Holly Stapleton mixes gouache with digital art to create works bathed in the light of the golden hour

“I’d say my style focuses on merging analog and digital illustration in a minimalist way,” Holly tells Creative Boom. “I mainly develop figure drawings and I like to use bright golden hour lighting to enhance the beauty of soft and simple scenes. My work explores the complex nature of selfishness, vulnerability and loneliness.”

Holly is completely self-taught and has no formal training or higher education in illustrator or fine arts. Instead, she studied multimedia and communication sciences for her bachelor’s degree. During this time, she explored animation and created motion pictures in Photoshop for fun.

After graduation, Holly moved to Montreal and enrolled in a graphic design course at Concordia University, where she learned the basics of Adobe Creative Suite. “It was there that I discovered a whole community of editorial artists on Instagram and felt like this was something I could do and enjoy,” she says. “I started to realize that illustration was more fulfilling for me than animation and less tedious. So I moved back to Toronto and sent my work to a few art directors. During my first year as a freelancer, I worked part-time as a nanny. pandemic, I have slowly transitioned to full-time work.”




Aunts, 2021 – The New York Times © Holly Stapleton

Cat Person, 2021 © Holly Stapleton



Cat Person, 2021 © Holly Stapleton

Gratitude, 2022 – The Wall Street Journal © Holly Stapleton



Gratitude, 2022 – The Wall Street Journal © Holly Stapleton

If you look at the portfolio she’s built to date—including work for The New York Times and The Washington Post—you’ll see a recurring theme of faceless characters; their features are mysteriously unknown. This is certainly conscious. “I’ve never been good at drawing faces,” she explains, “so details in the face I usually wait until the end to add, and when I do I often feel like the piece gets flattened out.” … easier to deal with and more elusive in a beautiful way, but I’m trying to challenge myself this year to explore drawing faces.”

Recent projects include animation for Mighty Oak and the Netflix docu-series The Principles of Pleasure. “It’s a three-part series that explores and debunks myths surrounding women’s sexuality and pleasure,” says Holly. “I was asked to develop concept art for the first episode, which touches on the pleasure gap and the barriers and shame that so many women face. I was fortunate to have worked with such an inspiring group of creatives for my first collaborative project. I learned a lot and gained so much respect for the animators on the team and their creative process. They did a fantastic job bringing my still illustrations to life.”

Like many of us, Holly recently took some time to rest and reflect after two years of a global pandemic. “Now that I’m back to work and making art regularly, I feel ready to challenge myself and take creative risks,” she says. “I’ve criticized my own style and pushed myself to make something a little more daring and honest.”

Glass white, 2021 © Holly Stapleton



Glass white, 2021 © Holly Stapleton

Affiliate Acceptance, 2022 – The New York Times © Holly Stapleton



Affiliate Acceptance, 2022 – The New York Times © Holly Stapleton

How will it end?, 2020 © Holly Stapleton



How will it end?, 2020 © Holly Stapleton

Working for The New York Times, 2021 © Holly Stapleton



Working for The New York Times, 2021 © Holly Stapleton

The Woods, 2022 © Holly Stapleton



The Woods, 2022 © Holly Stapleton

Summer People, 2022 © Holly Stapleton



Summer People, 2022 © Holly Stapleton

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