Costa Mesa resident hopes to make a splash with art exhibit at John Wayne Airport

From a bungalow that doubles as a studio, Costa Mesa artist Bonnie Matthews worked to create a piece of public art that showcases her whimsical style while delivering a message about the importance of stewardship. ‘environment.

And, boy, is this a whale of a project.

A wood panel cut out in the shape of a baby gray whale is covered in brightly painted scenes of a beach cleanup. People on land and in the water engage in quick labor as fish, grateful for the housekeeping effort, rush through the blue waters.

“Set in Motion, a Change for the Ocean” was created by Costa Mesa artist Bonnie Matthews for Mesa Water District as part of a county-wide water stewardship campaign.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

“I thought, why don’t we show people volunteering and being happy,” Matthews, 58, said on Monday, applying thinned acrylic paint to a figure in a watercolor-like technique. . “And the fish are happy because they can swim in the water, and it’s nice and clean.”

The artwork, titled “Set in Motion, a Change for the Ocean,” was commissioned by Mesa Water District and will soon hang at John Wayne Airport in recognition of Earth Month.

It will be one of 40 whale-shaped artworks created as part of a month-long “Streams of Hope” campaign, a collaboration of the non-profit Wyland Foundation, Municipal Water District of Orange County, Orange County Conservation Corps and Orange County.

Bonnie Matthews, seen March 28, 2022, uses a painting method

Bonnie Matthews uses a painting method called gouache to create a palette of bright but lightly applied colors.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

The baby whales – each uniquely designed but all named “Stella” – will be displayed throughout the county to remind viewers how they can prevent water pollution and be good water stewards.

“It’s a fun community outreach campaign,” said Mesa Water spokeswoman Celeste Carrillo, who stopped by Matthew’s residence on Monday. “It’s a great way to raise awareness about water and educate people about the importance of water and how we can keep it clean.

“Streams of Hope” will also include several community cleanup events leading up to Earth Day on April 22, which will be listed alongside a list of online activities at

A utility box art wrapper created by Bonnie Matthews in 2020 sits on the corner of Bear and Bristol streets in Costa Mesa.

A utility box art wrapper created by Bonnie Matthews in 2020 sits on the corner of Bear and Bristol streets in Costa Mesa.

(City of Costa Mesa)

Carrillo said representatives from the Mesa Water District — which serves 110,000 customers in Costa Mesa and parts of Newport Beach and unincorporated Orange County, including John Wayne Airport — had a few artists in mind. when they discovered Matthews on an online directory of artists who have worked. with the city of Costa Mesa.

Matthews created a large scale artwork in 2020 which was applied to a utility box on the corner of Bear and Bristol streets. She has also participated in ARTventure, an annual local art exhibition organized by the city, its Cultural Arts Commission and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

“As she was telling us about her illustrations and her passion for what she does, we thought this was the perfect fit,” Carrillo recalled.

A longtime children’s book illustrator who also produces and photographs cookbooks, Matthews moved to Costa Mesa in 2013. Although she has spent decades working in typography and as an art director, her creative art is self-taught and usually done with a method called gouache, which produces an opaque watercolor effect.

Bonnie Matthews' illustrations can be found in 25 children's books, as well as catalogs and other publications.

Bonnie Matthews’ illustrations can be found in 25 children’s books, as well as catalogs and other publications.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

The result is both lively and soft, which when paired with Matthews’ deft ink drawings of quirky creatures, children and animal figures, gives his art a vivid and fantastical feel that seems a natural choice for teaching materials.

In addition to her love of art, Matthews is also an avid snorkeler who has traveled to Honduras, Bermuda and the Cook Islands and witnessed the environmental damage inflicted on coral reefs and other marine habitats.

She said she chose to depict a beach cleanup scene because it illustrates how easy it can be to tell the difference.

“I hope this will promote discussion,” she said. “If the kids are there and watching it, maybe they’ll start a conversation with their parents and decide to take action.”

“Set in Motion, a Change for the Ocean”, a Stella whale created by Costa Mesa artist Bonnie Matthews.

(Courtesy of Bonnie Matthews)

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