Denise Kniola paints with ears tuned to her iPod at an easel in her downtown New Canaan dining room. She is most experienced working with watercolors, most intrigued by mixed media and dabbles on occasion in acrylics.

Art is a mode of enjoyment and a "creative outlet" for Kniola. She painted recreationally in high school and earned a degree in art history in college. She often has a brush in hand, though she said it's sometimes a struggle to find the time.

"I'm not always good at disciplining myself to make time for my art work," Kniola said. "I go through spurts when I'm really active with it, and others when I'm not. But if I'm not painting something, I'm thinking about painting something."

She creates contemporary landscapes and abstract stilllifes from subjects like flower buds or a scene from Block Island. Many of these finished products hang on her walls; some decorate the walls of patrons' homes. Often they contribute to exhibitions at the Carriage Barn, a non-profit showcase space for local art.

Kniola is a former gallery administrator at the New Canaan Society for the Arts, the organization that maintains the Carriage Barn. Through this organization, and classes she takes at the Silvermine Guild Art Center, she has tapped into what she describes as an "interesting and diverse" community of New Canaan-based artists.

"I'm moving more and more toward having an abstract feel to my painting," she said. "It's not representational at all anymore.

"These are welcoming places for an artist. The Carriage Barn [and classes at Silvermine] really helped me progress in my own work."

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