Behind the Design: Rainbow by Holly Sharpe

Thanks for the feature Deny Designs!



Holly Sharpe is an artist and illustrator from Scotland, UK and she’s also a DENY artist. We had Holly sit down and answer a few questions to give us a peek into what makes her pencil drawings so captivating and what inspires her.

How do you stay creative? I try to keep my eyes and my heart open and awake to allow inspiration to come in from everywhere. From people, nature, music, writing, etc. This helps me to stay inspired and fuels my need to create. I pretty much always have ideas, too many in fact, so it is practice and experimenting and figuring out which ideas to pursue. Music and podcasts helped keep me motivated during days in the studio!

rainbow-artprintAbove: Rainbow by Holly Sharpe Oversized Art Print + Hanger

What are you inspired by? Everything. I know it is cliché, but it is true. Music always helps. Being in nature is…

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Trust in YOU.

As per usual, it has been over a month since I last posted something on here. I have actually drafted a few posts, but some I am still working on, and others the timing doesn’t feel quite right, yet… I have had some intense creating time recently – which involved painting for long hours to create some new work for Breeze gallery here in Scotland. It had probably been a few months since I had painted that intensely, and it really felt like it was needed. It is such an amazing feeling to let something out that has been inside of you, and sometimes weighing you down, the whole process is quite cathartic. However, like with most creative things, and with most things that are worth doing, it also comes with some element of struggle. Struggle to not over think what you are doing, and why, trying to not question your work too much, and trying to come up against and cross this weird threshold that seems to hold you back from finishing anything at times. Thankfully I was under a nice amount of pressure – ie not too much, but it was still there – which meant I knew I had to finish them, rather than leaving them in this strange limbo where it’s as if by leaving them there you have some excuse as to why they ‘don’t work’. Maybe to some of you that made no sense at all, but I am hoping some of you creatives out there, from all creative disciplines, can relate to what I am talking about, even if I didn’t word it in the best way.

Since then, it now leaves me with a mass catch up operation. Yawn. This involves emails, making my new website (which has been ‘in progress’ for so long now it is starting to hurt >< ) , and the tedium that is photoshopping what feels like endless amounts of scans/ files so that they are ready for web/ printing. I have been wondering if I need to do a class in photoshop as it is quite possible there is a quicker way to do what I am doing… and I know I have a bad track record for inadvertently making things harder for myself. Anyway, my, longwinded, point is that because I haven’t been doing anything that creative for the last week or so, I am once again flooded, with a running commentary of words all jumbled up from everything I have thought/ learnt/ listened to / conversed about of late. It’s like I have too many to make any sense of. And they often hit me at times when I can’t actually put them down on paper, like when I am driving and listening to music, or if I am out for a walk by myself, or exercising, basically at times when my mind is allowed to wander. Which is a bit weird because I am by no means a writer, but I think perhaps because I don’t currently have a creative outlet whilst I am doing all the tedious stuff, that therefore I have to explode my creative stuff in some other way, and it has started to come out in words. Maybe because in some ways it is more instant, that’s what it feels like for me anyway, like I can off load a tonne of stuff quite quickly and it is like a weight has been lifted, or like a sense of having achieved something.

So I did start to write this to explain why I finally managed to unearth some sense and some direction to be able to hone in on a topic amongst all the other noise/ commentary in my head. And here it begins, the thing I actually sat down to write about(!) :

I came across this article the other day, an interview with none other than THE real life Erin Brockovich. Which many of you may know because of the film in 2000 where Julia Roberts played her. And if I am honest, is still one of my favourite films. It inspires me, and I love the whole idea of someone fighting against something that many would deem impossible/ insurmountable. (And even more so because the someone in this case is a woman!! *and I think women are amazing*) I also feel this is an apt moment to quote from another brilliant (!) film, also based on a true story, that I re-watched recently, ‘The Imitation Game’

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine”.

The quote below however, was the main catapult to put my thoughts into words. Mainly because, upon reflection, this concept was the main thing I learnt for myself last year, 2015. There were a few instances with my work, and decisions I had to make/ risks I chose to take in relation to my work, but also in my personal life (needless to say there is a very grey line where one starts and the other ends) where it was pointed out to me, mainly by a few of my nearest and dearest friends that I need to believe in my own decisions more, and trust in them more. I was actually taken aback when it was first said to me, even the language I was using was almost like justifying a decision in some way. I hadn’t even realised this was something I did. It was like my default, to think that someone else always knows better than me. It was also one of my great yoga teachers that made a similar point, that with some of the biggest decisions in our lives, we often turn to someone else for help, he used the example of buying a house, we entrust the help of a solicitor etc – and pay them a lot of money to do so! Now, I am not sure it is even possible to sell or buy a property without that in the UK, but if you think about it, it is a bit crazy, especially when I know many people who are so frustrated by the incapabilities of their solicitors in these instances, missing details at the start and quite basic things which then hold up the whole process, and yet we still pay them thousands to do this for us.

