Dusty Howard took one art class at Richland High in the '90s before she brushed aside her interest in painting.
Nursing was where her heart was back then, so after she graduated in 1992, she got married, then moved to Ohio where she entered nursing school. She got a divorce seven months shy of earning her degree.
"I came home (to the Tri-Cities) with a 4-year-old and worked to get back into a nursing program here," she said.
She earned that degree at Columbia Basin College and went to work at Kennewick General Hospital in 2008, but then she slipped and hurt her knee in an operating room and ended up in rehab after knee surgery.
She revived her interest in painting during that time to keep busy.
When she returned to work, she reinjured her knee, which put her nursing career on hold.
"At that point, the bone exposure worsened and although I am only 37, my knee is about 60 years old," Howard said.
Howard said her ability to blend her passion for nursing with her love of art has helped her through a difficult convalescence.
"I didn't really have a strong interest or ability in art during my youth, but I like to stay busy," she said. "Art has also been a great way to escape some of the not-so-pleasant experiences of nursing and still see the beauty of life."
Her artwork reflects two distinct styles, from sublime scenic watercolors to erotic depictions. A selection of her work will be featured from 5 to 9 p.m. today at T&L Office and Art Supply during the ArtWalk in downtown Kennewick.
"I have often looked at the human figure as my nemesis in art," she said. "I always wanted to be able to draw or paint human figures but found it extraordinarily difficult."
That changed when she tried painting black and white nude images.
"I realized then I wanted to continue on the path of nudes, but I wanted to paint nude women with a message," Howard said. "Some of my paintings show the beauty in a body that isn't perfect, like large thighs or small breasts with a big frame or even voluptuous bodies.
"We are inundated with images from media of women with perfect bodies. As a recovering bulimic, I wanted to fight against that thought process, to show all bodies can be sexy."
Howard also paints other images. She won first place for a scenery painting at last year's Benton Franklin Fair.
She says her best inspiration is the sky.
"The multitude of colors that I see in the skyline is breathtaking," Howard said.
She was invited by her nursing supervisor to hang some of her paintings at KGH before she injured her knee the second time, said Liz Syer, a hospital spokeswoman.
"Her work is awesome and will be on display in our front display window for the ArtWalk," said Adrian Snowden, owner of T&L Office and Art Supply in Kennewick, and an artist.
And while he also praised her nude paintings, he said those are perhaps best left for a gallery show rather than a downtown shop window.
"Dusty also will be creating a painting during the ArtWalk," Snowden added.
Howard hopes to return to nursing one day, but painting will always hold a special place in her heart.
"Maybe it has been those moments in nursing where I have seen death that makes me hold on to the beautiful things in life -- the sunsets, the oceans, the forest, love, passion and humanity," she said. "I have gained appreciation for those simple things, capturing them in my mind and expressing them through paint."