In “Top Fifty Questions”, I’ll answer the top 50 questions I’m asked as an artist.
What do you like most about being an artist?
The absolute best thing about being an artist is that it opens up a whole world of connections and friendships. It also strengthens the friendships I already have. I love that.
In terms of my work, I love creating a painting that is a personal breakthrough, or that others really like. (The overlap is not always 100%.) It’s hugely inspiring when a painting wins an award, or is accepted into an exhibit, or is purchased by a collector. These things make me thrilled to be in the studio and painting every day.
Yellow Passage 20″ x 16″ oil painting by Holly Van Hart (sold)
“Yellow Passage” is meant to convey the majesty and mystery a large mountain range. The size and angular forms of the mountains indicate the majesty, and unusual red and yellow colors add intrigue.
This scene was inspired by my time in the Rocky Mountains a few years ago. I used a photograph as a very loose reference for the shapes of the mountains and the lake, and my imagination for the colors and texture.
This painting is sold and here’s how it looks in its new gorgeous home –
Yellow Passage, Oil painting by Holly Van Hart, installed
Thank you Susan and Steve for placing my artwork in your dining room. I’m honored! Love how you had it framed, and found just the right spot for it.
Most of my texture is created using heavy acrylics in an underpainting. That is, my first step is to apply acrylic paints to the stretched canvas (usually red paint, applied thickly), and let that dry before starting the first layer of oil paints. The textured swirls are made using a variety of tools; my favorites being a painting knife and a hair comb. (You can see a video demo of the texture process here.)
The texture sometimes aligns with the subject of the painting, and sometimes goes against the natural lines of what’s represented in the painting. That’s on purpose. It mirrors the complexity of our lives.
Pictured from left are: Juno Szalay, vice regent of the Los Altos chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; award-winning artist Holly Van Hart; and Donna Santistevan, chapter regent.
In “Top Fifty Questions”, I’ll answer the top questions I’m asked as an artist. (These are usually asked at cocktail parties and other fun social events.)
Can I mix styles of art in my home? Yes!
Combining a mix of art styles in your home shows off your unique tastes, life experiences, and creativity. It personalizes your home, makes it even more interesting, and opens up whole new conversations.
How Dreams Are Made 36 x 48 oil painting by Holly Van Hart
Do you like to dream big?
I do! As a die-hard optimist, my art (and life) are inspired by the idea of limitless possibilities.
In ‘How Dreams Are Made’, the flowers represent the colorful opportunities in our lives . . . exciting and bountiful opportunities swirling all around us.
The visual inspiration came during a walk in Saratoga on a windy day. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught some gorgeous yellow flowers getting tossed around by the wind. A quick snap of the camera gave me a photo reference to work with.
Back in the studio, I quickly got to work. I wanted the painting to have a breezy look and lots of movement, like Field of Dreams.
This painting was fun, but it did not come easy! There were many points when I wondered whether it would succeed.
For some strange reason, a lot of my best work comes after those sinking moments of doubt. I think the uncertainty frees me up to make bold decisions.
Speaking of which . . . bold decisions are exactly what we need to chase big dreams. Let’s go for it!!
Forest Reverie 48 x 36 oil painting by Holly Van Hart
I am inspired by life’s limitless possibilities, and my abstract nature paintings are meant to spark new excitement about reaching our biggest, boldest dreams.
This latest painting ‘Forest Reverie’ represents the beginning of a new year or a new season. Colorful opportunities sparkle all around us, and beckon us to reach them. Will we pick the closest, easiest one, or will we stretch further to find our passion?
For a holiday party, I paired a painting with a custom cocktail. ‘The Boundary of Spring’ (above) was paired with a cocktail I named ‘Spring-tini’.
Here’s the recipe –
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce pear juice
1 ounce rosemary syrup (I used rosemary from our front garden)
A squeeze of fresh lemon (we picked the lemons from trees in our back yard)
Rosemary sprig, for garnish
Why Spring-tini is paired with The Boundary of Spring
The Spring-tini cocktail has pear juice. Pear is a soft flavor; it is analogous to the soft sky in the painting.
Rosemary has a tea-like aroma and an assertive piney flavor; it is analogous to the stronger color of the green/brown ground in the painting.
Vodka is a subtle but absolutely necessary component of this drink. Similarly, the texture in the painting is both subtle and absolutely necessary to the success of the painting.
Celebration/Larger Than Life 54 x 72″ Oil painting by Holly Van Hart (sold) Buy a print
The larger-than-life sized nest and eggs in ‘Celebration’ are meant to represent the potential of the human spirit, nestled in nature’s bed. Read more here, “What’s up with all the nests?”