Erin B quote

Of course I accept and acknowledge that sometimes someone else does know best, sometimes I need someone that has the experience, or expertise or knowledge that I simply don’t have, and I hope I will be humble enough to take their advice. However I also know I still need to practice, as I’m sure many others do, to listen to myself and look back on how well I have managed so far, in a lot of aspects in my life, and usually through my own decisions, and hard work etc. So why would I stop trusting that sometimes I do know best? I can’t help but think that we live in a society where it is commonplace to assume that you do not know best and to often pay someone else or look to someone else for the answer. Perhaps we wouldn’t have many of the problems we do if more people took charge of their lives and situations, and spoke up about certain things. Rather than think just because you are young, or old, or because you don’t have this or that, or you don’t have a certain qualification, does that mean your opinion, thoughts or ideas don’t matter?

One last quote, on that note, that I saw on Instagram, so not sure who even said it, but it made me laugh, and is also very true! :

“Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young to accomplish something.
A baby shark is still a fucking shark”




Fashion Diaries. day 7.

photo 1


photo 4

Tried to keep things loose with this one and didn’t spend very long on it at all…it’s always easier to keep things quick and loose if I go straight in with the ink, which I did, and then added some watercolour to bring out the colour, and then finished it off with some pencil detail here and there. Although would maybe like to go back in and add some detail with pen… or will just leave it as it is and move on to another one!

I love Erdem. This is from there Fall 2015 ready-to-wear collection.

Back with more soon..,

Holly x

Fashion Diaries. day 5.

Anna Sui blueAnna Sui blue close upANNA SUI blue close up2

Another one from the amazing ANNA SUI 2015 fall ready-to-wear collection. See my first one in the previous post here. Created with pencil, pen and brush pens, oh a a little bit of coloured pencils!
Read the intro to my Fashion Diaries here.

Good will prevail.


In light of the awful things that are happening/ have happened in Paris, and indeed all around the world, all the time, we must not give up hope. In my opinion violence is never the answer or solution to combat anything. So if you are feeling hopeless, please think that there IS something you can do, by cultivating HOPE and LOVE and spreading it to EVERYONE in your life, all the time, in this way, you can help. If you think this is silly, just try imagining if everyone you knew did this, to everyone they knew, all the time. I am not saying that the world would change over night, but there would inevitably be a positive impact.This may only be a small step, but if you do nothing else, at least do this. It is something we can all do, and demonstrates that we are not giving up, or giving in, but taking action in the right direction. And maybe from there more solutions will become apparent. The world does not need more anger, greed, jealousy or violence, it needs love, compassion, and HOPE.



Warriors – new illustrations

When I say new… I finished them back in August, in time for the Edinburgh festival, but due to the whirlwind that has been my life recently….! I have not yet posted them on here… until now.

I know what I want to say about them… sort of. But at the same time I am tempted to almost not write anything about them. So I will try and scratch the surface of what they meant to me, of what I was trying to capture, and which developed quite organically from the initial sketch, and leave the rest up to your own interpretation if you so wish…

Someone said to me at the festival, ‘wow, you must have put a lot of yourself into these’ – something along those lines. I knew exactly what they meant, and no one has actually put it to me like that before. I said, yes, yes I did!!! Because I did, (in a way I always do with all my work).. that is why I love them, I know they won’t be to everyone’s taste, but regardless I wanted them to be powerful, to grab your attention even if only to think whether you like them or not, to make you unable to turn away, when you see them in real life, the bigger print size the better, I want the viewer to stare, to not be able to ignore them, and to entice them in, and from there develop their own interpretation of what they see.

These were my way of pouring everything I had into something, and urging up these feelings of being a fighter. Of brushing off all the pain, all the things that have hurt me, annoyed me, of all the things I can’t change, of all the things that I feel and want to put across, something so strong that I can never put into words. I want to make that known. I may be fragile, delicate and extremely sensitive, and some aspects of these illustrations are too, hopefully you can see that in the detail, the lines. But the overall feeling is, hopefully, one of inner strength and courage.

I wanted to try and capture something that is touched upon a lot in my experience of Buddhism and yoga… this idea of being strong, but soft. Tough, but gentle at the same time. Keeping things light, but focused. Firm, but relaxed. To me it means you can be a warrior, but this doesn’t mean you have to be a fighter, physically, it doesn’t mean you have to be horrible to anyone, quite the opposite in fact. It is more about building up an unshakable core inside of you… exactly where no one can actually get to, in there, that should be made of rock… and in physical terms, with yoga anyway, the physical core has to be so strong to enable you to do so many of the asanas (poses), which in my eyes is one of many metaphors that yoga teaches you which directly translateS into instances in other areas of your life.

In my attempt to depict this strong, but delicate sense, I let each ‘Warrior’ become a little softer, a little less fierce and a little more ‘passive’ from I to V. So hopefully that is clear when you see them together. As well as the elements surrounding them… ie flowers, butterflies, and other fragile elements.

