Meet Your Maker: Holly Farrell

I came across Holly Farrell's paintings at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition last year and was immediately taken with them. I love the simplicity and nostalgia of the subjects she chooses. They remind me of those moments when a single coffee mug or a row of books can seem so perfect and comforting. Or when a toy car or doll's dress can evoke long lost memories as clear as day. At the risk of sounding hokey, they speak to me. As you scroll through the pieces I've chosen to show here (and believe me, it was tough to choose), I'm sure you'll see why.

I've been using Holly's card as a bookmark for the last year, so you can understand how thrilled I am that she has agreed to answer a few of my questions and share with us a little bit about herself and her art. Perhaps even more inspiring than her work, is her amazing story... so enjoy... and you're welcome!

WHO are you? Tell me a bit about yourself and your work.
I was born in 1961 in North Bay, Ontario. My childhood was spent in various towns in Northern Ontario along Highway 11, depending on where my father was working. My father was an alcoholic which has had a big influence on my work. The chaos that resulted from the strain and violence of alcoholism had me and my siblings constantly scrambling for escape and solitude. My father died from the effects of alcohol when he was 39 (I was ten), leaving my mother and seven children to run the roadside diner and gas station that he had hoped would help turn his life around.

Much of my time alone was spent in creative endeavours (unless I was playing with Barbie). I loved crafts and paint by numbers. Art was the only subject I excelled at in school but it never occurred to me to pursue art in college. Instead I trained to work with children with special needs. It wasn't until I was 29 that I decided to try my hand at painting again. I was stressed out from my day job, working with teens who had developmental as well as psycological difficulties, and painting seemed to ease the strain.

WHAT inspires you?
I am inspired by all things common. I find comfort in the quiet that comes from painting and the simple things that I paint. The familiarity of old bowls, chairs, toys, books, shoes (to name a few) reassures me.

WHERE do you work? Describe your workspace.
I have a room in my house which is set aside for my work. The house was built sometime in the mid 1800s. It houses me, my husband and five cats (yes, a cat lady). I was never comfortable "going off" to work, so being able to step into my studio when I think I need to do something makes me very productive. My studio has old wood floors, big baseboards and a high ceiling - lots of light. It is a good setting for my subjects.

WHEN do you feel most happy/successful/frustrated/insecure?
I work in three stages. As each stage is completed successfully, I feel happy. Sometimes I get stuck and have to work on a painting for a long time before I am satisfied with the results. I usually have a hard time appreciating these paintings until a little later on, as it takes time for the frustration to dissipate (and the odd time I throw a painting away). It's hard not to be insecure about my painting, especially as I'm self-taught. Having no formal training I feel lucky I fell into painting but also feel that somehow, sometime, someone will tell me it's all been a big mistake. I am really happy that I can make a living with my painting as it was totally unexpected.

WHY do you do what you do?
I paint because I love to and it's the one thing in my life that I have done with some success. If it "wasn't my job" I would still be painting.

HOW do you do what you do? Describe your creative process and/or your typical work day.
I learned how to paint doing crafts, tole painting, guessing - most of what I did was on wood or metal. I was also a house painter for a number of years and you would be surprised at how much it teaches you about colour and care. I basically transferred my wood technique to board. I learned how to draw by setting up a subject in front of me and drawing until I thought I had it right. My earlier work is certainly fairly askew - but nice in a folky way. As time went on I would refine my technique, discover new paint, and stretch a little here and there. Basically, I underpaint the background and subject in acrylics and then I warm the surface with oil paint (rubbed into the surface and used to creat the shadows). There are many layers, I use lots of fine sandpaper and I always use varnish to keep the oil and acrylic separate.

I am still working on trying to find balance in my life. I work mostly during the day in natural light. I begin after breakfast and paint on and off until the light goes. Some days, when I am working a lot of detail, I can manage only a few cramped hours with a tiny brush. Other days I can do ten hours if I feel really inspired or a great deal of pressure (meaning a looming deadline!).

FINAL WORDS... Anything else you would like to add? Advice for new artists or entrepreneurs?
I feel very lucky. I love my work, and if it wasn't my work, I would love it anyway. I would advise anyone aspiring to be an artist to "just be an artist". Do it for yourself, and if it works out that people would like you to share your work with them, then that's extra.

Thank you so much for sharing your story Holly! I identify and relate to so many of the things you said and I have a much deeper appreciation for your work now that I understand more about where/who it comes from.

To find out more about Holly and her work, visit her website

If you're in the Toronto area, the Katharine Mulherin Gallery is showing some of Holly's most recent work  until July 4th!


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Unknown said...

hi edna,
thank you for sharing this! when i saw the thumbnail on your facebook page i was convinced that they first picture (the line of books) was an actual picture and not a painting. i LOVE holly's work.

thelasthurrah said...

WOW, I thought these were photographs at first! Beautiful work, thanks for letting us know about this artist!!