There’s also a personal story behind ‘Celebration’ . . .
Birds will build their nests with whatever materials are available to them. One spring when I was a girl, my mother sprinkled snippets of red yarn in the yard near our summer home. She then encouraged us to see what happened next. Sure enough, a bird built a nest using the beautiful red yarn. (Sure wish I had a photo of that now!)
In ‘Celebration’ the birds have built their nest with twigs and ribbons. To me, ribbons have a celebratory feel, hence the title of the painting.
This painting was created in phases over many months. It leverages what I learned about painting nests and eggs from the other Possibilities paintings, as well as reference photos for the ribbons.
Are you in the mood to celebrate?
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The World Offers Itself 36 x 48 mixed media painting by Holly Van Hart
In “Top Fifty Questions”, I’ll answer the top things I’m asked as an artist. (These questions are usually raised at cocktail parties and other fun social events.)
Silicon Valley, in northern California, is a hotbed of technology innovation. It is a place where anything is possible, and failures are just stepping stones to the next success.
I love this part of the culture, which played out in my life every day for 20 years as a Silicon Valley-based high tech exec, and now in my art. My whole ‘Possibilities’ series is rooted in the unrelenting optimism of Silicon Valley.
You can read more about my Silicon Valley experience here on LinkedIn.
Not everyone loves Silicon Valley as much as I do. Have you lived or worked here? What’s your take?
You know that sense of grandeur we get when surrounded by a beautiful forest? That’s what I was aiming to capture with this painting, Woodland Symphony.
When giving this painting its name, the word ‘symphony’ came to mind. In a great symphony, all the musical notes work together in intriguingly complex and beautiful ways. In a painting, the color notes have to work together in similarly intriguing ways.
btw, if you’re curious, here are some in-progress pics of Woodland Symphony –
The beginnings of Woodland Symphony
Working on Woodland Symphony (almost as tall as I am)
Sometimes it’s better to work on a painting sideways
Woodland Symphony (left), Wandering in Wonder (center) and The Grand Escape (right), mixed media paintings by HVH. These paintings are currently hanging in my living room, but they could be hanging in yours 🙂
Some earlier experiments with watercolor techniques (using acrylic paints) have led me to paint a whole new series of abstract landscapes. ‘Sense of Marvel’ is one of the latest paintings in this series.
I’m always pushing myself to paint more abstractly. When you look at this painting, what do you see? Please lmk! (email@example.com) I’ve heard many interpretations and don’t want to spoil your fun by listing them here.
Amid the Scent of Roses 30 x 24 oil painting by Holly Van Hart
In “Top Fifty Questions”, I’ll answer the top questions I’m asked as an artist. (These questions are usually asked at cocktail parties and other fun social events.)
Question #4 – How long have you been painting?
I’ve been painting my whole life, with one hiatus while in college.
As a girl I made many types of art . . . I painted, made ceramics and did crocheting and calligraphy. My Mom was an artist; she gave us lessons and let us use her top-quality art supplies. (Thanks Mom!)
In college, studying engineering was all consuming and my art was put on hold.
After graduating, I worked in high tech and pursued painting passionately as a hobby – taking dozens classes, reading thousands of books and articles, forming an art critique group, and painting every spare minute.
Now, as a professional artist, I paint every day, all day (every weekday + some weekends). And every day I learn something new.
My art education will never be done. That’s a huge part of the fun 🙂
btw, the above painting is Amid the Scent of Roses. Interested in seeing how it was made? Here’s a short video for you . . .
The other day, a friend asked why I had started painting birch trees. One reason is that they are so darn gorgeous!! (I get reminded of this just about every day, because we have a lot of birch trees here in Saratoga.)
Birch tree trunks are highly textured and have a wide range of values, from white to very very dark in the shadows. And the leaves, in an autumn setting, offer a huge range of warm colors to work with – reds, oranges, yellows, golds. An artist’s dream!
Above All Things 48 x 48″ mixed media painting by Holly Van Hart (sold)
Above All Things 48 x 48″ mixed media painting by Holly Van Hart
To live life to the fullest, we’re often told to give the highest value to our relationships. And that things like fancy cars, clothes, homes, TVs, phones, etc give us only very fleeting pleasure.
Do you find this to be true for yourself?
I do, for the most part. Spending time with family and friends is my absolute favorite thing in the world. Hands down. Without question. I value these relationships above all things. (Hence the name of the painting.)
Don’t get me wrong . . . many things give me lasting pleasure too. Mostly visual things. I still love the shape of the wedding ring we picked out over 15 years ago. And the windows in our home that let in lots of light. And some pieces of our furniture. My husband’s garden. The list is very long.
What’s your experience? What do you value ‘above all things’?