Friday, June 25, 2010

Artist Profile: Holly Irwin

Winding Path, 20x20

You never know what life will bring, and that's just what Holly Irwin discovered when she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis 10 years ago. She had to quit her job and was in quite a lot of pain. But out of this debilitating illness came a desire to return to her first love - painting and drawing. She has been pursuing that dream now for the last 10 years.

For You, 60x40

Holly grew up in Pittsburg and attended the Carnegie Institute from age 12 until college, learning to draw and study art from the classical perspective. She then attended Carnegie Mellon where she studied art. Holly was inspired by her mother who was an illustrator and portrait painter. There were always easels around the house with artwork in various stages. Art, painting and drawing were a way of life for Holly growing up, and since she also studied art in college, the artist's path would seem like the natural direction. But after graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Holly got married, moved South and got a job that had nothing to with art or painting. She moved on to other things, leaving art behind for many years.

right, Silent Night

And then 10 years ago the illness struck and changed the course of Holly's life. She says she knew very soon after the diagnosis that she wanted to return to her dream of being an artist. But this was easier said than done, because the arthritis particularly affected Holly's hands - the artist's tool. But she persevered and found that when she is drawing or painting she does not feel the pain. She feels that she is now living the life she was intended to live and being who she was created to be.


Sisters, 12x16

Holly keeps a sketch book on hand and sketches her dreams and inspirations. From this sketch book she then creates her paintings. Her work has been described at soulful and evocative. She focuses on the simple life and this shows in her work. She frequently paints women and children, often with baskets, barns, houses and nests in the background or in the hand. Holly became interested in drawing barns after a driving trip through the Pennsylvania countryside. She says that the baskets and nests often represent positive emptiness - the emptying of the self, so that God can fill us with grace and blessings. Which is the journey that Holly has walked.

The Yellow Cottage, 48x48

Her work is layered and textured and seeing the work in person is a wonderful experience. Holly usually works in oil and frequently uses a palette knife, which gives so much richness to the paintings. Holly says: "I apply layers of modeling paste, gel mediums, oil paint and acrylics with brushes, knives and rags to achieve depth and complexity. The finished effect of my mixed media paintings is an aged quality, like a fresco."

Home, 30x40

Hush, 14x11



Reflected in her paintings is the grace, patience and love that fills Holly's life. Having Rheumatoid Arthritis changed her life, but not in a bad way - in fact it was the catalyst for the journey back to being an artist that she had begun years ago.

In Atlanta Holly is represented by Lagerquist Gallery. In Fairhope, AL her gallery is Lyons Share, and in Birmingham, AL you will find her work at the Lorreta Goodwin Gallery.

Holly's website is:

All artwork is reproduced with permission of Holly Irwin and all information was gathered from an interview with Holly in June 2010 and also from her website.


  1. To Ms. Irwin, I love the Maria portrait. Friend of yours?

  2. Hi Terry, Thank you! Maria came from my imagination. I see her as a romantic..... a gentle soul.