Sue Averell

Secret Cities

<em>Every Color</em>, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches; and, below, <em>Giants Fan</em>, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches
Every Color, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches; and, below, Giants Fan, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches


Sue Averell grew up in Southern California and now lives near San Francisco. After working as a graphic designer for many years, she owns and operates a gallery in Sausalito, where she sells her paintings.

“When I was in fourth grade, my father was an art teacher at my elementary school. I would drive him nuts at night, trying to draw things in perspective; he didn’t have the energy to teach at night after he had taught all day. A man named Mr. Mcintyre, who had been a Disney animator and was teaching at the same school, offered to teach me perspective drawing after school. He started teaching me how to draw these things called, ‘Secret Cities,’ which was teaching a child how to think in a more three-dimensional way without the mathematics involved—it was more intuitive. Instead of a square, we were drawing cubes; instead of a circle, it was a sphere. And once I kind of got the hang of that and piling these objects on top of each other, then he taught me how to draw more shapes, like ‘What if it had a hole in it—what would that look like? What if it had steps?’ As I progressed through the lessons after school, these just got more and more complex. I was always enamored with drawing cities because they just continued what I knew from these lessons.


I love Wayne Thiebaud’s color, and I followed his specific theory of mixing paint at first. After becoming comfortable with his color theory, I kind of mix it up now. But I started with his exaggerated, almost aerial perspective, and from there I developed my own way of describing the city with line and color. I always prime the canvas with orange. For example, in the cityscape, the first thing that I paint on top of that orange is the sky. All of a sudden, I’ve got a warm color and a darker value on top of the object, and then the sky is where the light comes from. So it creates a visual perspective right away by letting the sky in.

In the mid-‘90s, I decided that I wanted to paint cityscapes. I chose San Francisco as my go-to city, so I moved there and started painting it. I like the cultural diversity of San Francisco. At first, that’s what made me gravitate toward it. I see the bay everyday when I go to Sausalito. I liked the juxtaposition of the hard building surface next to the water; I try to have a lot of that in my work, the water and the buildings both.”

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Noelani Kirschner is a former assistant editor for the Scholar.


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