Susan Matteson likes snow. She likes sitting amidst the snowfall while large snowflakes float around her. She likes the silence it brings. The magic it brings.
The snow is an opportunity Matteson doesn't take for granted. There is too much beauty in a forest blanketed with white, for an artist like her to pass up.
"I love painting in the snow," Matteson says. "It's so magical for me. I just sit back and take it in."
Matteson, 54, is a plein air painter which means she works mostly outside capturing the land at the most opportune moments. This particular type of painting is something Matteson has been educating herself on for the last few years. At the moment it's what she prefers to do. But she also enjoys painting animals, portraits and still life.
Matteson grew up in Illinois. That magic she feels began in the sixth grade. The moment she knew art was for her. A simple drawing of a horse inspired the young girl. She credits the instructors she had during her impressionable teenage years as being generous and supportive. They were constant educators on the importance of basic drawing skills.
"You have to draw and sketch as an artist," Matteson says. "It is one of the basics. It helps you work out compositions and values. It's essential for painting."
When she went to college at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, she pursued her passion and received a bachelor's in fine art. However, it was important for Matteson to make a living for herself so she returned to SIU and received a bachelor's in graphic design and illustration. This allowed her to maintain her artistic creativity but in a more lucrative and substantial way.
"Graphic design was great training for the business aspect of fine art," Matteson says. "It taught me the importance of deadlines, being reliable and the discipline of getting work done."
In 2001, while working in graphic design in Livingston, Mont. she received a commission from a woman wanting a piece of art for her horse arena. Matteson created an evolution of a horse that was three and half feet tall and 30 feet long. This was one of her first professional pieces of art that she sold.
"It's great confirmation for anyone that sells anything they created," Matteson says of selling her first piece.
It was an act of confirmation that led Matteson to leave the graphic design industry after 20 years.
Matteson continues her quest in fine art right here in Southwest Colorado, which provides a massive window of artistic opportunity. The many cultures and geological beauty can provide the best spots for plein air painting.
"This area is so great for artists because it has so many beautiful, varied environments, from high alpine mountainous regions to the deserts and canyons, all within a short distance," Matteson says.
A resident of Dolores for 10 years, Matteson never misses a chance to paint. A fact she says occurs nearly everyday. Her style is representational art. All of her paintings and sketches touch upon southwestern scenery and Mother Nature's suspended moments in time.
For instance, one of Matteson's memorable moments as an artist occurred during the Weber Fire in late June. What was supposed to be a Mancos Open Studios Tour for the Art's Perspective, turned into an impulsive painting session. Matteson was supposed to paint a street scene and instead painted the Weber Fire at its most riveting point.
"It was kind of hard to ignore," Matteson says. "The fire had started Friday night and when I got there the next day it had blown to the north and had really kicked up."
Matteson decided, in her worry for those involved, that the fire was also captivatingly beautiful.
"It was challenging and in the moment. Of course you're worried about everyone in the way as ash is falling around you but there is also a beauty that you can't catch on camera."
Matteson is well versed in the art of plein air. She exercised that talent the day of the fire and continues to practice that particular type of art as a means of human emotion. She also continues to educate herself artistically.
Matteson remembers a week in Maine studying with T. Allen Lawson, a famed landscape painter and that sculpture class from well-known Mancos artist Veryl Goodnight. Her weekend course at Scottsdale Artists School prompted acceptance into the 2013 Best and Brightest Juried Art Show held exclusively for students. Her portrait titled "Contemplation," a 12-by-10 inch oil painting, is in the running for awards.
The constant educational endeavors help her draw better, focus more and keep her talents sharp. The fine art side of Matteson requires her to grow as a painter. And she is happy to have chosen that direction. It's what a lot of artists do once they have experienced other planes of artwork.
"I think it's important everyone (artists) be true to themselves," Matteson says. "Various artists create different types of art that speaks to different types of people. It's all viable."
Matteson is grateful for the growing movement of plein air artwork. It puts her in the moment.
It helps her find her voice for fine art.
It helps keep the young girl who fell in love with art inspired.