We are the individuals we are because of the paths we have chosen. Roadblocks, struggles, heartbreak, disappointment — these are parts of life we all face at some point along our paths. But what sets us apart is how we deal with these hardships when they arise. For artist, full-time dental hygienist and single mom Tammy Richardson, quitting has never been an option, and no matter how much she has on her plate, she always keeps her dreams within reach.

Growing up on a large farm in Indiana, Tammy is a country girl at heart. “The side effect of having so much farm land is spending a lot of time outside. We were all learning how to have a green thumb, cook, sew, hunt, fish and drive, along with getting under those rigs by the time we could stand on two legs. Every single kid in my family played sports. I was a gymnast, a swimmer and diver and I played volleyball as well.”

But as amazing as Indiana was, by age 19, she was eager to get out of the Midwest, so she joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. Working on the USS Dixon, a submarine tender, she had the title of Boatswain Mate, taking care of the structural elements of the ship. After a tour in Iraq and Saudi Arabia during the second Gulf War, Tammy worked as a dental assistant in San Diego for her remaining six years in the Navy Reserve.

Then, life brought her to Yakima. With her first child in tow, Tammy made the trek to Washington and started dental hygiene school at Yakima Valley College. Upon graduating, Tammy took a position at a local dental clinic, but as busy as she was, working and raising her daughter and a new baby son, Tammy somehow found time for one of her passions: art.

“I’ve been artful all my life,” Tammy says, beginning when she was a kid, painting billboards for gas money and winning 4H State Championships for her pottery back in Indiana. In the Navy, she painted murals on the 50-foot ships while they were at sea. But it wasn’t until she finished at YVC that she had an idea to create something that she had never seen anyone do before. She started by drawing images of microscopic cells. After she received her master’s degree in Applied Science in 2004 from Eastern Washington University, she began to purchase and license histology slides from schools and the Internet. (Histology is the study of the microscopic anatomy of the cells and tissue of plants and animals.) Through her methods of photography and photo manipulation, she took the images from these slides and created works of art that were eventually printed onto flame-polished acrylic. The result is works of art that are classy, original and stunningly beautiful.

Although her very first piece was finished in 2002, it wasn’t until a year ago that she began showing her work to the world when she was asked by a local decorator to stage a few of her pieces during the Yakima Home Show last fall. Since then, she has been building an arsenal, preparing for her first big art show that was held at our local medical school, the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, on September 15.

With her daughter now studying for her master’s in Bio-Med at Central Washington University and her son in middle school, Tammy is still working as a full-time dental hygienist but spends her evenings, weekends and early mornings following her passion for art. She also runs an art business, called RAW. Although her hard work shows in everything she does, she credits her friends and family for inspiring her to overcome the obstacles that have stood in her way. “To me, life is about quality over quantity,” Tammy says. “Never allow an upset to hold you back from your own will in life.”