Viola Patterson was a graduate of Lincoln High School in Seattle. When the Seattle Fine Arts Society established the Annual Northwest Artists competition 1914, she was not yet part of the local art scene. She did not take her first drawing class until beginning a master program in librarianship at the University of Washington. In 1922, she married Ambrose Patterson (1877-1966), who taught the drawing class. He had joined the faculty at the University of Washington in 1919, already an accomplished painter who had trained in his native Australia as well as in Paris and shown in Paris, London, and Brussels.
Viola studied art at the University of Washington and her social circle centered around the University. She often painted alongside Ambrose, whose influence during her formative years is not entirely clear. His painting, especially his "light-hearted color range," clearly intrigued her, and she retained this love of color throughout her life.