Category Archives: Art

The Gamble

I am not a gambler.  In fact, the betting window would be closed and the race long over before I even identified all of the variables or made my first graph.  The horses would have died of old age before I analyzed all of the data. It’s not that I can’t make a decision quickly. I can. But data is my security blanket. If there is data to inform my decision, I am compelled to use it.  I can’t just pick “Betty’s Aunt Mary in the Pea Patch” in race two because I once knew a Betty who had an Aunt Mary who lived on a farm with two acres of peas.  I need something rational like a statistically significant difference in leg length or weight to height ratio.  It’s not that I don’t have hunches.  I do.  They are even often right. But I do feel the need to back them up with a reassuring trend line and four supporting peer-reviewed articles.  The truth is, the world is not always predictable or quantifiable. Yes friends, I said it. You can’t measure or calculate everything.  And it turns out that some of the most rewarding things in life come after a massive leap of faith into the unknown.

One year ago today, I took a huge gamble.  I decided to begin selling my photographs and paintings. So, with a frighteningly small amount of research on my part, I got a business license, found a wall to hang my artwork on and created a website.  I did all of that in one weekend. I hyperventilated through much of it. (A big thanks to my family and close friends for talking me off the ledge repeatedly that weekend as I chanted, “What am I doing?!?!?”)  Again, not because it was particularly scary, but because the sum total of my preparation was to read the state and city business license laws.  To put that in perspective, my dissertation is 253 pages long and, after four years of classes, and two years of reading research and crunching numbers, my unbelievably patient doctoral chair literally called me up and said, “Enough researching already, start writing!”  He was a wise man. I would have read “just one more article” and calculated “just one more ANOVA” forever if he had let me. I thought of him as I hung that first photograph and said to myself, “Put the nail in the wall already! What’s the worst that could happen?” Putting my artwork out for everyone to see was a little like jumping into a cold lake in early summer. It took my breath away and made my heart skip a beat. Creating something is so personal. And I didn’t have a chart of data proving it was right or good. I really liked my work. But I am biased. I had no idea if anyone else would like my work.  I’ve sold some photographs and paintings over the year.  That is an amazing feeling – knowing someone wants to look at my art, every day, on their wall! It was also an amazing experience to come to a place where it was OK if someone did not like my work.  The joy is in the creating. It’s icing on the cake if someone shares in that joy.

One of the many unexpected experiences this year was writing this blog.  As with the rest of this magnificent adventure, it was completely unplanned.  The truth is that I really liked the website template I chose on WordPress and I just could not figure out how to get rid of the blog page. So I wrote a short post about how I came to love photography. I truly thought that would be the only post I would ever write.  Blog.  Check. Not surprisingly, my dad figured prominently in that first post and continues to make cameos. I found I really enjoyed writing my blog (and friends I hope you are sitting down, I am not talking about a technical article!). I wrote about the amazing moments (and some hilarious ones) I have had behind my lens. My blog has grown and grown as I remember the big moments – and small ones – of my life.  Sometimes I just muse on life, love, and lessons I have learned. Whether I am writing about the love of my life, my grandpa, my dogs, my dad, my daughter or my day, I find myself laughing and crying and shaking my head.  In the words of Zorba the Greek, I love “the whole catastrophe” that is this amazing life.  And 53 posts later, I am having a great time writing about it.  I am glad I gambled on this adventure. Thanks for gambling on me!

I selected this photograph for my post today because it is really the first photograph I “gambled” on.  I entered it for the annual photo issue of  Rowing Magazine in 2015 and it was publish in the January 2016 issue. It was the moment when I knew that I wanted to take a  leap of faith and gamble on myself.

Women rowing

After the Finish Line
(1/1000 sec., f/6.3, 400 ISO, 600 mm)

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

Just Beneath the Surface

I have been reminiscing a lot lately.  I am not sure if it is the passing of my father, my daughter’s impending senior year or just the end of the school year. Whatever it is, I find myself smiling – a lot.  I have such great memories.  Rebuilding our fire pit reminds me of all of camping trips with my dad.  I still love sitting by the fire talking with friends and family.  The count down to the end of school reminds me of all of the amazing kids I was blessed to have worked with.  Creating anything reminds me of watching my child grow up.  My love of photography, I attribute to my dad. But all other art belongs to my daughter. When she was little, she loved to draw and paint.  As I was painting the other day, I remembered our “Adventure Days” when we would wake up with no particular plan and do something spontaneous and special together. On the rainy winter days, we often found ourselves in The Ceramic Place (capitalized because that is actually the name) painting coffee mugs or Christmas ornaments.  The owner, Marilyn, is so patient and kind.  We would spend hours there.  Marilyn, having watched me try to paint Celtic knots with disappointing results, showed me how to carve them in the ceramic glaze. I would lay down thick layers of colors on a ceramic tile and wait for them to dry completely.  Then I would draw the design on the tile and begin slowly scraping away the layers to reveal the colors below.


