Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mind Body Spirit Artist Series - Holly Sierra

One of the things I continually find fascinating about different types of artwork, is the variety of ways that an artist can impact the life of the viewer through their use particular colors, style, imagery or inherent message.  Are you having a bad day?  Do you need to smile?  Would you like to see a body of work that will reach right down into your soul and infuse it with a jolt of positive energy that will warm your heart to the core?  Well then welcome to the vibrant, enchanting world of Holly Sierra! 
                                                                                               ~ diane fergurson

Wolf Spirit
MBS:  Can you tell us a little about your background?  How did you get started in art?

Holly:  As I reflect back on my childhood, I find that artistic expression was a natural outcropping of my youth. Both of my parents were artists (although entirely different from one another in style) and discussions of the arts and artist’s lives, be they ancient or present day, made up a great part of our family’s ‘everyday’! My crayons were always on hand, as was the paper, glue and scissors I used on a daily basis. I expressed myself visually, as best I could, from earliest youth, with much parental encouragement.

From within our old ‘turn of the century’ brownstone in Manhattan, one could hear the strains of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Herb Alpert or Madame Butterfly emanating from the windows and find the bookcases crammed with fascinating tomes on all manner of art, artists and creative ethnic expressions from all around the world.

La Paloma - The Yogi Goddess of Peace
My father took me frequently in hand and we would visit the city’s great museums. Even as a small child, I was deeply touched and forever altered by the grand display I saw in these hallowed halls. I sought to create drawings that would touch people’s souls and recreate what I had experienced in face of such powerful visual offerings.

In particular, I developed a fondness for the Ancient Egyptians. I admired their amazing art, but more than that, I admired their passion for life, their quest for immortality and their incredible penchant, as a culture, for recording the details of everyday life. This early love has stayed with me and I feel it often makes itself known in the slightly stylized paintings of the Goddesses I create today!

My environment and surroundings play a very key role in my artistic well-being. Though we lived in Manhattan when I was a child, we also enjoyed weekends at the cabin my dad built in upstate NY.  I recall being happiest in this countryside setting where the air was filled with bird’s songs and the gentle hum of bees and insects at their work. I wiled away the hours in the woods and meadows, examining all the magic of the natural world. I marveled at the wildflowers, animals, birds, stones, grasses, fungi and lichen ~ my very own decorative natural world! As I sketched by a stonewall or the garden stile, I could hear my parent’s voices as they worked in the garden or from the tool shed off in the distance and I found this very comforting. I also recall my mother’s terrible dismay whenever we were due to return to our apartment in Manhattan! Her love of the ‘countryside’ must have left its mark on me, for I still feel anxiety when I am too long in a city setting.
I have lived in many different places since my youth but
 my present home in Vermont brings back 
all those childhood delights with its pastoral atmosphere.
I believe that the combination of my parent’s love of art, the city’s museums and the beauty of nature I found at our country cottage have forever nurtured my artistic soul. It was only natural then, that as a young person, I sought a Fine Art school in lieu of college and have enjoyed working and living as an artist ever since.

The Celtic Green Man
MBS:  Did you study illustration in art school?  How did your work evolve into what you are creating now?

Holly:  A good deal of the knowledge I use today in creating my artwork, I must credit to my high school art teachers. They really provided a wonderful groundwork upon which I flourished and grew as an artist.  And later, there were many fascinating experiences in college at SUNY Purchase Fine Arts, too. I experimented with paper-making, molds, oil paints and acrylics. But I recall, I was beginning to feel a bit conflicted as my artistic path seemed miles away from the other students. They were more interested in traditional landscape and still life, while I was infatuated with the likes of Gustav Klimt, Adrienne Segur, Edouard Vuillard and decorative, mystical subject matter.

