Today I would like to introduce you to the charming world of Holly Farrell. Holly was a hobbyist painter until she turned her passion into a career in ’95. Holly captures the wonderful soul of objects in her still-lifes and portraits. Using pale color palettes of both acrylic and oil, she paints vintage pieces of yelloware pottery, floral sofas, peeling chairs, and well-loved cookbooks. She also employs the use of pattern by placing her subject matter in front of lovely wallpapered backdrops. Her subject matters are both honest and dreamy, encouraging the viewer to take notice of humble, oft-overlooked domestic objects. If only I could hire Holly to come over and paint my collections of vintage props…
1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox? What tools products can you not live without?
Holly Farell: Golden Fluid Acrylics, 600 sandpaper, 100% cotton jersey rags, fine Premier or Masters brushes, J.W. etc. gloss varnish, tempered masonite.
2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “when I am in my studio, I feel ______”
3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library at the moment? This can be books, blogs, magazines, newspapers, comic books, anything at all!
Holly Farell: Books about art – American Folk Painting, Mark Rothko, Southern Folk Art, Tom Thomson, Morandi, American Folk Portraits. Almost any Judith Miller book on houses. Reading – Richard Yates is an all-time favourite. You can really ‘feel’ his writing. David Sedaris helps me to unwind and Barbara Gowdy I quite like. I read every day. For me, it’s a necessary escape. Most days I am lost in my painting which can be isolating. Books are my segue into real life.
CLICK HERE for the rest of Holly’s interview after the jump!
Holly Farell: Creative blocks are troublesome but I try not to think about them too much. My process is so slow that I typically have ‘subjects’ waiting to be painted. If I think about them too much in advance I lose interest in them, so I try to stay focussed on the works in progress. I worry that my slow process hinders my need to evolve, but when I look back on my work I can see subtle changes in light, texture or presentation. I have also recently delved into Portraiture (real people) which came out of painting portraits of Tammy dolls and Barbie and Ken (fake people).
5. Design*Sponge: You are known as a self-taught painter who first dove into your art at 28. Did you take any classes? What were you doing before that? what inspired you to make that first brush stroke?
Holly Farell: At 28 I was working in a group home for teenagers who had developmental and psychological challenges. It was a great job, but very stressful. I began to tole paint – painting flowers on metal or wood, anything I could get my hands on. I also copied folk art pictures, learning how to work colour and the brush. I got bored with the repetition and tried my hand at papier mache’ and then my husband said I should try canvas. My first paintings weren’t very good but I kept at it until I had enough to enter a juried show. That’s where I made my first couple of sales. That being said, I knew I wasn’t a very good painter and that I needed to learn how to draw again if I really wanted to accomplish anything. Over the next few years I would practice with everything in my apartment which is how I came to be a Still Life painter. I had wanted to take courses at one time but just never got ’round to it. ‘Doing‘ has been my education.
Holly Farell: Well, advice is a hard thing to give when I feel I have a great deal still to learn myself. I guess that one shouldn’t expect that being a good painter means selling. I think you have to strategize when/where you want to show your work and you don’t always need a gallery to do this. My first shows were in my living room, couch pushed aside, walls freshly painted and paintings priced low ($75). I did this twice a year until I ended up renting a space that included a beat up old storefront – then I had a more ‘official’ look to my shows. I represented myself this way for years until I felt galleries might be able to expose my work to a wider audience. ‘I think if you want to paint, paint. Worry about people liking them later (if ever)’.
As far as the best advice I ever had…a painter I admired, respected and was very much intimidated by, came into my studio and looked at all my work hanging on the walls. He was very kind in pointing out all of the paintings he liked and what he liked about them. He was very kind in not saying anything about paintings he didn’t like, or in retrospect, paintings that weren’t very accomplished. His comments encouraged me to see the strengths in my work which, in the end, resulted in my focus on Still Life. He never once condescended to me.
7. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the toolbox/studio of any artist/designer/craftsman(dead or alive) who would it be?
Holly Farell: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. What I would really like to peek into is their mind, see how they see the world around them – maybe Rothko, or Morandi? How about Egon Schiele? Tom Thomson? I think painters are always on the inside, looking out. I think they are always just trying to figure things out.
Holly Farrell: I patronize all antique markets and shows I can get to. Ebay and Etsy have lots to see and I often find ideas just browsing through their websites. I also ‘mine’ my past. That’s where most of what I paint comes from. I can find inspiration just about anywhere. Not all things inspirational are paintable though, but they may lead to shift in subject matter. For instance, my family owned and operated an old roadside diner for a number of years – it wasn’t a very pleasant time as my father was an alcoholic who was at his most violent and terrifying during these years. He died from ‘the drink’ at age 39 and left his wife and seven children to figure out how to carry on. For me his death was a great relief. I was ten, and unlike my older siblings, I had only known what alcohol turned him into. So, I guess his death brought us all together – it was the first time I understood what a family could be – and the things that surrounded me at this time (classic salt & pepper shakers, cutlery, glassware, coffee mugs – typical roadside diner gear) are the things that ground me in nostalgia. I hope that makes sense…
10. Design*Sponge: If you had to make a mix-tape of songs that are inspiring you at the moment, what would they be?
Holly Farell: I listen to music all the time when I paint, and to pick a few I feel like I’m cheating on the rest. However, most recently I have been listening to (and don’t judge me too harshly):
– ‘The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard & Clark and Through The Morning Through The Night’ (double cd), Gene Clark and Doug Dillard.
– Chopin, ‘Nocturnes’
– Gordon Lightfoot, ‘Songbook’
– The Handsome Family, ‘In The Air’
>- Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, ‘Raising Sand’
– Bruce Springsteen, ‘Nebraska’
– David Gilmour, ‘Remember That Night’
– Jill Barber, ‘Chances’
– Everything But The Girl
– Any 70’s Elvis, Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Cliff Richard, Dusty Springfiled, Nick Cave – the list goes on and on…Johnny Cash…
11. Design*Sponge: Are you working on any new projects that you’d like to tell us about?
Holly Farell: I am terribly excited about my Portraiture. I have recently completed my first portrait: Antonin, 2010 which can be seen on my website.