Even though I knew what it was going to look like when I was done, there was something magical about scratching away the rough, plain surface to expose the beauty beneath.  Under a magnifying glass, I would watch the thin needle as I scrape back and forth so carefully, drawing out each line. My eyes would cross, and my fingers ached.   I would blow the dust away when it built up in tiny drifts along the edges.  By the time I finished, my clothes would be covered in dust.  All those colors came through the depths to create the image.  Finally, it would be fired.  In that blazing heat, the flat colors turned to liquid.  What was nothing more than sand and dust became a rich glass.

That’s how life is really.  We can stay on the surface where it is plain and dull.  It takes no effort at all. You don’t get messy.  The only pain is boredom or loneliness.  But if you put some effort in; if you are willing to get a little messy; if you are willing to scratch beneath the surface- well that is where the beauty in life lies.  Beneath the surface.  And I have found that those parts of my life forged in a little fire are the most beautiful parts of all.

This piece took a very long time to carve.  It is a replica of the Gateway Guardian mascot which I carved for my best friend.  The picture on the left shows the tile prior to firing.  The picture on the right shows the tile after firing.

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

A Gift

On the walls in my office hang three signed limited edition Judi Rideout prints, one signed limited edition Jon Van Zyle print and an original watercolor by an artist who shares my last name.  Guess which one I love the most. If you guessed the water color on construction paper, double matted in peach and black, you are right. That five year old budding artist was so proud of her creation and even a dozen years later, I know she takes pride in the fact that it hangs on my wall. It’s special and not just because I love the artist but because I know the amount of thought and effort she put into it. She told me all about it in that animated way only a five year old can speak- so fast that the words pelt you. I reveled in every detail of the story. Artists are like that whether they are 5 or 85. Ask them about their work and they light up. They live their inspiration and when they speak it gives such a depth to their work. It helps you to connect with it. A piece that drew you in initially, now has you mesmerized.

Every year, I take a trip with my sisters.  Along the way, we have to stop and take a picture with the World’s Largest Frying Pan or the motel shaped like a dog or Carhenge – you get the idea. It’s silly but it gets us laughing and out of the car. While we are out posing in front of the World’s Largest Wine Bottle (which, by the way, is not filled with wine- disappointing!), we invariably find a shop to explore.  We gravitate to places you probably aren’t going to find through Google that carry things made by hand. In Arizona, we stopped at a roadside pottery shop that had the most beautiful garden art. I bought handsewn worry dolls for a friend.   Incidentally it also had a handmade “Warning: It’s Scorpion Season” sign which helped me to really focus on the fine details of the pottery.  In San Diego, we found hand embroidered shirts and watched aritsans hammer metal into jewelry.  I like the idea of finding the ‘just perfect’ gift that few other people – maybe even no one else- will have.

I also like the added benefit of supporting artists and artisans. It is difficult to make a living as an artist.  Even the most naturally talented artists and artisans take years to develop their craft and find their unique style.  If I have a choice between handmade and mass produced, I choose handmade.  I visited the Schack Art Center in Everett recently.  It was incredible to watch Nancy Callan and the other glass blowers as they patiently drew out the shapes and colors. What an amazing place to view art of so many mediums! They have a great shop where you can purchase original works. These places are everywhere! Whether it is your local museum, art center, or street fair, stop and see what artists and artisans are creating. Look around your local restaurant or hair salon. Businesses are supporting artists work and it’s on display. Before you buy the World’s Greatest Mom mug, remember how happy she was to get your mis-shapened but utterly gorgeous sculpture of a puppy. Support an artist and give her that just perfect, one of a kind, handmade gift. She’ll love it and so will the artists.



Copyright Catherine Matthews 2017.