At the same time, my father’s input influenced me greatly. He worked all his life as an ‘Art Rep’ in the Commercial Art Business in New York City. I was very inspired by his stories and enamored of the art he sold to various prestigious clients. Robert Heindel is a prime example of an illustrator my father represented, whose paintings were mystical, moody and atmospheric. I recall once he added a tiny dried frog he’d found to a painting he was working on… It reminded me there should be no boundaries in imagination. Eventually, Heindel’s journey took him from illustration to fine art where he achieved great honors; I was much impressed!

Honey Bee Cottage An Antique Bee Skep
Most of my early painting was done in oils. I would often drive to some scenic spot and set up an easel and begin work. Later, during the years when I lived in Asia, I focused on portrait painting. And then, upon my return to America, I became a Children’s Book Illustrator and this allowed me to work at home and raise my children while still being creative, although much of the work was educational in nature. The above-mentioned forays into the art-world didn’t culminate in an end result but they certainly helped immeasurably with my basic training.

I believe a tiny shop near my home called Uriah Heep, in Chappaqua NY held the key and planted some of the first visual seeds for my future Mystical, Magical work. It was one of the early Asian Buddha gift shops to sprout up in our vicinity. I began to see that what I loved. The shop was filled with exotic sculptures, amulets, fabric patterns, vibrant colors and the ‘stuff’ of legends and mythology. Here in this little haven, I came face to face with a variety of Goddesses, the Green Man, Buddha statues and Fairies galore! I found my passions staring back at me! I was reminded of my youth and my love of the artifacts in the museum. Another inspiration was the discovery of an old Italian Tarot Card deck in my parent’s attic! The possibility of illustrating of a Tarot Deck became a long-term goal at that point.

In my mind, I began to borrow from a myriad of cultures to create my first Goddess series. I wanted to express the magic I felt when I stood in the exquisite Alhambra for the first time, or when I scurried across the English Moors or explored the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong. The aspect that thwarted me in the beginning was how to define myself as an artist if my interests were so varied. I loved Southwestern Art, Asian Art, Celtic Art and Mystical Art. In the end, I decided to embrace ALL that I loved and make it my own!

The Divine Child
MBS:  I think that's interesting because for many artists it really is the trial and error of many different types of materials and experiences before it all culminates into what we love to do!  And I've also noticed that for many female artists in particular, it happens after they grow a bit older and have children of their own.  Do you have any thoughts about that?

Holly:  I find ‘trail and error’ a necessity in the art process! As a teen, I must have drawn over a thousand human faces. Again and again, I tried various techniques, fiddled with different lighting and features. During the time we experiment as budding artists we fine-tune our craft. Most recently the requirement of having to complete 78 paintings for The Chrysalis Tarot deck I’m creating has helped me to work more quickly, precisely and creatively. One hopes, when working on a project due for publication, that each piece will outshine the next. This may not always occur, but consistency of content must!

I have worked in watercolors, oils, pastels, colored pencil and finally acrylics. In the end, I’ve chosen acrylic paints because they handle well, clean with water and dry quickly. As well, they allow me to paint in a layered style that is forgiving!

There are moments along the artistic path when one feels they have found their calling or niche. Those are wonderful moments! I suppose the most important aspect is to realize that we are always growing and evolving. Each goal and niche is important. As an artist, I am usually so emotionally involved with whatever piece I’m presently working on, that I will set it up by my bed after the night’s work, so that when I arise the next morning I can gaze upon it with ‘fresh’ eyes. Fresh eyes reveal what I need to alter or what is perfect as it is…

I must admit that after having my children, I was more at home in my skin and felt more confident in my painting. I was always ‘desperate’ to have kids. In my case the creation of my family was as fascinating an adventure as any of my artistic quests! At the time it all began, I was living in Tokyo and was told I could not conceive. I felt quite powerless! Soon, upon our move to Hong Kong, I found a way to adopt an infant. My eldest daughter Gabrielle was adopted from the Philippines and as I didn’t work through an agency, it took me a full year to achieve success. I ‘received’ my baby girl right away…but the legal process was time consuming. Suffice to say, I bought lots of art supplies and drew whenever I could to pass the time in the Manila Hotel. Some years later I returned to the USA and DID conceive!!! My daughter Esme was born seven years after Gabi’s adoption.

