City Street by Holly Williams
Holly Williams is a fine art painter and animation artist. She grew up in London and Los Angeles, studied at Otis in LA and later at San Francisco State. Today she lives in Highland Park in East LA, painting, raising a family, and working on commercial animation productions. In an interview with FLIP she talks about the challenges of balancing fine art, family and commercial work.

FLIP: You studied art at Otis, How was that experience?

Holly: I went to art school in the late 90's thinking I would study illustration. As a kid growing up in an animation family, I always thought I would paint backgrounds and illustrate children's books. 
An early lesson from Dad
Errol Le Cain, a background designer at Dad's studio, was a great hero of mine. But after finishing the foundation year at Otis, I made the decision to study Fine Art instead. I think my interest in philosophy and a lean towards academia both played a part. Also it was a strange time for illustration, which seemed to be moving away from traditional painting methods and more towards the computer.
Illustration for Once (Later The Thief and The Cobbler) by Errol Le Cain

Perhaps there was also an element of rebellion against the family business of commercial work. Ironically, it would become film and animation that would influence my fine art painting. I didn't quite realize that until I went to graduate school at San Francisco State 10 years later, and was giving lectures that included more and more references to animation.

Forest Reflection by Holly Williams
FLIP: How would you describe your style of painting?

Holly: I make oil paintings on panel. Pretty traditional in terms of process and materials. I have always worked within the genre of landscape. I call the paintings cinematic landscapes, since they are based on film stills and photographs that echo the qualities of the screen; i.e. blurred soft focus, digital interference, cinematic composition. 
Avalanche by Holly Williams
The subject matter itself is pretty banal, and the focus of the work is the effect of the screen and our relationship as viewers to media. I take my reference material from film stills, deconstruct them, and do a lot of processing of the images in Photoshop - changing the color balance, messing with scale, etc., before they are translated into paintings. When the images become paintings they are all hand painted. There are no transfers, no tricks, just the physicality of the hand and paint.

FLIP: What are the differences between working on your own artwork and working in animation?

I was lucky enough to work on Futurama's last 2 seasons, in an amazing color dept. staffed with colorists who also maintain professional fine art practices. I was surprised at how much color styling was similar to making a physical painting. It really stretched my color brain. You'll be working all day and then you go outside and have a heightened sense of color and light. It was really helpful to my fine art practice, especially since I had been working in a predominantly monochromatic style for a couple years. 

On Futurama we colored backgrounds and props and characters, so you get to create complete environments. Plus the story jumps around to different planets, locations, and often even different animation styles, so it was a very exciting project to work on, not to mention the established style being very strong and saturated. I'm very grateful to have been a part of that team.

I think people romanticize the experience of being a fine artist. All that freedom. It can be exhausting to always come up with new ideas, working alone, taking all that time and financial risk without guaranteed compensation. And you're alone. The gallery helps, of course, but really you have to do your own press, your own marketing, archiving, photography and correspondence.

Working in Animation was a relief, a great counterpoint. To work on a commercial project that is creative, working on a team, to be given direction and work within a set of parameters - I found that extremely fulfilling.
Tunnel by Holly Williams
FLIP: How do you balance your painting, commercial work, and having a family?

Holly: Most artists I know have a day job. or even several. Painting is the only constant in my professional life. I teach, work on various commercial projects, whatever comes up. I think all artists have this flexibility. Conversely, most animation professionals I know have an alternate fine art practice, even if they're not showing or engaging in the "fine art world". My husband [Tim Brock] is a color stylist, but he is also a painter, and dabbles in music and voice-over work.

Nightfall by Holly Williams
But once you have a kid, it's a whole new challenge. As the primary caregiver for our 2 year old, I'm definitely less productive in the studio. But having children has a way of focusing priorities and I am now a master of time management. It makes you cut out all the bullshit. I no longer pace around the studio second-guessing my ideas. My process might change, the scale of the paintings might change, but it's for the better.

I'm also more picky now about where I show, and whether or not I will participate in group shows. Since my son was born I still make a strong complete bodies of work annually and have one big solo show each year. As an artist you have to keep the ball rolling, not only for professional development but for the good of the paintings, to keep evolving. 

Country Road by Holly Williams
The great thing about working in TV animation is that the project ends, and there is downtime to switch to other practices. It's great to be present in my son's life, to be around for his early years, but it's also great to get to work! It's important to be an engaged parent but you've got to hold on to your identity, and nurture your own professional life.  

(Editor's Note: You can see more of Holly's paintings at