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Over Men and Horses, Hoops and Garters by Creative Spirit Holly Dean

Holly was lucky to be born into a creative and entrepreneurial family, growing up in the rolling hills of Uxbridge, Ontario, where her lovely mother fed her imagination and her British father shared his love of England. She still feels lucky to be making her living as artist, mentor, teacher, techie, designer, calligrapher, painter, bookbinder, book artist and photographer, among other things.

Currently Holly is sought out for her popular workshops; teaching adults to explore and express themselves through mixed media art. She and her talented artist-printer husband, Larry Thompson, share a magical old house/studio in the lovely village of Merrickville with two black dogs, Rook and Raven. It’s an artsy life.

Carrie:  When did you discover your passion for the arts?

As far back as I can remember, I delighted in the wonder of the world around me. I grew up with an innate sense of design… of what looked pleasing to me and what didn’t. I began working in the printing industry at 17 and at 21 I started an after-hours calligraphic design business that eventually morphed into creating paintings full time. I still have a passion for letter forms and words and there is definitely a strong sense of design in my work.

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Creative Spirit Holly Dean and her dog Rook

Carrie: How would you describe the art you create?

My paintings may be subtle, atmospheric, spacious, dreamlike; or maybe it’s a day when they become playful, dramatic, full of mystery and tangles, light spearing through the darkness. They are fantasy worlds — calling to mind the haunting music of Clannad, the lyrical prose of Patricia McKillop’s novels, the richly woven tapestries of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. They are offerings of my inner world — an instinctive reaching out to share the magical serendipity that brings us all together.

Carrie: What does your workspace look like? 

We built our “cathedral to art” in 2001. It is attached to our 1840 house which is quite small and cozy with low wooden ceilings. In contrast, our studio is large and airy with half of it giving way to a cathedral ceiling. This is where I create my art, while Larry works on his letterpress in the other half. One wall has screws every six inches across and down to hang paintings on while I work.

Another wall has shallow shelves to hold my paints. A couple of large panels are stored against another wall, awaiting their turn. I have tall CD racks filled with paint supplies too. In the centre of my 15’ x 12’ space are 4 – 2.5’ x 5’ tables pushed together to form a 5’ x 10’ rectangle. Under 3 of these tables there are 2 rolling storage drawers that hold paper, tools, mediums and paint. I have 8 folding chairs to use at the tables when I hold studio workshops. The floor is gray cement, there are large windows (including a gothic shaped one) and french doors. It is a dream come true!

Carrie: Can you describe your artistic process to readers? For example, do you follow the same pattern and track when you develop an artwork from idea to product?

I may be inspired by a beautiful quote or a beloved memory, a meaningful place or a fabulous piece of art or nature. I start my painting by making random organic and geometric marks with no thought behind them; I play with abandon while creating layers of paint, texture and perhaps collage; concealing, then scratching through, scraping, revealing what came before; repeating the process until a story emerges. When the painting starts to speak to me I play off the areas that bring me joy, bringing in contrast and subtlety. It is such an intuitive process and the finished piece often surprises me, which I love.

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Carrie: How do your interests outside of art fuel your artwork?

As a creative being, everything in my life fuels my artwork. A graceful pose during an exercise class suggests a gesture to make while painting large scale; appreciating beauty, in even the smallest thing, conjures up a deep sense of connection that ends up in my art; my two dogs, Rook and Raven, make me laugh and smile… their playfulness and joy of life translates to whimsy in my work. Images form in my imagination inspired by what my senses have brought me during the day. In my artsy life the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Carrie: Tell us about your teaching. What kinds of workshops and programs do you offer?

I’m loving the 5 day Summer Art Workshops I teach at Fleming College in Haliburton and Saint Lawrence College in Brockville and Cornwall. All of my workshops are about exploring, playing and letting go. I share techniques, do lots of demonstrations and provide a safe, nurturing environment where we make beautiful paintings and book art. I love to help adults become more childlike; to find joy in expressing themselves through mixed media art. There are many shared “aha!” moments. Check out this blog post to get a real feel for what my workshops are like.

At my Merrickville, ON studio I teach many mixed media art workshops like the ones mentioned above, usually for 2 or 5 days. And then there are the Artsy Life MINI Workshops that my wonderful artist friend Laura Starkey and I offer here at my studio — 2 hours of creative fun to get you fired up in your artsy life… Doodles, Zentangles, Artsy Pages, Artsy Papers, Collage, Layers, Image Transfers, Monoprints, Photos, Stamps, Wabi Sabi…

Carrie: What’s one piece of advice or practice in your teaching that you find indispensable for your own artist practice?

When you look at your painting to see where to go next, find the areas that you like and ask yourself why you like them, then act on that. Too often we focus on what we don’t like and get stuck.

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She Moves Through the Fair by Creative Spirit Holly Dean

Carrie: How do you take risk in your art?

I pour so much of myself into my art. It requires bravery to let go and share your personal stories, thoughts, feelings… it puts you in a place of vulnerability. I believe that once a painting is out in the world, it is no longer yours. Each person will find their own meaning within the layers of colour, texture, shape and line. It is always worth the risk of putting your art out there — it makes you and others feel so alive.

Carrie:  What is one creative resource you can’t live without?

I love my creative community. I am so lucky to have dear friends and artists who love to share yummy meals, bounce ideas around, celebrate successes, talk about anything and make art together. We nurture each other and offer support. We brag about each other. Some are near and others are others are halfway across the world. It doesn’t matter. We cultivate meaningful friendships online and off, all sharing a love of making things. The icing on the cake is that I live with my very best friend, Larry, and we get to share our lives making art for a living.

Carrie: Who/what inspires you?

As a child, I experienced the heart-leaping joy of suddenly recognizing my beloved house when coming upon it from an unfamiliar angle. This memory awakens me. It reminds me how full of magic our world is — how nature pulls back her cloak and reveals to us her mysteries. A sensitivity to my surroundings remains. I feel I am absorbing age old stories through my fascination with the natural world… living with her wonderful creatures, the beauty and secrets of place, unkempt gardens, late afternoon sun filtering through old glass panes; a sense of being part of the past when I walk among ruins and standing stones.

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The Dance I by Creative Spirit Holly Dean

Carrie:  How do you define Creativity?

To be human is to be creative. Creativity is really just problem solving… we make creative decisions every moment of every day. Our lives are built on creativity; through art, writing, gardening, cooking, playing, reading, thinking, building, running or any other activity we engage in. How wonderful is that?

Be Creatively Courageous: What is an activity you can (or do) engage in to return to your sense of creative play and curiosity in your art?

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