Being an accomplished artist was not on Ona Steele’s mind when she graduated from University of Virginia Law School, practiced business litigation in Dallas, and opened a legal recruiting firm in Delray Beach. But after giving up her law career to be home with her children, her lifelong interest in art and aesthetics resurfaced. As her three girls grew older she began to practice photography, drawing, and painting.
Completely self-taught, she has a unique technique that allows her to create beautiful pieces from layering photographs and mixed media. The results are haunting images of women who seem both familiar and strange; portraits that are both edgy and melancholy.
“I do receive a lot of inquiry into my methodology and techniques,” says Steele. “I don’t like to be too specific because I honestly feel that I have mastered a number of techniques and combinations of techniques that are original. My latest creations have been based on very old images from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I then use a method of transferring the photographs so that I can strip most of the image away and create something original and unique within it and around it.”
Steele uses watercolor, ink, and acrylics with other media.
It is a long, painstaking process, and sometimes the urge to create dies down. But what keeps her coming back to her studio is “feeling the flow” once she is immersed in a piece. “I can lose all sense of time when I am truly inspired and working hard on a painting, and that’s a great feeling,” Steele says.
Most of her business comes from Delray Beach’s First Friday Art Walks, featuring studios and galleries on Atlantic Avenue, in Pineapple Grove, and at Artists Alley. Besides that free event, from 6-9 p.m., Artists Alley is also open every Third Thursday evening, and most studios are open every Saturday afternoon from 12-5 p.m. For Steele, her Artists Alley studio in a one-block warehouse area is more of a gallery because she has so many supplies and her process is so long that she creates most of her art at home. Her work has also been shown at art fairs, in a solo show in 2013, at the 2016 Art Expo in New York, and most recently at a new gallery in Jupiter called Artlantic at Harbourside Place in Jupiter.
“I am humbled by observers of my art who find it inspiring or beautiful,” says Steele. “I am asked a lot about my techniques and sources of inspiration. Some people may not realize how meaningful it is to an artist to hear that others find their work worthwhile and moving. It’s a powerful feeling to receive that kind of a reaction.”