Both of my girls are artistic and creative. I have learned from them and they from me. Having children helped me relax and grow as a person and as they became more independent I became more deeply involved in my painting!

The Storyteller - A Wise Old Sage
MBS:  When I look through your work, no matter what the subject matter, all of your art and illustrations seem to me to exude a very positive and sunny outlook.  What do you attribute that to?  Is it just how your style developed, or are you trying to project or portray something in particular through your work?

Holly:  I have often been told that when my paintings are viewed altogether, the effect is similar to that of a rainbow! I don’t intend to create exceedingly colorful work individually, but in the end it seems to be my ‘signature’. I expect one’s painting style is as reflective of one’s personality as is their wardrobe, handwriting or home d├ęcor. As a child I was always the family member who attempted to make everyone happy ~ Perhaps this aspect endures still! My father was a lovely man in many ways but he was often bad tempered and my mother was a worrier! (Perhaps due to my father’s condition) Whatever the case, I was the peacemaker!

By nature, I am very optimistic and enthusiastic and given your question, I guess this quality has emerged in my artwork. All I can say is GOOD! Much of my sunny temperament and optimism covers a very emotional, sensitive nature. Left to my own devices, I’d rescue all the lobsters in the supermarket and deliver them back to the ocean’s waves, I’d free all the animals who are abused and help all the needy children, etc. It takes me a long time to forget the pain I’ve seen in life. I like to think that the gentle Goddesses, Fairies and Green Men from my paintings add a little loveliness and gentleness to the world. I find beauty in the smallest things; like moss. And I believe it’s the artist’s job, through whatever means, to reveal these small beauties to others.

The Tarot Wheel of Fortune from the Chrysalis Tarot Deck

MBS:  I was going to ask you about the The Chrysalis Tarot Deck.  How did that all come about? Can you tell us a little bit more about it?  It's a very beautiful deck...the artwork is just amazing. Were you interested in and familiar with the tarot before you embarked on creating the deck?

Holly:  As I mentioned when I was a teen I came across an old Italian Tarot deck my parents had stashed away in their attic. I was fascinated with these extraordinary cards; they were both mysterious and beautiful. I keep them, to this day, on my bedside table along with my favorite, Aquarian Tarot Deck by David Palladini. I turn a card up almost everyday!

Anyway, it was some time later, in the eighties, when I began to see beautifully done Tarot and Oracle Decks that featured full color paintings accompanying the card meanings. The earlier decks were rather more simplistic. I liked the idea that an artist could add his own flavor and take on the Tarot. I suppose at this point a seed was planted (I would have to illustrate a deck myself one day) The task was akin to illustrating one of the ‘classics’ and making it your own.

When I was 16 my friend Danny took a card-reading course with Tarot author Rolla Nordic. Danny shared each and every lesson with me. We would sit for hours in his room studying and experimenting with the cards. This began a life long passion for me. I soon discovered that many of the card’s meanings varied from deck to deck. Eventually, my own reading experiences, over time, would begin to dictate how I interpreted the cards rather than relying entirely on a particular book’s explanation. I probably have over a hundred Tarot Card decks in my collection!

One of the most memorable experiences for me came during the year before I had my baby. I had been told by doctors in the Orient that I would not be able to conceive a child, but all throughout 1994 whenever I read the Tarot cards for myself, I kept turning up the ‘Empress’ card, which in my experience meant creativity and  ‘fertility’. I remember thinking- ‘What can this mean for me?’ And lo and behold, I found myself pregnant that September! Over the years I have read for family and friends as well as the public.

As many of you may already know, I am presently illustrating a Tarot card deck called The Chrysalis Tarot, with Author Toney Brooks. The Chrysalis is a rather unique take on Tarot. I am happy to say, I feel our Major Arcana is very strong in both the written and illustrated sense ~ I took a long time mulling over each visual interpretation, in sketch form.  As well, one of my very favorite aspects occurs with the Court Cards. Instead of the usual King, Queen, Knight and Page ensemble, we have supplied the reader with a Troupe of Medieval Characters, male and female, who provide insights and guidance to the querent.

