“I felt ridiculous. I never saw myself as an artist.”

Lou Anne Sterbick-Nelson, who runs Belleza Gallery on Main St. in Old Bisbee, took up paint and brush 18 years ago after she discarded the life of an attorney in Tacoma, Washington back in 1998 and moved to Bisbee.

The former Atalanta’s bookstore right across the street from the gallery carried some art supplies, and it was from those shelves she found the tools which catapulted the woman with no art training into the realm of painting.

She bought some brushes, canvases, acrylic gold paint and water-soluble oils. The gold paint became the background for delicately painted portraits.

“I had no idea how to paint. I don’t know how I put the two together. It was such a surprise. Now, I cannot not paint anymore. I’m a maniac,” she added with a smile.

“Art has become a passion of mine, so much so, I forget to eat and sleep,” she said. “When I do sleep, I dream about it. I’m getting closer to getting my soul on canvas every day. So, I keep digging deep. So intriguing.”

Her beautifully framed works on canvas hang with art of some of the best-known local artists. Well, at least until someone decides to buy them, which seems to happen each time she brings a new idea of heart and mind to life with her talent.

“It’s hard to keep up with demand,” she noted. A painting posted on Facebook one day will be sold by the next.

Her style could be described as dreamlike, or surreal. With muted colors, she blends land and sea and sky and takes viewers to a peaceful, imaginative, otherworldly world. Her brush strokes create a three-dimensional effect. It is a style she developed while studying other artists’ works and honing her talent.

Sterbick-Nelson admitted sometimes that what she wants to put on canvas does not quite match up to what she imagines.

“It all depends how it turns out. Sometimes I have to start over,” she said laughing. “It can take two nights or two months.”

She likes to paint at night in her studio after her husband Dennis Nelson, a retired judge who serves on the Cochise College governing board, goes to bed.

“I like that time of night,” she added. “Everything is so quiet.”

For anyone thinking of giving art a chance, Sterbick-Nelson urged them to “just do it. If I can paint, anyone can. You have to at least try.”

Belleza Gallery features the works of over 20 artists such as Sloane Bouchever, the late Rose Johnson, Dee Ruff, Mary Martin and Clement Scott.

“There is something for everyone here,” she said.

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