Liza Hathaway Matthews' return to her art was simple expedition. Her daughter wanted a painting for her bedroom, found a picture she liked and said, "Mom, can you do this?"
The Baltimore mother of three had a fine-arts degree in painting with a minor in interior design from Maryland Institute College of Art, but that was years earlier.
Matthews had found interior design to be tedious and left it quickly to work as a fundraiser for the United Way. She wanted to feel like she was doing something meaningful, not just choosing fabrics for nursing homes.
When her family moved into a new home overlooking Lake Roland a year ago, there was a room she could use as a studio. Since then, with her husband and kids cheering her on, her artwork has taken on a life of its own. Her paintings have been turned into wallpaper and fabric, and she has developed a loyal following on social media.
"I want to be discovered," she said on a sunny, cold day in her second-floor studio. "I want to build a brand."
Matthews was "discovered" online by hotels that asked for reproductions of her work and by magazines like House Beautiful. But, most important, she was discovered on Twitter by Cotton + Quill, a textile firm in Alabama.
The company took two pieces, "Coral Crush" and "Purple Orchid," — her children often name her paintings — re-created them in fabric and wallpaper and displayed them at the fall High Point Market trade show in North Carolina, the largest home furnishings trade show in the world.
They were such a success that two more pieces, "Silver Chinoiserie" and "Nude Chinoiserie," will appear as fabric and wallpaper at the spring show in April.
Social media may have tipped the scales for the artist. In the beginning, Matthews put herself in the hands of local social media guru Leah Michaels, who launched her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (Just no posts about the kids or where she was having dinner, she was told.)
"She made me understand that people want to see my work. But they also want to know what inspired me," said Matthews. "I am a big picture-taker. You can often find me pulled over on the side of the road."
It worked, according to Matthews, who has also seen her commissions increase as a result of her exposure on social media. Where once she might have produced one painting in a month, now she might be asked for 10.
In the home she shares with husband Brent, a vice president at Price Modern, an office interiors company, and children Melanie, a sophomore at Sewanee in Tennessee; Grace, a senior at Garrison Forest; and Grant, an eighth-grader at St. Paul's, her work hangs on the beaded plank walls in almost every room. But it shares the space with traditional paintings, most often of things she loves, like a waterfront in Annapolis, the portrait of her old home and a family dog or the portrait of her great-grandfather as a child.
The furnishings have a bohemian feel, a bright and colorful mix of florals and geometrics. Unusual repurposings — a mirror-covered dresser as a sideboard — catch the eye.
The house itself is unlike any around it. Instead of an imposing stone structure, it is a white clapboard house from the 1940s that has the feel of a cottage that has expanded a couple of times over years.
And indeed, Matthews believes it was once the warming lodge for the ice skaters on the nearby lake — frozen over this year for the first time in a long time.
"I love the old with the new. The unexpected," she said. "I am not one to match. And I like things that mean a lot of me."
You could describe her artwork as contemporary abstract. She uses acrylics, oils and charcoal pencil — even vegetable oil — plus metallics to create layers of color and texture.
But it is easy to see the flowers in her botanicals, and the hints of horizon in her landscapes and the swirl of marble in the pieces that flow and move.
"I get my inspiration everywhere," she said. She is never without her cellphone camera, especially on long walks around the lake. She takes snaps of shapes and colors as well as nature. Photographs in books and magazines catch her imagination. Even the news.
"I was a very traditional student at MICA," she said. "But collage and printmaking were my favorite classes. I didn't want anything to be flat. I wanted layers."
Her unusual use of vegetable oil — she used olive oil once when she'd run out — gives her paintings a sense of magnification on some canvases, or the look of water droplets on others. It makes her canvases luminous.
She still works at fundraising – now for WYPR-FM, Baltimore's National Public Radio station. But her children are older and she has more time to paint — evenings and blocks of time on weekends.
Matthews said she would love to see her art in high-end home stores, reproduced on home goods. She wants to reach younger buyers who are likely to be attracted to her style, and she understands now that the way to do that is using social media.
"I love what I do, but I am not going to match your paint chip," said Matthews, who works with designers in San Francisco and New York and is represented by Bozzuto Greene in Baltimore.
"I love what I do, but I don't want to get burned out. Sometimes I just have to walk away until it flows again."
Usually around Lake Roland. With her cellphone camera.
Where to find it
Social media launched the work of Liza Hathaway Matthews. You can find contact the artist or find her art and her inspirations at lizahathawaymatthews.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @LHMatthewsArt or on Instagram at lizahathawaymatthews.