Artist Spotlight :: Holly Nowak


Welcome! Every Tuesday and Thursday Tonia Jenny, the 21 SECRETS Creative Director & Course Manager, interviews one of the talented teachers in our 21 SECRETS program for an Artist Spotlight.

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Hi Amazing Artist!

Today’s Spotlight Artist is Holly Nowak. If you are looking for a deep dive into a multi-layered painting project, Holly’s lesson, Gather, is perfect for you as she explores many techniques to achieve her stunning final project! Holly has much to share with us here, as well, so let’s just get to it!

From what era of your life up to this point would you say you learned the most about your authentic artistic voice?

I have always been an artist. My mom will tell you that I have been creating something artistic since I could hold a crayon. However, like most adults, life just happens and sometimes we’re pulled off course. That certainly happened for me and I found myself being a busy mama, then in a 10-year career I dreaded and finally able to find my way back to art. During those years I created and made things, however, I had no direction, no focus. I was busy and so desperately wanted to be creating I just painted anything and everything I thought people would like to see. A few years ago I was finally able to step away from that career that just was not me. I declared, “I AM AN ARTIST!”

So I found myself an artist; what did that mean? What would I create? What was I trying to say? I wound up taking a four-day trip on my own, just me and our family dog. I went out to the gorgeous canyons of Caprock Canyons and camped with the free-roaming bison for four days. It was scary and thrilling all at the same time. It was quiet. I could think, deeply for the first time in years. That is where I found my voice. My voice as an artist is my life. I paint my life. I no longer paint to please. I paint what inspires me in nature each and every day. It may be a tiny chickadee on my porch, a sunflower in my garden or even a giant bison. I tell any artist who is struggling with finding their voice to do the same. Paint your world, paint what means something to you. Don’t try to please others by painting what you think is popular or what people want to see. Paint your life, your story and your audience will find you because your art will have spoken to them. I will turn 50 this year and feel like I am finally finding my voice. It is never too late to find what makes you authentic, what inspires you to create.

What was your last happy accident?

Never give up on a piece of art that isn’t going in the direction you intended. Sometimes when I am working on a piece of art, even when using my tried and true methods of creating a piece just will not come together. I typically put those pieces in time out. They just have to go sit in a corner until I feel like I can look at them with a fresh eye. However, I was recently struggling with a piece that had a deadline attached to it so I didn’t have the luxury of putting it in time out. I was struggling with the way the acrylics were looking on the canvas. I just couldn’t get the effect I wanted. It felt flat. I wanted some movement and the acrylics just weren’t doing the job. Instead of starting over I just started covering the ill behaved areas with light modeling paste! Now what! After the modeling paste dried I broke out my watercolors. This is now one of my favorite techniques! I absolutely adore how the watercolors take to and move on the dried modeling paste. I just love happy accidents!

Is there a “secret message” you often want your work to convey?

OK, I’m going to unveil my secret message! Just kidding. I don’t have a deep, hidden secret message but I do have a feeling that I hope is conveyed through my art. I hope that when people view my art that a piece speaks to them, makes them feel something, makes them connect. So often I create my art and each piece holds my secret story, message, the reason behind why I created that particular piece of art. However, my truly favorite part of the process is when someone sees my art in my studio or in a show or even sends me a message online and tells me why it means something to them! The memory or feeling my art invokes in other individuals is their secret.

Sometimes I share with them my secret message behind a piece but most of the time I like to listen to theirs. Isn’t it funny how an image that I created, my secret message, can speak to someone else and mean something so different? In my work I like to convey the peace I find in nature. The strength and balance I observe in nature. The whimsical, beautiful and moving moments I observe in nature. The stories and history that nature shares. When an animal or creature finds their way into that story I am overjoyed! That is my inspiration but the secret I suppose would be in finding out how what inspired me inspired or moved others. Now it is no longer a secret but a connection. A connection between the artist and the viewer.

What is the one thing you hope we remember from your workshop?

Balance. We all work so hard. We are all so busy. In nature there is a time and a season for everything and it works! Remember to seek balance between work and stopping to smell the roses. Nature is just outside our doors and it has magically restorative qualities. Just like the Queen Bee who so many depend upon, who works so hard and is the center of her hive, her family, her community. She finds the balance in those things and remembers to gather nectar, enjoy the sweet moments and find her strength to keep working. Step outside and take those moments to to restore balance when you need them. Observe nature and all its busy creatures. Everyone has a job to do but they all take the time to sing, to fly, to gather, to enjoy the sweet moments and to stop and smell the roses.

What is your life mantra?

She believed she could, so she did! The path to peace and happiness is a bumpy one. As Georgia O’Keeffe said, “Ive been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” I live by those words. Be kind. Be loving. Be brave. Its OK to be afraid and told no, but follow your heart and soul! Always.

Doesn’t Holly sound like the perfect coffee conversationalist?

I love that she shared so much of herself here with us and I for one feel more brave already!

About Holly

Holly Nowak is a 4th generation Texan currently living and creating in her home studio as well as her studio in Houston’s Historic Arts District. Holly describes her work as representational with easily identifiable characters with a touch of whimsy. The sense of peace she feels in nature is evident in her quiet yet bold compositions. Holly teaches art to children and adults and has carefully curated her spaces into a creative sanctuary. Her home studio is surrounded by lush gardens and a variety of animal life, including her beloved chickens. She is passionate about sharing her love of creating art with others and the inspiration this space brings her. Holly’s work has been widely recognized throughout the state of Texas and beyond. You will often find Holly hosting events and showing her art from her studio located in Downtown Houston’s Winter Street Studios which is home to one of the largest creative communities in the country.


Holly teaches Gather – A Creative Immersion into Flora, Fauna & Faces in 21 SECRETS Face Time

Inspired by the flora, fauna and faces around us, we will immerse ourselves into a whimsical mixed-media piece. We will explore the tools, materials and inspiration needed, as well as, how to build layers of texture and color to create the most fabulous Queen Bee!

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