Lastly, we arrive at the forty Minor Arcana, or Pips, which make up the body of the deck. It’s here, at this point, where I began to feel the pressure of being only half finished. I wanted my Pips to be equal in quality to the Troupe and the Major Arcana! As a Tarot Card collector and there is nothing more disappointing than finding a beautiful illustrated Major Arcana and a slightly less stellar Minor Arcana! So, I tightened my belt and gave each and every card my best shot!

The Sun - from The Chrysalis Tarot Deck
MBS:  With the Tarot Deck, but also with illustration work in general, an artist has to be able to have the ability to collaborate with the writer pretty well.  Some artists are able to do this easily, other artists tend to be more single minded in their work.  How do you find this whole process?  I imagine with some projects the collaboration 'dance' is easier then others!

Holly:  The funny thing is Facebook is really the forum that brought us together. I was feeling the urge, very strongly, to finally embark on my Tarot Card Painting project and I had just met an author on line named Toney Brooks. Toney had posted some of my paintings, which he seemed to like and we began to correspond. It occurred to me one day that he would be the perfect person to ‘pen’ the Chrysalis Tarot Card deck! Toney is a retired broadcasting professional. In 2001, he published a book called ‘The Mystic Rose’ about the return of King Arthur in our time, so it seemed to me he would be well versed in the mystical and magical…. He is a wonderful writer, concise, clever, intuitive and imaginative.

Toney and I began our collaboration by emailing back and forth

Here below are Toney Brook’s own words describing our Tarot Deck…

The Harvest Goddess

"I had three goals when writing the Chrysalis schema:

1) To make our deck more relevant to the 21st century.  To this end, we renamed several of the traditional archetypes, most notably Empress and Emperor, and reinvented several others; we re-imagined the court cards as a Medieval Troupe of artisans who represent real people querents may know or meet on their journey, and we renamed the four suits to underscore the deck's uniqueness.  Our suits, called Stones, Mirrors, Spirals and Scrolls, represent progressions of conscious awareness from the physical to the emotional followed by the mental and spiritual.

2) Chrysalis emphasizes Universal Oneness and connectivity; the answers we seek are the answers we already have inside us. The archetypes, the synchronicity inspired by the Troupe, and the numbered "pip" cards connect the user's conscious and subconscious mind to what we call the Otherworld, a metaphor for Universal Consciousness or Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious.  A Chrysalis Tarot reading enlivens the imagination and assists our readers in increasing self-awareness.

3) We call Chrysalis Tarot, "Transformational Technology for Everyone."  This branding recognizes that all Tarot decks represent what mythology calls the Hero's Journey, or the Quest for the Holy Grail.  As our readers progress through the cards, they grow in self-awareness and self-completeness -- their souls transform. The questions brought to a reading are answered in the traditional manner by the card's meaning, but also by engendering greater understanding of how those answers relate to personal destiny."

Morgan Le Fay
MBS:  Obviously spirituality plays a very important part in your artwork and life.  Do you choose the themes for your projects yourself, or do they tend to come to you?  What are your favorite images or themes to portray?

Holly:  Yes, spirituality does play a key role in my artwork and life. Nature is my religion and positive transformation is always my goal. In a lesser sense, mysticism, art and multicultural legends are the meat and potatoes upon which I dine!

I find myself inspired and wonderfully stimulated by almost everything around me…I’ll give you an example; if I happen in a book store and find a particularly lovely book on fiber art and dying wool, I am off and running. I think to myself about painting decorative sheep, felting and using their lovely raw wool as background material. I then begin to think of rams and sheep in legends and history, for example the infamous Golden Fleece in Greek mythology. This leads to thoughts of the Ancient Greeks and various lovely Goddesses and more and more fabulous visual material begins to reveal itself. I sometimes feel I live in a constant state of rapture when it comes to ‘inspiration’.

