James Morris uses images on his computer — instead of an actual still-life setup — to paint in his home studio in SaddleBrooke. Morris, originally an engineer, has been painting for four years and is a member of the SaddleBrooke Fine Arts Guild.

Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

James Morris spent decades as an engineer who always wanted to get into painting, but never had time. Once retirement beckoned in 2009, he finally had the chance to indulge in his passion. Now a member of the SaddleBrooke Fine Arts Guild, he is free to learn and master his craft.

“I’ve always had an interest, but I had to earn a living when I was an engineer, said Morris, 71.

Of the guild he said, “It’s a very well-run organization. It’s excellent. It’s an open studio where people can get together to paint together, help each other out, get critiques from a group of people before the work is finished and discuss art with other people.”

The 150-member organization, which started in 2002, holds regular classes, bringing in professional artists to help participants master new techniques and styles.

“It’s very high-quality instruction,” Morris said.

Most members are painters, working with watercolor, acrylic and oil, but there are also craftspeople, wood carvers, sculptors and fabric artists.

Guild member Kim Campbell, who paints, said the artistic outlet is tremendously valuable for the retirees.

“I think it’s hugely important for a number of reasons,” she said. “People come to SaddleBrooke with extensive backgrounds in arts, having painted all their lives, and some people come here with no experience. They’ve had an interest in art, but never had the time or wherewithal to explore it. It’s extraordinary to see how some of these people come in after a relatively short period of time and have it become their passion. They really enjoy the camaraderie of the guild and getting to participate in the classes.”

Morris, one such newcomer, focuses on still life painting, capturing fruits, vegetables, pots and pans.

“To me it’s a challenge to improve my skill level,” Morris said. “I really enjoy it. I’m not a touchy-feely sort of guy. I used to be a commercial photographer, and that taught me a great deal about composition and lighting. I’ve always liked tabletops. I’ve always enjoyed that sort of product photography — controlling the light, making something mundane look interesting.”

Kay Sullivan, 61,, specializes in watercolor portraits of pets. Animal-loving acquaintances commission her to capture the likenesses of their sidekicks.

“I used to have two kitties, and I actually took my first drawing class through SaddleBrooke Fine Arts,” she said. “My cats’ eyes were so intriguing, and I found myself wanting to see if I could capture that.”

Sullivan taught herself watercolor and took classes to augment her skills.

“Eventually I became good enough that people started paying me for my work,” she said. That was pretty rewarding.”

Sullivan said creating art is a transcendent experience.

“Time goes by fast. You forget that your back hurts,” she said. “You get so involved that it sort of takes you to a different place. I think that’s what most of us artists get from that … it takes you to a zone when you’re creating this stuff. It’s such a personal thing, and it gives you joy.”

Contact Phil Villarreal at pvillarreal@azstarnet.com or 573-4130.