Interview with Kiwi artist, Vicky Holloway (of Squibble Design)

I am delighted to interview fellow Kiwi artist, Vicky Holloway.
I am so inspired by your work (the variety and sheer quantity) and enjoy seeing your Instagram posts.

What is your background?

I always start with raw umber, but recently I have added some Payne’s grey and sap green.
But on a serious note, I have been drawing all my life and have always loved drawing and animation. I only really started painting in the last five or six years, after taking some oil painting lessons.

©Vicky Holloway, Squibble Design

Why did you decide to become an artist?

I did not really decide to become an artist. It is just something that I have always done. I do remember painting a really nice ladybird when I was about six and I remember thinking that I enjoyed the process so much that I would like to be an artist when I grew up.
I had been creating art part-time since 2003 and working on designs for my online store since about 2009 but took the opportunity in 2018 to become a full-time artist after losing my day job.

I know you sell on Society6 and Redbubble and have a store on your website.

What inspires your work?

Nature is my biggest inspiration. I love researching and finding out about new and interesting plants and animals. I am also interested in history, and this often plays a part in my research process.

We are a lot alike there, I think. In fact, it was seeing your Victorian Animal WIP (work in progress) photos on Instagram that attracted me to your work.

What is your art process?

My process always starts with research. I gather as much information as I can about the subject and learn as much as possible while also gathering references. Then I do a series of sketches, which helps me work through any unexpected difficulties and helps with nailing down a pose or a setting for the character.

What media/techniques do you use?

I love oil painting, watercolours, alcohol markers, and digital painting. I am also learning a little bit about coloured pencil illustration, and I have been incorporating coloured pencils into my marker and watercolour illustrations for extra texture.

You also make unique jewellery pieces. Please tell us about those.

I love kawaii character design and I enjoy making jewellery designs inspired by Japanese street fashion with a kiwiana twist. This year however, I am focussing on my painting and illustration projects, so I am cutting down on the amount of hand-sculpted jewellery I will be making.

Do you work from photos or life?

I try to do both. I prefer to work from life but unfortunately if you are trying to paint a subject such as Binturong this is not possible here in New Zealand!
I am a member of our local zoo and this means I can go as often as I like! I am looking forward to going more often over the summer so I can practice drawing animals from life.

Animals are not always co-operative when drawing them, and there are so many incredible creatures and plants from other parts of the world too. I feel I need several lifetimes to paint all the species I wish to.

What was your most challenging art-work and which is your favourite and why?

To date I would say that my ‘Mr Weka’ painting has been one of the most challenging because it had the most background detail out of all the Victorian Animal paintings. However, many of the paintings in the series had so much detail, right down to the individual strands of lace in Mrs Greyhound’s collar. I think they were all challenging in their own ways!
I cannot pick an absolute favourite, but I would say my top three are Mr Tuatara, Mr Binturong and Mr Weka. Miss Bunny who was the very first painting in the series, is also very special to me.

How do you stay motivated, productive and disciplined?

I get up every day and treat it like my job – which it is! I feel very lucky to be doing what I do, and I do not ever take it for granted.
In more practical terms, I have a planner for my projects and each project is planned out so I know what I need to do for the week, the month and then I can work out where I would like to be by the end of the year. Some smaller projects that I need to complete monthly can be planned about six months ahead. For weekly tasks and live-stream planning, I have a daily planner which allows me to see the week ahead and plan out my days accordingly.

What are your thoughts about using social media to expose your work?

I am in two minds about social media. I love taking photos of my work and sharing behind-the-scenes sneak peeks. I also love seeing everyone else’s work and meeting lovely new artists. It can help you grow and let new people discover your work.
However, at times it seems to be a constant struggle against social media algorithms. It can be very disheartening to know that only a tiny percentage of your followers are seeing your updates.
More recently I have decided to treat social media as a place to direct people, where they can easily see my work and scroll through it as if it were a mini portfolio. This is partly because I feel live streaming works better for me as I can talk to people about my art as I am doing it. They can ask questions and we can learn together. It is a lot of fun!

Many artists find gaining a social media following is difficult. I am so grateful to the people who do follow, like and comment; but for all the work going into posts, the outcome is disproportionate unless you have a large following and if you are in countries like the USA.

Recently you exhibited your Victorian Animal Family series. How did you plan for the exhibition and how did it go? What will you do differently for future exhibitions?

The planning process for the exhibition started about six months into the series. Almost from the very start I was thinking about how I could best exhibit the paintings and what I would have to do to get to the finish line.
The exhibition was at Thistle Hall Gallery here in Wellington, and they were very good about giving me all the information I needed ahead of time. As it is a community gallery, I had to manage the exhibition myself. This meant sitting in the gallery for the whole week with my paintings. I did enjoy this though, and I got to talk lots of people about my work! My husband was there to help, and I have done so many art and craft markets in the past that I am used chatting to lots of people all day!
There was still a little bit of a rush at the end to get everything sorted, but because I had planned so carefully the pack in and pack out process went relatively smoothly.

I do not think I would do anything particularly differently for future exhibitions, but I already have a lot of ideas for exhibiting my Opera Moths series!

I am looking forward to seeing the moth series. What I have seen is most tantalising. I love the idea of moths as the protagonists of the series.

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only take your most necessary art materials, what would they be?

I have a pack ready to go! I take a little urban sketching case with me almost everywhere which contains pencils, erasers, fine liners, a small Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, and a tiny paint palette as well as a couple of brushes. Most recently I have been testing the Portable Painter Micro, in which I have just three colours – Sennelier Lemon Yellow, Cinereous blue, and M. Graham Terra Rosa. I am enjoying experimenting with this limited palette!

Using a limited palette is very satisfying – one never needs to worry about colours clashing or having too much colour. Do you recommend Sennelier and M. Graham? I have only used Mijello, Schminke, Winsor Newton and Daniel Smith watercolours.

I do! I am still exploring different brands of artist grade watercolours. So far I have enjoyed using Sennelier and M. Graham, I would like to try Daniel Smith at some point as well.

What advice or tips can you give to other artists?

Never give up!

Excellent advice. 😊

What creative project are you working on at the moment?

Currently I am working on my next oil painting series, featuring moths living and working at the Paris Opera House.
I am also working on my long-term Wizard of Oz book illustration project, and an art book for my Victorian Animal Family paintings.

When looking at your work, it is obvious you are an animal lover. What is your favourite animal and plant?

I love cats, especially big cats!

©Vicky Holloway, Squibble Design

I love going for bush walks and seeing our native birds, and I would love to get a better camera so I can take decent reference photos of them! It is extremely hard to pick a favourite New Zealand native bird, but I would have to say the Takahē is at the top of my list.
I like learning about plants, and I take the opportunity to learn a little about each new plant as I create an artwork. Recently I have been learning about the mega-herbs on the sub-Antarctic islands, and I would love to see those one day.

Until you mentioned mega-herbs (a group of herbaceous perennial wildflowers growing in the New Zealand subantarctic islands. They are characterised by their great size, with huge leaves and large and often unusually coloured flowers and survive in the harsh weather conditions on the islands. Thanks, Wikipedia!), I had never heard of them. They sound amazing and it would be fascinating to see those.

Thank you, Vicky, for sharing your fascinating art journey. Where can our readers find you on social media?

Social Media: @SquibbleDesign