But back to the Spiritually aspect ~ I believe strongly in Karma and in intuition. And I try and live a life I will be proud of when I grow old. I try and share this with my children and husband. Another great belief of mine is that compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character. I attempt to help any creature in my path.

Having recently lost my parents to old age, I have become much more aware of all the marvelous ‘signs’ that crop up in the everyday ~  Signs that remind us all how our lives and paths are interwoven and how indeed we are all made up of the stars!

As to my favorite themes in art, I am passionately devoted to the reemergence of the feminine in the New Age Art world. I love painting Goddesses, all forms of nature and the stuff of mythology and legends. Rather than limit myself, I embrace all sorts of themes, among them: Southwestern Art, Celtic Art, Asian Art and Fantasy Art. One of my greatest passions is discovering all the little details that make one ethnic art form differ from another. I find that the glory of humanity lies in these little details.

MBS - When you create your paintings and illustrations, what format do you use?  Size, materials etc?

Holly:  At this point, all my paintings are done with acrylic paints and I use them much as one would watercolors. I actually started out using watercolors as a child, and then onto oils when I was in my teens and early landscape stage. Now and then, I will experiment with some colored pencils or pastels, in addition to the acrylics, for enhancements. I usually paint on 300 pound, Hot Press, Arches Watercolor Board or a fine weave canvas. As I am such a detail-oriented painter, I find the smoother surfaces give the best results.

As far as size is concerned, I work anywhere from the 6x9 inch Tarot Card paintings to a 24 x 48 inch canvas Goddess painting. I like working in differing sizes because it always feels like a fresh approach to the subject matter at hand!
I prefer Belgian Linen Canvas because it has a very fine weave. I am not a very highly ‘textured’ painter. I like to achieve the appearance of texture through design and mottling.

One of my favorite pursuits is achieving new ‘mottling techniques’. I experiment with everything; sponges, paper towels, saran wrap or rubber stamps. Most of what I use leaves a unique mark in the wet paint and thereby creates interesting patterning! The Arches Watercolor board is wonderful because it’s so durable, absorbent and resilient. I am very fond of the result when I paint with acrylics on the Arches board.

Fairy Song

MBS -  Do you work in a series, or more then one at a time?

Holly:  I have often found myself besotted with a certain vision and begun work immediately on a painting only to find myself similarly inspired in another direction, in a day or two ~ And so I would begin another new painting!!! I hate to lose a passing inspiration…. But a few years back my kids warned me that there were just too many unfinished canvases sitting around. I needed to ‘finish’ what I had started.

And so began a new philosophy- I would finish each and every painting I began and refrain from beginning a new one before the old one was completed. I could still, however, sketch in pencil and that’s how I keep a record of the passing visions.

I do love the idea of painting subjects in series form. It’s fascinating to me to note the differences and similarities as I move along. Take for example, Goddesses…I love adding details that represent the culture or legend from which they spring and noting the strengths and characteristics that those particular people admire. The fun for me is in the details!

MBS:  What is a typical work day like for you?

Holly:  I usually awake in the morning with whatever painting I’m actively working on visible from my bedside. That way I can look upon it with fresh eyes and see what needs altering. Luckily for me, I am a fairly upbeat person; so most mornings fill me with a sense of purpose and enthusiasm for the most part. Frankly it’s very joyful to be an artist! It may not be as financially rewarding as other careers but it certainly is a good for one’s spirit!

Before I begin painting, I answer emails from folks and try and organize the orders that have come through the following evening. Packaging and mailing out orders is time consuming but I much appreciate the business and enjoy wrapping and personalizing each order; be they Prints, T-Shirts or Greeting cards. I am delighted that my art is gaining a following. I truly enjoy interacting with the public and I cherish the lovely letters people have written complimenting my art. One woman wrote me recently, telling me that if she’s having a bad day, she goes to my website and looks at my paintings and immediately feels calmer. That, to me, is what it’s all about; I love connecting and touching others through my work.

