen and experienced up until the moment something is created.

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