Talking with Holly Simple
Creating the first collab with Holly Simple was SO MUCH FUN. We wanted to address the theme BALANCE in a candle and Holly thought that the Daoist deity Pangu who represents duality and harmony would be a perfect fit.
We’ve also interviewed her for her hot take on balance, how to evoke it, creativity, and rituals that help to get you in the zone.
GG: So, in New York you were working in a corporate environment, then you made a huge lifestyle change to work on your art. What was the catalyst?
HS: Wow. To think back on those times, it’s amazing that I even took that risk. I was sick about taking that risk for years and years and years, I was just miserable. What actually triggered [the shift] was true, true misery.
I was going through a breakup. I had lost my spiritual teacher. And my sister’s dog had passed all in the same week. It was crazy like, I have to make a change. I’m ready to bolt. I gotta leave New York.
I just knew I needed to seek a quality of life that I wasn’t getting working full time, and also trying to do the creative stuff. I was like, I just got to make a big change for my heart…
GG: And it came with a physical move too [to Philadelphia]…
HS: My best friend was living in Philly. And every time I visited, it felt like I was in a place I knew and loved. I was hurting so bad. I just knew I needed to go there. And so I up and went to Philly and immediately found a circle of creatives and women who inspired me and I got to lean on. I didn’t have that in New York. So that transition really couldn’t have made more sense.
GG: How do you feel about community and creation now [during COVID/ isolation]? Do you like to create with people; do you need to bounce off ideas and collaborate?
HS: I actually love being alone and working alone… quiet, solo. That’s my shit. So to collaborate, it’s pushing a boundary that I want to get better at. The way that we’ve been collaborating really works for me, and it’s an energy thing too – you get it, I get it. It works.
I recently moved and I’m blessed with an entire basement that I’ve turned into my studio, a big studio space. I am very happy being here and working in this place during the time I can’t be around people really. So my collaborations look just like they do between you and I – using digital platforms like Zoom, Instagram and email – it works for me.
GG: Ha, I feel that. Do you have any rituals around creativity, or invoking a time and space to create?
HS: I love the thought of that and I wish that I could say yes to having a ritual. The way that I create is so organic, it’s just shot into my brain and I have to make.
I have so many ideas. So I have notebooks with notes and drawings and sketches and Post-It notes everywhere, lists like you wouldn’t believe. I’m actually working on a lot of different things at once, so I just feel like I’m in it always, I’m living in the creation world. It’s so exciting.
I think it happened when I stopped drinking and stuff, like my heart and soul were really clear and open to this channel.
GG: Maybe that in itself is some sort of ritual – the lists and the books. Ritual can be something as mundane as making coffee every morning. You may not even realise you’re doing it.
HS: Coffee – I certainly need caffeine. I think even going for a run and exercising gets me in a space of being amped up and inspired. And note – RUNNING IS THE #1 MOST SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE FOR ME.
I’ve always been a walker, too. I walk everywhere. So that time for me is typically my brain is just thinking.
I often work in silence, but if not silence then high-velocity techno and drum and bass. I swear, the energy… it’s next level. Like I live for a heavy techno beat. My man plays bass and we love bass drum and bass music. Like just loud shit. It’s a ball. And so it’s that or silence for me.
GG: Tell me more about your zines. Is this where everything started for you?
HS: Yeah. You know, I’ve always, always been an artist and drawn. In New York, my very, very best friend who I’ve known since Seventh Grade was making zines and comics. And she was like, you should try this. You’d love it. You are already drawing. And I was going through a dark time. I was just so inspired that I immediately started making zines. That was my vibe for several years. And then I started to animate them and I was making gifs and little animations with them too. I felt connected to that style [of visual storytelling].
[Making zines] helped me to understand how to tell a story, having like a certain number of pages to tell a story in, how to simplify visually, but also, I was able to work with colour in new ways, and combine digital and inking. I learned how to ink in certain size frames. I learned how to make text interesting. [And] how important the weight of a line is. That was a really cool time period for me.
GG: I love that. Are you a hundred percent self-taught with everything that you do?
