Holly Stapleton intertwines feelings of “bliss and melancholy” to create truly serene illustrations
With her fully immersive, carefully considered practice, the illustrator has mastered the art of both commissions and striking personal pieces.
- Olivia Hingley
- 21 April 2022
Unsurprisingly, the Toronto-based illustrator Holly Stapleton feels most inspired by “stillness and calm”. Depicting lone figures, moments of recline and simple everyday actions in her soothingly tranquil style, she tells us that she primarily gathers material from personal moments of secluded peace and quiet. “There’s a lonely nature to this work at times, but I also really feel the most creative when I’m alone”, the illustrator begins, “so I try to draw things that exemplify that intertwining of bliss and melancholy that I often feel”. This penchant for solitude has also helped Holly to develop her brilliant ability to observe. Being a “very quiet” child and teenager, she attests to getting very comfortable being a background person and “people watching”. “I think it’s an observational practice that I still carry with me, even though I’ve (thankfully) emerged out of my shell”.
While always having an eye for the arts, Holly hasn’t always had her sights set on illustration, and she describes herself as pretty much self-taught. Originally studying for a degree in multimedia and communication studies, Holly also later dabbled in the world of animation. But, after moving to Montreal and immersing herself in a whole online community of editorial artists, Holly soon realised how “gratifying” illustration could be. Beginning to send her work to various art directors whilst working as a waitress and a nanny, Holly tells us that she “would sketch out ideas on receipt paper at work when I had editorial assignments”. Slowly transitioning into life as a full-time illustrator over the pandemic, Holly now fully immerses herself in its world, listening to podcasts and watching seminars. However, she’s keen to impress that she firmly believes “being self-taught has made me really appreciate how I’ve developed organically as an artist”.
Viewing Holly’s healthy list of clients, it’s probably easier to work out who she hasn’t been commissioned by than who she has. Whether it’s a piece for The New York Times focussing on relationship acceptance or one for The Wall Street Journal exploring the benefits of journaling, Holly never misses the mark. And, we suspect, this may be down to her tried, tested and very thorough approach to every brief. Beginning every project by making notes and gathering ideas, Holly then spends a while sketching on illustrator, to help her “push my boundaries and challenge myself a little more”. Selecting colours is then the most difficult and longest part of the process, followed by painting with an acrylic-gouache hybrid. Finally, with her final draft, Holly will colour correct it and overlay a few textures digitally. “I like the way analogue and digital coexist in my work”, the illustrator adds.
But, the piece that really caught our eyes here at It’s Nice That was one of Holly’s personal, self-initiated pieces. Showing two hands close up, hanging washing on a clothes line, the work was an exercise in experimenting with light and painting gradients, through which Holly sought to capture “a certain nostalgia for the feelings of summer and the smell of fresh laundry drying in the sun”. A beautifully evocative and meditative work, with such simple imagery and subtle peachy tones, it’s almost as if you feel the piece – a gentle breeze blowing and the afternoon sun on your back – rather than seeing it.
Another of Holly’s personal pieces, How is it Going to End?, interacts with the illustrator’s love of films. Inspired by a scene from The Truman Show the simple yet evocative piece shows a hand hovering over an “artificial sky”. More recently, Holly tells us of the joy she experienced when watching Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, “the way the film captures the complexity of fumbling through your 20s/early 30s in a way that’s so visually stunning and relatable”. Always trying to emulate “cinematic quality” throughout her work, Holly now hopes to integrate How is it Going to End? into a running series based off scenes from her favourite films.
Concluding our chat, Holly tells us that visiting New York last winter, she “really felt at home”, so she now plans to pursue a visa and up sticks. Being excited about how the move may help her practice to progress, Holly is also looking forward to the potential for creating creative connections. “I think having creative peers in a shared studio will be a really nice way for me to feel a deeper sense of belonging in this work” she finishes, “so I’m hoping that’s on the horizon for me”.
Holly Stapleton: Partner Acceptance (Copyright © Holly Stapleton, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.