Local artist Alissa Massey has an unorthodox dream. Oh, the lifelong Solvang resident and burgeoning painter — all of 23 years old — has already attended an arts college in Maryland and explored her craft in Europe. When not plumbing the depths of her imagination in the studio, she toils for People Helping People on weekdays as an AmeriCorps member and pours holiday cheer for a winery on weekends.

It seems clear Massey’s fervor is, and has always been, her artwork. But there’s an additional ambition, of the sky-high variety, she can’t shake.

“I want to be a pilot for hot-air balloons,” says Massey, adding she hopes to procure a pilot’s license by the age of 30. Floating above and beyond, however, must wait. For now, Massey’s airborne goal takes a back seat to the artist’s considerable canvas.

A Santa Ynez High School alumna who followed her fervor for painting to the Maryland Institute College of Art, from which she graduated in May 2009 — “I didn’t see myself going to a regular university” — Massey also ventured to Italy during her junior year. She studied in Florence, where she fell head over heels with the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscan.

“I was kind of overwhelmed with its beauty,” she says. “You learn and hear things as a kid, then see it in person.” She says Italy “hasn’t really changed” over the centuries except for the infiltration of motorbikes.

She draws inspiration from French-Canadian artist Sophie Jodoin, whose creations she admires from afar (i.e. on the Internet). Jodoin’s drawings, many of which involve children and seniors, infuse themes of illness, war and decay, but such an approach isn’t a turn off for Massey.

“They’re so well done and creative, with a beautiful touch,” she explains. “I hope to meet her someday in person.” Were it not for samples of artwork adorning a partition, Massey’s studio in Solvang could be mistaken for a kitchen or laundry room. On her desk rests a clothes iron, a heat gun, a quilting iron, a hot plate, wooden blocks and an electric fry pan, the last of which is used to melt wax. It isn’t, she admits, the ultimate method for encaustic (wax) painting, given the need for extra electricity.

Her desk certainly looks like that of an artist — or the proverbial mad scientist — at work. Massey once read a crafts magazine that showcased a variety of techniques, including that of melted crayons on Bristol paper. But she prefers longer-lasting premade pigments, which are “less toxic” than Crayola’s colored sticks. All materials literally go hand-in-hand with her affinity for abstract, playful and whimsical pieces.

“I think they’re diverse and contemporary,” she says when asked what distinguishes her projects from those of others artists throughout Santa Ynez Valley. “Just a different element that sparks new interests.”

Among Massey’s latest endeavors is making journals. For starters, she simply took an old book from the National Audubon Society, pulled off its front and back and used a wood-burning tool to craft images. She plans to stuff the sketchbooks with blank paper and bind them.

The idea, which Massey began implementing in October, stems from her alma mater’s book-making classes, ones she was actually unable to attend. “They might be something people will buy,” she says. Another venture into which Massey has delved is a series of paintings completed on wood panels in encaustic. Their prevalent theme? “Mainly home, and different places we travel to and call home, some real, some romantic, distant memories from other cultures,” she says.

Lest one presume her projects would require a collaborator, Massey can’t even imagine it right now. “I’m not that big yet,” she concedes with a smile. Massey’s ascension up the artistic rung will take time, given her daily schedule, tightened by her necessary “day” jobs. She finds time for the studio only a few nights per week but enjoys the Valley, where she was born and raised.

Staying in Maryland, Massey points out, wasn’t a viable option. It wasn’t the ideal location to further her artistic career. “It helped to come home and have connections,” she says, noting she also hopes to travel again, with a mind toward learning more about painting, by the time August rolls around. Her compass is set for South America.

Before then, Massey’s top priority is moving her creations into the public eye. Turning a profit would be gravy. “The goal is to get out there and be seen,” she says. “Although there is a desire to sell, I want to share my work with others, and if it sells, that’s awesome. But that isn’t my drive.” Her full-time job at People Helping People, aside from its time-consuming nature, hasn’t been a detriment; rather, Massey says she views it as another avenue for networking.

“Work has helped me learn more about the Valley, opened my eyes and opened doors,” she says. Massey will enter one of those doors Jan. 30, during the Los Olivos art fair. And come April, she is striving to teach an encaustic course at the C Gallery, for which people can register online (thecgallery.com).

As for teaching in general, Massey thinks it’s a shame the fine arts have been slashed at many schools. She sees substantial value in the likes of children learning music and painting. “It’s a wonderful outlet for people,” she says, praising her former Santa Ynez High School art teacher, Connie Rohde-Stanchfield, who now runs a gallery in Los Alamos.

“There are still a lot who need that creative energy and desire fulfilled,” Massey says. “Everything starts with education, and art is definitely one of the key elements. “Even if you can’t draw a stick figure, you can still think and see something that’s aesthetically pleasing to you. It kills me that schools are taking that way.”

Massey insists she hasn’t time for other hobbies or pursuits, save one: that lingering fascination with hot-air balloons. She hasn’t ever been in a balloon, mind you, nor has she witnessed such inflatables in person. Even so, attending the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta could be in Massey’s near future. “I have an incredible desire to fly them,” she says. jluksic@syvjournal.com