We had the good fortune of connecting with Holly Cerna and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Holly, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I have always been interested in drawing and painting, but I really started taking it seriously when someone challenged me in a competitive way. When I was around 10 years old, I was out at a restaurant with my family. This restaurant had paper table covers and the children were given crayons to draw with while they waited for their food. I was drawing on my paper when I overheard a kid at a different table talking about my drawing to his mother. He was saying that his own drawing was better than mine, loudly enough that I found it a bit humiliating. I felt myself flush. This kid did not know what I was capable of creating. Looking back, I can see that he represented the general frustration I had when people underestimated me. As a young girl, we are often, if not always, underestimated. He also represented my own self-doubt. I began to question my abilities and limitations. My urge to draw and paint became more than just an act of joy and self-expression. I practiced constantly, and realized I was very passionate about challenging myself and always improving.

My passion and my support system have led me to pursue an artistic career.

My parents have always been encouraging of my creativity, as I have many other creatives in my family, with and without creative careers. My middle school teachers were also very supportive and entered me in drawing competitions against other schools. I went on to attend high school at the McCallum Fine Arts Academy, where I started my academic artistic training. After that, I spent four inspiring but challenging years earning a BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The encouragement and support from the teachers and my family throughout my life have helped me pursue a career as an artist.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As a child, I would hold a flashlight up to my hands and see my veins and see the suggestion of bones through my translucent skin. It is this transparency that I am trying to achieve through painting, but I am interested in all art forms and have been expanding on this concept with sculpture, video, and digital art as well.

I would say my overall goal is to capture my subjects in a recognizable, naturalistic way, while using alternative lighting and color to convey their normally invisible mental and emotional states. I am interested in the emotional reaction that art can bring out in people. The psychology of color and color theory heavily influence my palette in all of my works. Recently I find myself using green, red, and purple to visually represent the inner thoughts and emotions the subject is experiencing.

I love learning through experimentation, trial and error, and relying on my instincts.

Although I tend to have self-doubt and hold back in some aspects of my life, in my art, I can totally trust myself and let go.

Most creative career paths are very open-ended, and I see my own future in a similar light.

My work is constantly evolving and expanding. Conceptually, my work has always been about the soul, consciousness, and the personal but universal experience of being alive. My thesis for my BFA, which I was never able to present due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was showing that my work references the art historical references of Caravaggio and other painters of the Baroque Period in human figures as well as landscapes. The infusion of light during the Baroque Period echoed the sentiments of the religions of the day. I use a more contemporary take on spirituality in my work, where our inner light represents the soul and our collective human experience is God. The relative simplicity of Caravaggio’s compositions gives them the emotional complexity that I aim to reference in my own work.

I have found it very challenging to be an artist in Austin, Texas. I had to do a lot of research until I found the right organization to join that also offered studio space, and once I did, I needed to prove to them that I was dedicated to contributing and bettering their community.

An obstacle I didn’t anticipate when moving back to Austin after graduating was realizing how little I actually knew about the art market in Austin. I’ve also found it difficult to find artistic opportunities here other than those I have created myself. There is less support for an emerging artist who is looking for experience than I was expecting.

I observe commercial art everywhere as well as public arts. Even though my backgound is in fine art, I am hoping to become more involved in the public arts and get experience in mural making.

I want people reading this to know that this is just the beginning for me, I’m just getting started!

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
There’s truly something for everyone in Austin. I love its laid back atmosphere and the heavy emphasis on nature. For a summer excursion to Austin, here’s where I would take my friends: Monday: The first place to go is Barton Springs to cool off after traveling, and then late lunch/ dinner at Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant. Their quirky, kitsch artwork covering the walls and ceiling is so interesting and fun.

Tuesday: I’d take them to the upscale, mixed use developments with shopping, restaurants, and housing at the Domain or the Hill Country Galleria in Bee Caves, and then to check out my studio at Contra/Common as well as their current exhibitions in the storefront gallery. After that we could catch a movie at the Blue Starlight Mini Urban Drive Ins. They have two great locations.

Wednesday: Grab a breakfast taco at Taco Deli and then hike down the Barton Creek Greenbelt trail. If it has rained recently, there is a creek next to the trail to cool down.

Thursday: We may do a day at Zilker Park, with a picnic of Torchy’s Tacos in the daytime and a Blues on the Green concert in the evening.

Friday: Mozart’s Coffee in the morning, then next door is Abel’s on the Lake with a view of Lake Austin. Afternoon and evening strolling So Co (South Congress) and South Lamar to people watch and visit the vintage cool thrift shops, locally and family-owned stores and restaurants. Live music somewhere.

Saturday: A sceney brunch at Snooze followed by some light shopping at the Domain. Dinner at Milano’s, a locally and family-owned Italian restaurant in my neighborhood, where everything is made from scratch, the menu changes often. Maybe visit the clubs and bars on 6th Street, which have made Austin’s nightlife famous, we’ll have to stop by Voodoo Doughnuts.

Sunday: The final day would be to visit Jester King Brewery, Kitchen, Farm, & Event Hall to enjoy a drink, some pizza, and some baby goats.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to thank my loving family of creatives including my mother, brother, grandmother, my cousin Tillie Sain , and my uncles Trevor Hensley and Trent Hensley. I’d like to shout out my middle school teacher, Mrs. Johnson, for encouraging my passion and finding me creative and competitive opportunities. I’d also like to recognize my high school teachers, especially Mr. Seckar-Martinez, Mrs. Torrance, and Mrs. West, for teaching me the fundamentals of art and art history.

The faculty at MICA, who are also working artists in their own right, have been instrumental to my growth as an artist. I am lucky to have received direction from artists such as Annet Couwenberg, Jackie Milad, Barry Nemett, Cornel Rubino, Robert A. Salazar, Jan Stinchcomb, Ken Tisa, and Karen Warshal.

I would also like to shoutout the emerging artists’ collaborative Contra/Common, where my studio is, and where I am currently a member with 15 other talented artists!

A book that inspired me to observe, think, and depict my observations differently is A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman.

Website: www.hollycerna.com

Instagram: hollycerna_

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/holly-cerna-0413a81a7

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/holly.cerna/

Image Credits
Amar Gupta and Javier Gonzalez

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