WALNUT CREEK -- Once upon a time, Kristan Le was a financially-stable software engineer working in Silicon Valley.
But after nine years of the daily grind, Le had an epiphany.
"I kind of cried on the way to work because I wanted to paint," Le said. "I felt something was missing. My sister told me, 'Just do what you love.'"
Taking a leap of faith, Le quit her well-paying career and enrolled at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Still, she approached art with trepidation.
"I always wanted to paint but was afraid," she said.
Her computer background beckoned her to take up animation; she thought she could play it safe -- create art while still in a familiar computer environment. But, she said, her heart knew best.
"I realized I really wanted to touch paint," Le said. "So when I took my first painting class, I never looked back."
Le always remembered what her sculpture teacher once told her: "Choose art over fear."
She said she took that line a step further:
"Choose love over fear. Even if you're painting, there's so much inhibition. But if you chose what you feel is right, it will be OK."
Le, a former Concord resident, embraced her own philosophy when she opened Renditions Art Gallery in downtown Walnut Creek with her partner, Tu Bui, a venture, she said, which has proved to be fruitful as the gallery celebrated its one-year anniversary.
The gallery features not only Le's oil paintings but also the paintings of local artists. She named the gallery for the paintings that represent various renderings of life.
"A painting is a rendition of anything you see," she said.
Embracing new life adventures has been Le's modus operandi. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Le remembers when she and several other people headed for the United States by boat in 1975.
"The boat drifted out to sea and we were stuck out at sea for at least a month," she said. "I was a kid. I thought it was adventurous. Kids didn't understand the fear. For the adults, it was terrifying."
She settled in San Diego with her family and even then, Le had her heart set on art. Her high school art teacher submitted one of her drawings to the Congressional Art Competition. She flew to Washington, D.C. to accept her first-place award when she was a junior in high school.
Still, Le took up cognitive engineering at UC San Diego because she didn't think she could make a living as an artist. But the fine arts degree she obtained from what is now known as Academy of Art University in San Francisco proved to be a fulfilling investment, Le said.
Now, she splits her time between running Renditions Gallery and teaching art classes at Academy of Art University.
Her work has been shown at Gardner Colby Galleries in Naples, Fla., and for the national exhibitions of the Oil Painters of America and the American Impressionist Society.
Le admires the work of Russian Impressionist painters such as Nicolai Fechin. Many of her paintings show street scenes, seascape and landscapes of her native country.
"There's always Vietnam in there because I'm trying to find something I lost or bringing back something I had," Le said of her art. "I was born in one place but raised somewhere else so I'm just making that connection to where I was born in my paintings."
Le's partner, Bui, said her paintings are diverse in subject matter and style.
"What I find to be most captivating about her paintings is that each one of them has their own mood or story," he said. "I am most moved by the expressiveness in the lighting and the faces that she paints."
Le said she aims to make the gallery space very easygoing.
"You will be welcomed by my two four-legged employees -- my gallery dogs," Le said of her Labrador and pointer mix.
WHAT: Renditions Art Gallery one-year anniversary show through Dec. 1
WHERE: 1383 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek; Regular hours 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
INFORMATION: Call 925-818-0096 or visit www.RenditionsArtGallery.com