Catherine Dzialo-Haller can't remember a time that she didn't paint.
"I've been painting as long as I was able to hold a Crayola," she said.
A figurative painter working in oils, Dzialo-Haller considers herself a contemporary realist.
"I love painting everyday scenes, especially at the beach because there's peacefulness and a joy about the beach, and even on a gray day the colors are beautiful," she said.
The never-ending beauty of the beach frequently serves as inspiration for Dzialo-Haller's brush, and surfers are often the focus of her paintings. But her inspiration centers on something far deeper than a surfer catching a wave.
"I prefer painting the contemplation and the solitude of each surfer as they're leaving the ocean, going into the ocean or looking at the waves, deciding where they're going to surf," she said.
A Del Mar Highland's resident for more than 20 years, she also lived in Hawaii for 15 years, so her color palette reflects the vibrant shades of the pacific coast.
"I'm inspired by the colors of the sky and nature here," Dzialo-Haller said. They are clear, brilliant and vibrant."
As a skilled plein air painter, Dzialo-Haller also enjoys depicting the local lagoons.
"I like to try to capture the environment - it's good practice for me," she said.
She attended the Art Institute in Los Angeles before moving to Hawaii where she studied art at the University of Hawaii. She also attended art classes while living in Moscow. In 1983, she graduated from San Francisco's Academy of Art College
Dzialo-Haller said that despite the many classes, seminars and workshops she has taken, her high school art teacher, John Sweeney, remains her key mentor.
"He taught me discipline and structure, and I think that's what you have to have if you seriously want to be an artist," she said. "I think there are a lot of talented artists, but I also think successful artists are the most disciplined."
Dzialo-Haller follows Sweeney's advice by diligently painting every day, often working on several canvases at the same time. While she often favors painting large pieces, she also enjoys doing quick painting sketches.
"Every day for one hour, I try to do a little 6-by-8-inch painting sketch in oils just to loosen myself up," she said. "Or if I'm outside plein air painting, I paint smaller works because the sun moves too quickly, so you have to capture the scene within an hour or it changes."
Her favorite artists include Edward Hopper, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and figurative painters Alice Neel and David Park. Partial to the contemporary work of today, Haller loves the work of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Dzialo-Haller is now eager to expand her artistic horizons by returning to the world of sculpting.
"I used to sculpt but haven't in years, so my next venture is to start sculpting a figure," she said. "I think I'll be an even better painter if I go back to sculpting because I'll get that three-dimensional thing going."
Her latest (48-by-64-inch) work, "Waves Kissing," depicts two waves coming together at the shoreline.
"At the end of the day, I saw these wonderful waves that were so absolutely beautiful and transparent that you could almost see through them," she said. "I call it a water still life because it looks like they're kissing, and there are no people in it."
No matter what the endeavor, Dzialo-Haller has a keen understanding of what it takes to be successful.
"It's like playing an instrument or dancing or swimming like Michael Phelps," she said. "You just can't pick up a brush once a week and think you're a painter - you have to just keep painting."
Dzialo-Haller advises young artists to stay focused and keep painting.
"Even if the last painting you did was not successful, you had to paint that painting in order to get on to the next painting that might be a masterpiece," she said.