As much as this work seems to me a natural stepping stone from many of my earlier illustrations, I also feel like there has been a shift, in some ways, such as the colour (or lack of) being much more subtle, and sophisticated…

Anyway, I will stop there before I never stop.

If you would like to buy any of them as prints, they are available as limited edition giclée prints here OR click on the individual names under images for direct link to each print.
thanks again,


Warrior I close up -H.Sharpe.jpg

Warrior II close up

Warrior III close up 1 - H.Sharpe

Warrior IV close up - H.Sharpe


Warrior V + IV - print photo -H.Sharpe

Warrior II&amp;IV prints - H.Sharpe

You could call this a turning point.


Holly Sharpe for Limited Collection, SS14.

For those of you that follow my work, you will probably have heard my recent news already. Either way, I thought it made sense to write a little blog post about it (seeing as everybody else is talking about it 😉 ) and maybe give you some more insight into how it came about and my feelings on it all….

I was approached by M&S around this time last year, 2013. They loved my work and I guess it was lucky that some of my illustrations just so happened to fit well with the Mardi Gras / carnival trend that they were focusing on for this Spring/Summer 2014 collection (with Brazil in mind as it will have worldwide attention this year thanks to the World Cup).  I guess it was a right place/ right time scenario – yet I do believe that you have to put yourself in these times and places as best you can or at least be aware of, and open to opportunities which present themselves all the time. Although they already liked some of my existing work, I still had competition, so I did as much as I could to revamp those illustrations and really hone in on the mardi gras, with a street edge, idea. Even at this point the emotions were rife, I was so excited and overjoyed that I had even been considered for such a project from such a well known and well respected client, but this was mixed with a strong desire to ‘win’, to see it through and impress them so much that they couldn’t say no (a.k.a determination, which is a stubborn trait which I am both blessed and burdened to have!). At the same time I was also trying to tell myself not to be disheartened if it didn’t go ahead, that it was amazing enough that they had found my work and therefore other potential clients would undoubtedly find it again in the future, but those words are hard to digest when you want something so bad, and even harder when you are so, so close, to getting it!

As you now know, it did go ahead, I did indeed woo them with my drawings and as you can imagine I was overcome with shock, excitement, disbelief, and utter happiness i.e there was tears when I finally found out it was a done deal. I wasn’t even able to share these overwhelming emotions and one of the biggest things to ever happen to me, with anyone, and had to keep it a secret for the best part of a year which made it all feel more surreal! With this long build up I really had no idea what to expect when all of a sudden my work, and MY NAME (!!) would be across Marks and Spencer’s stores. Thankfully it was far from an anti-climax, it was amazing to finally be able to shout about it, and demonstrate to all my friends, family, followers, past teachers etc that my hard work had paid off and that their support had been worthwhile. It was an extremely proud moment. This seems like an appropriate time to say thank you to each and every one of them. I know ultimately that you get yourself to where you want to go/be, but I definitely could not have done this without that support and encouragement my whole life. I was so lucky to have people that believed in me along the way. And for those of you that didn’t, I am so happy I proved myself right and you wrong – no bitterness, just trying to disprove the ‘struggling artist’ syndrome that society (or is it just us?) continues to place on us creative types and which, if not questioned, is the main thing holding a lot of us back – a lot to write about on this particular point, so stay tuned for a future blog post on that one!

I am quite sure that this is/will be a pivotal point in my career as an artist/illustrator, and I wanted to remind those of you who feel like you are waiting for a “big break”, that yes, perhaps some of it is down to luck (although I do believe that you make your own luck, to some extent anyway), but a lot of it is (in my opinion):

1. Belief that it can and will happen.

2. Having your work out there and in the right place to begin with.


3. Staying true to your own work and identity rather than trying to copy someone else’s.

Amongst other things as there definitely is no secret formula to so-called ‘success’.

Another thing to remember, and I know people say this a lot, but it really is so true and there are so many examples out there, that it only takes one person, who happens to be the ‘right’ person, to see your work, which is exactly what happened in my case. In many instances, some people’s lives have changed in one moment, by one person. Not to be dramatic, but actually my life has changed, mainly in that I chased a dream and made it come true. I don’t want to go on fuelling false hopes and dreams: do not be fooled A LOT of hard work goes on behind the scenes of anyone who gets these ‘big breaks’, or whatever you would like to call them. But my point is, it does happen, and if you really want it to, I believe it will. But as I said in my previous post, you can’t rush these things and often you have to do your part- put in the hard work and hours-, and let your path take it’s course in the time/way it is supposed to.

I could go into a lot more detail about The Collection  yet I realise I have already had your attention long enough, so thank you so much for reading and for your time! I hope you feel inspired, motivated or uplifted in some way!

And on a final note, incase it wasn’t clear, thank you ‘Marks and Spencer’ (and everyone involved in producing the collection) for taking a chance on me and my work, I hope I didn’t disappoint 😉

Once again, feel free to get in touch –

Twitter: @hollysharpe



See the whole Holly Sharpe for Limited Collection here and in Marks and Spencer’s stores nationwide.