Tibetan Artists’ Development Company is a small family-style fine art and handicrafts training school that was established by Canadian artist Kristel Ouwehand (Tenzin Dolma) in 2010 in response to a growing need for a center for young artists to study art in an ethics based environment. As a result of the local arts culture being increasingly influenced by economics, artists are pressured to produce thangkas at great quantities with less regard for tradition and quality. The quality and respect ordinarily attached to the art of thangka has suffered greatly.
The two main tenets of the school are:
1. No tracing or copying permitted.
In these days of photocopying and scanners, the temptation has become great for artists to skip over the meticulous study, memorization and accuracy of proportions, which has traditionally been the foundation of thangka art.
2. A foundation of art history and fundamental Buddhist symbolism.
Due to the tendency for young artists to disregard schooling, many artists are illiterate. Without being able to read the texts, mistakes are common. The Tibetan Artists’ Development Company aims to encourage artists to be concerned more with producing authentic art of quality, out of responsibility and regard for their own culture rather than out of a primary concern for money. The school also teaches anatomy and perspective as well as other related skills and mediums related to Western style art, so that when our students graduate from the 5 year program, they possess a set of skills and ethics that will allow them to thrive and establish themselves in the professional world.
Student selection process
The school only takes a small number of students, with a focus on quality rather than quantity. Each September, entrance exams are held, with applicants welcome to come at any time during the month. On the 30th, a “family meeting” is held during which Kristel and her students go through all the exam papers, and each student gives his/her view as to which 2 or 3 applicants they would choose to accept. Finally a vote is held, and those applicants with the most votes are called and accepted into the school, beginning their studies on October 15th. That evening, the welcome dinner for the new students is held, along with the graduation party for the students leaving. This method has allowed us to maintain an excellent quality of student, and the students themselves feel they have a part in maintaining that quality. It also prevents the issue that is common in these areas of having potential students’ families feel they can persuade, or bribe the school to accept their friends or relatives. It is clear for the students and their families that the final decision is entirely democratic.
About the Founder
Kristel Ouwehand (Tenzin Dolma) is a Canadian artist who found herself in Tibet on her way to Indonesia. Considering she dislikes mountains and cold weather, she made a surprising choice of ethnic art traditions to become fascinated by!
After many years of wandering with a backpack through 40 countries, including an 11-year stint in India, much of which was spent as the sole female and foreigner in Drepung Gomang Monastery in Karnataka, she finally settled in Labrang (Xiahe), Gansu province of western China. There, she founded Tibetan Artists’ Development Company, an ethics-oriented art school and currently has 12 full-time Tibetan students who live with her and her two cats, and teaches both traditional style thangka painting, as well as western style art based on anatomy, proportions and perspective.
She also teaches evening English and art history/ theory classes. In the course of her 10 years in China, she has acquired 12 “children” and two cats, written, illustrated and published an art textbook in English, Tibetan and Chinese, illustrated over 20 children’s books, and both written and illustrated 5 of her own. She has painted an 8m x 2m long compilation of 100 famous Tibetans in history, a 4m x 2m illustration of Labrang monastery and its surrounds, a 4m x 2.5m illustration of Labrang monastery, and most recently, a 9m x 3m long mural of black-necked cranes for a WWF wildlife preserve in Yushu, northern Qinghai.
She organized and fundraised for the first ever artists’ conference, held in Xining in 2011, and assisted in organizing two follow-up conferences in Chengdu in 2013 and Labrang in 2016.
She has been invited to various schools and art training centers to lead workshops in western art. Her art has been exhibited in several countries, and in several cities in China.
In her spare time (if any presents itself) she likes to sew, make things, think of new stories for children’s books and try to prevent her cats from taking over the world.