The Eye of the Beholder

When I was a kid, my dad gave me Masterpiece for my birthday.  It was a board game in the mid 1970’s much like Monopoly except that players bought and sold artwork in an auction.  I don’t remember playing the game even one time.  But I remember the game.  I remember the cards.  Each had a different painting on one side of the card and information about the art and artist on the other.  Renoir, Monet, van Gogh, Toulous-Lautrec, da Vinci, Degas, Pollock…the names were so exotic.  Their stories were tragic and even a bit naughty.  Their works were all so different.  I remember the Pollock best of all which is ironic since I first thought a ten year old could have done it.  There was something about it even then that drew me into the painting.  Perhaps it was the motion and the choas of reds and silvers splashed across the canvas. Perhaps it was just the effort I had to put in trying to make order and see something – anything – in it.  I also remember wondering what made it art at all.  How could Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge  and Pollock’s No. 5 be equally art. Perhaps if I had not been destined to be a science major (see my earlier post wherein I confessed this already), the question of what makes something art would be truly obvious.  I see now it is maybe less important to define art by what it is and more important to define art by what it does.  Art touches us deeply, viscerally.  It evokes emotion in indescribable ways.  I cannot explain why Hana Hamplová’s Meditation on Paper exhibit makes me nostalgic.  But I can smell the dusty pages and hear the crinkle as they are turned.  I cannot explain why Masséus’ Under the Same Sun makes me both sad and joyful. Perhaps it is the perfection of contrasting colors and the obvious carefree brotherly love juxtaposed to the horrific story of their lives.  Or why I just don’t get van Gogh at all (and I don’t think his missing ear makes his work more tragic or mysterious).

So how do you know if you created art?!  I know every parent thinks the finger paintings on their fridge are inspired and the hand print plaque is priceless (I personally have a couple of originals hanging in my office now that I would NEVER part with).  I know when I create a piece that moves me, it moves me not in my head but in my heart.  I hope someone else will have a similar reaction of course. But it is just as likely that someone will be completely unmoved maybe even dislike a piece. I don’t think we do our best work or live our best lives trying to please everyone else.  In the end, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  Create. Just create. Put what you love out there.  You cannot control how other’s will experience it. Cliff Fadiman said, “When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.”  I think the same is true with all art. We see ourselves in it. The more we look at it, we see more in ourselves than there was before.

This piece is one of my favorites.  What do you feel when you look at it?




First Frost
(30 sec., f/5.6, 1000 ISO, 18 mm)

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2017.

Confessions of a Closet Artist

Confession time. I was a science major. There, I said it. It’s out.  What a relief!  Does that mean I am not also an artist?  Well frankly, I sure thought so.  In fact, I could make you a chart quantifying my non-artistic characteristics. (My friends are shaking their collective heads right now both in exasperation and agreement- I really will make you a chart. It will be a work of art.) I thought people were basically artists or scientists.  And every other “ist” was just a branch of those two categories.  Clearly, I spent too much time on Linnaeus. In my overly dichotomous mind, I am a scientist. I definitely see the world through that lens. Even when I am literally looking through my lens, I see the world that way. I just don’t see these as mutually exclusive anymore. We bring the totality of our experiences, feelings, culture and education to everything we do.  My lens is the curious mind of a scientist.  In that way, I see the miracle of life on earth in everything I look at.  I am amazed by the changing color of a leaf in fall partially because I know that there are millions of biochemical reactions taking place to preserve the plant’s life through the harsh winter.  I find the graceful ballet of hunting Great Blue Heron even more mesmerizing because I understand the dance of form and function evolution has perfected.  I see the predictable demise of an abandoned crane perched precariously over a river bank poetic – even elegant- because I know the awesome power of nature and the inevitability of entropy.

The truth is I haven’t changed. In reflection, I have probably always been an artist. At some point, someone or some experience led me to believe that I was not an artist or perhaps just that I was a scientist.  It is really not an “either/or” world though. It is an “and” world.  One can be a scientist and an artist.  Or as my dear friend Madeleine says, a Princess and an MBA.  I see the world not just through my eyes, but through my heart, my experience, my culture, and my education. I create through all of those as well.  And that, after all, is the root of art- creation in all its diverse forms and from all its diverse perspectives.  It is easy to box ourselves into one picture of who we are.  People, every last one of us, are complex and limited only by how we conceive ourselves. Oh sure, we have roles.  But we are not those roles. We are much more than that.  Imagine how you might see the world if you let go- just a little bit-  of the who you think you are or the who think you should be and became the who you already are. I am an artist (and a whole bunch of other things).

The photograph below, entitled The Crane, was taken on the Snohomish River in early spring.  The crane extends on the riverbank, a monument to the days of logging traffic on the river.  I used black and white to bring out the textures of the emerging buds and show the similarity between the man-made and natural elements.  This an example of my awe of the forces of nature.  Though glacial in speed, nature always prevails.

The Crane.jpg

(1/1000 Sec, f/5.6, 800 ISO, 280mm)
Signed Limited Edition Prints (20) available. Contact artist.

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2017.