Nicole Gaitan’s house is decorated in black and white. She primarily dresses in neutrals. But her paintings, on display starting tonight at the Rose, are a wash of whimsical jewel tones and bright colors.

Gaitan always loved to draw from the moment she first held a crayon. In high school she was a meticulous ink artist, so focused on the details she rarely finished pieces. Her art teacher at Jackson Hole High School told her she needed to let loose.

Her current painting process is far from the perfected lines she used to labor over as a teenager. It’s also much bigger. She works in a large scale, with her smallest pieces often 18 by 20 inches, and going up to 36 by 36 inches.

Loving drawing, Gaitan developed a way to create an ink-like look on the large scale of her canvases. Paint didn’t work; it wasn’t smooth enough and required too much brush reapplication. She mixed black paint into a special water bottle made for arborists. She uses it to spray the outline. It’s like ink, but it explodes on the canvas and bleeds and splashes. It’s a process that often requires Gaitan to throw out pieces before she even gets to the color. Sometimes it dries like a giant blob of black paint.

But when the paint settles in the form of animals, birds — or often most recently fish — she then mixes acrylics in water to create a paint that has a watercolor feel. Watercolors dry too fast, she said. Oil paints don’t dry fast enough. The mixture she creates is a happy medium that allows her to layer the paint, while keeping the fluid feel of watercolor. She never sets the color scheme in advance; it evolves as she paints.

Nor does she plan what she shows.

“I tend do the best work the night before a show,” she said.

She does know she will have several fish paintings. She’s been in a fish phase lately, she said. She likes the colors, patterns and how each is different.

Gaitan finds inspiration from Jackson. Her paintings mainly feature wildlife, birds, fish and horses.

Gaitan grew up in Jackson and moved to California where she studied art history at the University of California- Santa Cruz. She spent her summers back in Jackson working at Horizon Fine Art Gallery. One summer the gallery hung four of her pieces, two roosters, one fish and one horse. A patron bought all four.

“That was a turning point for me,” she said. “That’s when I realized this is what I want do with my life.”

Gaitan moved back to Jackson about two years ago. In the typical Jackson way she juggles her art with other jobs, teaching Pilates and selling real estate.

See Gaitan’s paintings at the Rose. There is an opening reception from 7 to 10 p.m. today.

Contact Deputy Editor Johanna Love at 732-7071 or

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