Sue Matthews Has a Way With Watercolor

The Alameda artist works from photos to detail boats, watery reflections, lagoons, and portraits that she then paints.


Photo by Lance Yamamoto

​When Sue Matthews paints with watercolor, she captures scenes from her immediate environment: boats and watery reflections, lagoons and bay scenes, and portraits of family and friends. Working from the art studio in her home on Bay Farm Island, she creates vivid and colorful works on paper.

When she begins her painting, Matthews works from her own photographs, detailing the subject by drawing it onto watercolor paper before ever dipping her brush into paint or taking a brushstroke. Painting is a meditative process for her, and when she is fully engaged, three intense hours of studio work can feel as brief as 10 short minutes, she said.

Matthews is self-taught artist whose earliest work included drawing studies of natural objects —flora and fauna in her childhood. Born in Wisconsin, she spent her formative years in Clayton. She started out as a biology major at UC Berkeley but finished with a degree in life sciences from California State University, East Bay. After earning a teaching credential at San Francisco State University, she took up residence in the Sierra foothills as a teacher for the Sly Park Environmental Education Center in Pollock Pines, a science camp run by the Sacramento County Office of Education.

“I was one of 11 credentialed teachers teaching fifth- and sixth-graders who came up to the foothills by bus from Sacramento Valley schools,” Matthews said. “The program started in the early 1970s and still continues today.”

In her 30s and 40s, Matthews earned continuing education credits in teaching at the UC Point Reyes Field Station by taking classes in natural history and drawing that also further develop her artistic talent. Retiring after 30 years of teaching, she returned to the Bay Area and began to focus more intensely on her art. When she discovered a class at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts nine years ago, she allowed her drawings to segue into watercolor, which brought added vibrancy to her images. She remains a student and member of the FBCA, and she has become an award-winning member of the California Watercolor Association.

 “Georgia O’Keefe was an early influence,” Matthews said. “I am also influenced by local watercolorists Margaret Fago and Pablo Villacana-Lara.”

Matthews recently exhibited her work at the Delta Gallery in Brentwood and Eyewise Optometry, a FBCA satellite gallery at the Nob Hill Shopping Center.

“I am flattered if my images remind people of somewhere they would like to be,” she said.

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