"Do what you love and do not worry too much about the rest."
That personal motto is evident from the moment a visitor steps into Carla Cerrato's house in Catonsville.
Bold reds, silky blues, light greens and pinks dance in big splotches and swirls of color in paintings that line the rooms.
Quotations on creativity and children's drawings fill the dining room — often sketched directly onto the walls themselves.
"I love acrylics because they are perfect for me," said Cerrato, 51, about her choice of paint. "They are bright and they are very quick to dry. "They don't make a mess like oil.
"And I love painting on paper, on cardboard, on wood," said the native of Pinerolo, Italy, who often uses layered paper to create a sense of texture for her colorful creations. "I don't particularly like canvasses."
Cerrato spends as many as 16 hours a day painting in her small home studio and has recently had exhibitions at Catonsville Presbyterian Church and Atwater's Naturally Leavened Bread in downtown Catonsville.
But things were not always so simple for the Italian-born artist.
Growing up in a "delightful" medieval town close to Torino and the French border, she showed early talent in kindergarten with her drawings.
But the younger of Attilio Cerrato and the late Serafina Garino's two daughters stopped art as a young child after her parents encouraged her to pursue other things.
"They were afraid that if I was pursuing a career in art, I wouldn't be able to find a job, or I wouldn't be able to support myself," she said. "So, to become a teacher, that was a safe thing."
So she studied German and English literature and foreign languages at the University of Torino, a 40-minute commute from her hometown.
To this day, she speaks English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Piemontese, the language spoken by her parents and the people of the Torino region.
For about 25 years, she taught English to Italians and Italian to foreigners both as a private tutor and in association with a Swiss institute.
"I just thought this was not going to happen in this life," she said about her art. "And I always had a passion for words and languages, so this is another passion for sure."
But at age 39, Cerrato said, "desperation" spurred her decision to begin painting.
"I was not very happy," she said. "I was taking care of sick parents and earning a living at night, so there was not much fun.
"And I really thought, well, if I have to die tomorrow, what I would like to be doing," she said. "And I thought, I want to paint. And that's what I did."
Cerrato said returning to art was "total bliss."
"That's how I feel when I can paint," she said. "But I still feel like it's an incredible privilege."