When Denver artist Stella Maria Baer was growing up in the desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico, all she wanted was to be somewhere else. So she hightailed across the country to attend Dartmouth and Yale in the Northeast, which is where she developed her passion for painting into a career. Ironically, it was while living in New England that she became inspired by the evocative spirit of her native Southwest, which infuses her current celestial artwork—planets and moons painted in the dreamy tones of, say, red rock and sagebrush at sunset—with an ethereal quality.

—Artist Stella Maria Baer’s studio in Denver’s Regis neighborhood.

“A couple of years ago, I took a road trip through New Mexico and for the first time, I fell in love with where I was from,” Baer says. “Taking photographs of those landscapes helped me see what I had been blind to when I was growing up. When I got back to the Northeast, I was haunted by the colors of those places. My work since then has been a way of coming to terms with the pull I feel back to the Southwest.”

—Baer finds inspiration at Paint Mines Interpretive Park in Calhan, Colorado, while her dog, Fox, looks on.

A little over a year ago, she and her husband finally did return and landed in Denver, where Baer runs her studio out of their home in Regis. She paints in watercolors and oils, sometimes out in the desert to immerse herself in the colors of the landscape—she’s recently begun making paint out of sand she’s collected from the Four Corners region—and other times in her studio, fueled by a memory or image. “When I look at the photographs the rover takes on Mars, I see a place that feels like home,” she says. “The pink rocks remind me of the canyons in Abiquiú, New Mexico, where my mom took me and my brother camping when we were little. Painting moons and planets is a way of drawing out that sense of being home in a place that feels like another world.”