On a visit to the Caribbean island of St. Barthelemy about five years ago, Kelly Gary was taken with the beauty of the white-sand beaches and quaint villas.
She photographed the tropical scenes but later desired to render the images in a more meaningful way. So, after a 15-year hiatus from painting, she pulled out her watercolors and put her impressions on paper.
"I wanted to bring the island to life with my watercolors," said the 47-year-old real estate appraiser, who has since painted more than 200 scenes that she copies and sells as prints, note cards and calendars.
Now she is at work on a project that highlights a locale much closer to home. Gary is readying prints for a 2008 calendar that depicts scenes in Catonsville.
When finished, the calendar, titled "The Best of Catonsville," will sell for $15 on her Web site and in local stores. The calendar will feature images of places such as Hilton Flower Shop, Ship's Cafe, Overhill Mansion, the Candle Light Inn, the Candy Box and Catonsville Elementary School.
Most of the prints selected were private commissions, take from three to six weeks to complete, and sell for $300 to $400, said Gary, a Catonsville native who lives in the Woodbine area of Howard County.
Gary -- who goes by Kelly Coady, her maiden name, as an artist -- works mostly with watercolors but recently tried oil paints. "I have always worked with watercolors because oil paint is so thick when you put it on, it's not as forgiving as watercolors," she said.
Gary started painting when she was in the fourth grade. For about five years, she took art lessons and learned to work with pencils, pastels, oil and acrylics, she said. After earning a degree in fine arts from Towson University in 1982, Gary put art on the back burner to pursue a career in sales, working more than a decade as an advertising salesperson.
But Gary's life took a sudden turn in 2000 when she was diagnosed with skin cancer at age 40.
She scaled back work and stepped up travel with her husband, Michael. "I decided that life was too short not to do the things that I wanted to do," she said.
That also was when Gary dusted off her wooden easel, she said as she painted in her home studio on a recent afternoon.
At first, she painted the Caribbean villas. When the owners saw her work, they commissioned Gary to create prints that could be given to guests as mementos.
Back home in Catonsville, people enjoyed her island renderings but urged her to paint local scenes, she said.
Although she paints landmarks and businesses, she prefers painting houses, because they all have a story behind them, Gary said.
When people see her work -- in the Caribbean or at local trade shows or fairs -- they ask her to paint places for them, she said.
Pegg Vanek remembers first getting a glimpse of Gary's work during a visit to St. Barthelemy, when she saw a print of the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant in a gift shop where the artist's goods were sold.
"The colors are perfect," said Vanek, a dentist from Cleveland. "And when you look at her paintings of [St. Barthelemy], you can feel yourself there."
Since then, Vanek has commissioned Gary to paint several scenes from the island. Her favorite depicts the life of a friend, a pilot who was killed in a plane crash. The painting includes an airplane, fireworks and the singer Jimmy Buffett, the pilot's close friend, she said.
Gary expects her Catonsville calendar to be ready in August and will be available for purchase on her Web site (www.kel lygary.com).