Arts and Entertainment

Clinton painter teaches her students to, 'Express yourself.'

Deon Matzen likes to do it “alla prima,” or all at once.

And, although the term applies to her work as a painter, it could also apply to her personality — a direct sort who takes a no- fuss approach to life.

Alla prima, also known as “direct painting” or “premier coup painting,” refers to a method by which the artist applies each stroke of paint to the canvas with the intention of letting it stand in the picture as part of the final statement. There is no retouching or overpainting after the first layer of paint has dried.

Appropriate, then, that Matzen, a woman whose busy schedule as a painting teacher and much sought-after artist leaves her little time to dillydally.

All at once suits Matzen. She is a person who makes a decision about what she likes and goes with it, much like the way she came into painting.

Matzen’s artistic career started out years ago as a textile artist.

She is also known as the first “pie lady” at Bayview Farmers Market from back in the day, and wrote a cookbook entitled “An Artist’s Palate.”

Eventually Matzen moved away from textiles and the craft fair circuit into painting watercolors.

Though she excelled at watercolors, ultimately, in 2001, it would be oil painting in which she would find herself most gratified and doing her best work.

Matzen maintains a prolific life as a painter, usually completing one painting per day in the attic studio of her Clinton home, even while maintaining her role as an art teacher for Skagit Valley College.

Part of her regular routine includes entering her work in various competitions throughout the United States.

Her most recent win was the Rogue Guirey Simpson Memorial Award at the American Women Artists national competition for her painting “The Watercarrier.”

Rogue was a founding member of the group and was killed in a car accident in her hometown of Phoenix in the fall of 2005. It was said Rogue was well-loved among her peers, especially for her sense of humor.

The organization told Matzen when she won, “We felt that she would have loved your piece — it is well done and well drawn; Rogue was a superb draftsperson.”

The mastery of drawing is one aspect of painting Matzen imparts the importance of to her students. But, really, color is her thing.

“As a hearing-impaired painter, color is the most important aspect of my work,” Matzen said.

“Though I tend to be a representational painter, I will often alter the colors within the scene to please myself, maybe trying to compensate for the grey, dreary environment in which I live. I always take advantage of the sunny scene and exploit it as much as possible.”

Painting, she said, has become her no-holds-barred passion, and she often finds herself lost in her work for days at a time.

Matzen works with oil on board and is currently well into a series that features antique trucks.

Besides showing off her absolute love of color and light, Matzen’s truck series reveals a romantic quality, as if she created the stories of the people who once drove these trucks while she was painting them; each truck a portrait of an old friend.

“It is a most satisfying experience to lose oneself in one’s work. Not many occupations have that advantage.”

Most of Matzen’s students are older people who have come to painting after a life of doing other things.

Wendy Lambeth, currently a drawing and painting student of Matzen’s, speaks of her with great respect.

“When I was young,

I remember showing a picture to my mother,” Lambeth said. “She said, ‘Wendy, you can’t draw. You’re like me; you are not going to be an artist.’”

Four years ago, Wendy tried a class with Deon. She said she has been “painting up a storm ever since.”

“She put a lot of us on the road to art,” Lambeth said.

Her classes have waiting lists as Matzen is as well-known for her teaching skills as she is for pushing her students to excellence and giving them the wherewithal to express themselves through painting.

“She gives me the chutzpah to say, ‘I can do this,’ even at 62 years old,” Lambeth said.

Matzen said her goal is to help her students find the satisfaction from their efforts. She pushes them to avoid imitation and try and develop a style of their own.

“I tell them not to try and paint like me. I try to teach them how to see with new eyes. Anybody can do it,” Matzen said.

Indeed, some of Matzen’s students have overcome intense physical and physiological obstacles to become good painters.

Watercolorist and oil painter Pat Stelling came to Matzen after having suffered a stroke. Matzen worked with Stelling on painting with her non-dominant hand.

Stelling’s paintings, however, reveal none of the struggle but veritably bloom with skill, an eye for color and a loose adept hand.

There have been others, too. A woman paralyzed from a car accident, another who has Asperger’s who, Matzen said, “Blows me away with her work.”

“I think she is a wonderful teacher,” accomplished painter Ginny O’Neill said.

“She has the ability to take on all levels of artists who all have different interests and mediums. She opens people up to whatever it is they want to do. She does so much for the community.”

It’s disappointing, then, that the senior classes at Skagit Valley College are threatened by budget cuts. Prices may have to rise significantly and this would mean many seniors living on a fixed income would have to give up their study of painting with Matzen.

Matzen has been at the college for 10 years and many of her students have painted with her for just as long.

“We can’t imagine not having Deon’s class,” Lambeth said. “We’re all reeling from this now. Deon does so much; she does quiet little things for the artists community that nobody knows about.”

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