Anyway, the rest of the day is spent researching subject matter in my own rather large library or getting down to business and PAINTING!  I sit on a couch and work on a low, flat coffee table (A low table is best for my back and neck) and I'm not too fond of easels. I will usually watch something on television or listen to music while I work. I am a great fan of Loreena McKennitt’s music in particular and I guess I just like having informative or beautiful 'noise' on in the background; I find it inspirational!

To sum up my work philosophy, it’s fair to say that in between all the other aspects of life, children, husband, pets, bill paying, doctor appointments, hikes, cooking and shopping- I paint! I have always painted when ever a free moment arose...

Merlin - The Magical Mystical Wizard

MBS- I see that you sell your work online.  You mentioned your experience working with Toney Brooks up above, but in general, how has the online/social media experience been for you?

Holly:  Online social media has really been the ‘making’ of me! My husband encouraged me to get my paintings out there by creating me a website! I was hesitant at first but he forged right ahead; Steve is a Leo! Neither of us was extremely well versed in the graphic world then but we did the best we could and the results have been amazing!

Soon, Facebook came along and I joined up, creating a personal and an art page! Eventually too, I set up and ‘ordering’ aspect to my website and went on to make an ETSY Shop as well. Both have helped towards my making an income from my art. This is something I’m sure would never have occurred without the existence of social media. I have heard many complaints about Face book, and the like, but for me, it’s all been a wonderful experience. I did have a few troubling incidents, such as finding a woman in Russia who was selling my un-watermarked images as her small prints…And companies using my paintings without my permission. So I guess that is the unsettling side to social media. One must be vigilant and watermark or copyright everything!

On the brighter side, I find many of the images people post, very inspiring. Facebook has helped me discover new artists and photographers, who's work I greatly admire... And I have found old friends from across the world and stumbled onto hundreds of new ones!

MBS- Any advice for those who (seriously) wish to pursue an artistic path?

My advice to those who wish to pursue an artistic path is to jump right in! Paint, draw, sculpt, dance, compose, play, sew or act with abandon! Follow every lead and ask advice of those you admire. The more the novice works at his or her pursuit, the better. I have come to believe 'passion' is more of a requirement than pure talent. It is passion that enables one to sit and wile away the hours drawing or painting and to be fully engrossed with the result. And then, as another day dawns, so does the desire to begin painting anew! Being an artist is a very emotional experience. As well, it's inspiring and engaging; Both my daughters paint and draw...!

I believe art schools help a lot, especially for those who wish to teach or pursue a commercial or graphic arts career. One must consider their eventual goal first and see whether training in illustration or fine arts is called for.

The last little tidbit I have is trite, oft-repeated and apt. ‘Starving Artist’ is very often the sad truth, despite passion and talent. So, be sure an artistic path is what you desire…Because the joy and satisfaction in the artist's world really comes from the ‘doing’!

MBS:  Where can people find out more about your work?

Holly:  If you have more interest in seeing my artwork, please visit my website at as well as, my ETSY Shop at the following link- .

I carry Prints, Greeting Cards and T-Shirts on both pages. My email is and I love receiving letters, questions or comments!

Recently, I have begun creating LOGO’s for individuals and businesses…Most of them have been herbalists, doulas or healers and their LOGOs have been a veritable delight to create! As well, I have been licensing my paintings for use on people’s websites and blogs, too. It provides a small income for me and I’m delighted in the interest thus far!

And should you prefer a more intimate connection please join me on Facebook. My new work, especially the Chrysalis Tarot Card updates are found on my Holly Sierra Art Page and then for a more personal connection- Please join me at Holly Sierra! I look forward to meeting you…!

Thanks so much to Diane Fergurson for this lovely interview. I am honored to be interviewed for her 'Mind Body Spirit Odyssey' Artist Series!

Thank "you", Holly!

Links to other interviews in the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series.

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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design