If you feel as though you're looking up when you look into an Ann Root painting, there's probably a reason.
For 10 years, Root lived as a missionary in Togo, a small country in West Africa. At night, to battle her loneliness, she would lie on her front porch and look at the sky.
Mixed media paintings by Ann Root are on display at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, 56 Seventh St., through March. Her paintings of planets and constellations will be on display at Sleeping Giant Gallery in April, with an opening reception April 2.
The African sky is so huge, she said. The lights go out at night in Africa, and all the stars come out.
"They seem so close, you can touch them," she said.
It's the sky, the night sky, that inspires Root. She looks up, and it makes her feel small.
"I feel insignificant compared to the size of the universe," she said. "I've tried translating that feeling into an image.
"One painting led into another and another."
At first she was just painting skies -- stars as they are seen with the naked eye -- and then she painted things beyond what she could see. She painted planets and nebulas, inspired by images she saw in an old astronomy textbook.
"I saw an eclipse last summer, and I was awed by it," she said. "I started thinking back and doing research. I was fascinated with the overwhelming world out there that we don't really see, but still exists."
She created the images with layers of paint, ink, wax and salt. She added collage with tissue paper, illustration board and aluminum foil.
"I'm coming up with that multi-layering that occurs in the sky naturally," she said.
Root knew she was going to be an artist as early as age 5. She earned a bachelor's degree in drawing and painting at the University of Hawaii. At graduation, she was bored with painting and spent her years in Africa illustrating Bible stories and teaching drawing to women.
"Painting was too stuffy," she said. "So I let it go. I felt stylistically strangled. I just couldn't create what I envisioned."
Root was reintroduced to painting by her daughter, who also is an artist.
"She kept encouraging me," Root said. "I was afraid to try it again, because I'd had a block for so many years." Her first piece incorporated both pen-and-ink drawings and watercolor called "Birth of Base."
"That was fun," she said. "So I started mixing more media. It got rid of that thing in painting that I thought was so stuffy. I layer and let the piece direct itself. It has a life of its own."
Root returned to the United States in the summer of 1995. She had never been to Steamboat Springs, but she had heard of it.
"I grew up in California, and I didn't feel like I could go back there," Root said. "I was different. When you become a world citizen, you see things in a different way. You don't take things for granted. You want a simpler lifestyle and something about (this area) appealed to me."
At first, she moved to Hayden and then farther out, to a 5-acre plot of land in Lay, a community between Craig and Maybell.
Her marriage ended not long after her return to America, and her daughter is now grown and going to college at Naropa Institute in Boulder. So Root lives in Lay with two horses, four cats, the quiet and a big, big sky.
Despite her fascination with the night sky, Root said she is a morning person. She commutes from her home in Lay to her job as an optician at Mountain Eyeworks in Steamboat Springs.
By the time she arrives home, the sun is down.
She feeds the horses and looks up, amazed. By the time she gets to her studio, the only view out her window is the blackness of night.
Root's early paintings, including "Birth of Base," are on display at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore through March. Her paintings of planets and constellations will be on display at Sleeping Giant Gallery in April.