HS: I’ve always been that way, dude. Even in high school, I made a website. I created HTML code and did research on how to make a website. I am obsessed with learning how to figure it out on my own. That’s why all of my books have spelling errors, because I won’t ask people to proofread. I’m like, I got this, I’m going to write a book. I’m going to write a book and I’m not going to show anybody cause I’m going to do it. It’s just hysterical.
I went to business school. I didn’t go to art school. So I have this business brain in a weird way.
GG: What about creative blocks? How do you move through them?
HS: I get them! I keep creating through uninspired moments. I need to have several creative projects going so i do not get bored .
‘When i am blocked, I doodle simple things in my “shitting ideas, words and color” sketchbook.’
GG: Haha. Everyone needs one of those. How has your work been affected or influenced in response to recent events?
HS: I have had to get creative as per loss of my part time gigs. Creating bundles, making youtube vids to give back. Making new types of work based on available resources – masks, jewelry, mini paintings. I have also been less GO GO GO as i feel there are other world events that should be focused on.
GG: What’s the hardest part of the process for you? Is it beginning something or is it handing it off?
HS: Handing it off is thrilling. Being able to say “this project is over”, you know? For many, many, many years, I didn’t know how to finish a project. I would start so many projects.
It’s hard for me to start things that aren’t interesting. Like the mundane things like packing up orders, beginning my taxes, beginning the thinking.
I was just telling my partner, I need to start thinking about my next big project. I just finished the Amulet Friends Oracle. Now I’m like, I have to start thinking again. How do I do that?
GG: So the planning side is a big endeavor?
HS: Yeah. Allowing things to come to me. Cause I want ideas now. I want to start now. Allowing time to have no ideas is really hard. To not be inspired. Maybe those are the hard times too; allowing there to be nothing happening.
GG: Tell us a bit about your workspace? Are you a neat freak or is it a cluttered nest?
HS: A cluttered nest that is EXTREMELY organised! Filled with color and labels/boxes/sections and inspo wherever I look!
GG: I can see behind you, I can see the shelf. Incredible. Look at that. The idea of organisation and a creative space is really interesting. It ties back to ritual, or personal practice maybe, or having that as a sacred space.
HS: I love this. I thrive in organising. It’s something I’m really, really good at actually.
In making products and art, I’m only surrounding myself with amazing, inspiring things. So I have to have everything in its right place so I can see it and be like, that’s that; I have an idea – where do I find that?
So I have sections, my whole basement is sections of working. I have my jewelry section. I have my painting section. I have my sewing section behind me… I’ve learned how to use bins and label. I have to say I’m quite organised and I find it really thrilling.
GG: Would you say your workspace is like a little portal that takes you somewhere?
HS: Oh god, it’s magical. Down to the basement. And it’s like, woooah. I mean, I have a section for wigs. I have a section for statues, giant flowers. I’m looking around, I have all my masks hanging that I’m making.
GG: I love your ability to riff off correspondences and include that kind of abstract thinking in your work. This is really representative to me of tarot and astrology. What tipped off the tarot project?
HS: I mentioned I got sober, right? And then my heart was kind of open and spirit was open.
Tarot wasn’t on my radar. I was always spiritual, but Tarot wasn’t on my radar. There was this chick doing readings at one of the shops I worked at in Soho, New York. And for months I was watching her like, what is this? And finally I had my very first reading and I was like, What the heck? It blew me away. I was inspired by the art. And the reading was spot on. I connected immediately. And I was inspired to just begin. I have to say it felt very right.
GG: Do you have any favourites among the illustrations for your first deck?
HS: DEVIL, HIGH PRIESTESS, and WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
When I had that very first reading, the devil was a big part of. It was a three card reading. And my future was the devil, the premonitions of addiction and that kind of behavior spoke to me in so many ways. I was obsessed with that. I was like, well, this is my card right now. I’m totally the devil.
Then throughout the creative process, the high priestess kept falling out the deck. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is me right now. I’m creating this cool thing. I am feeling empowered and excited’.
When I showed the finished deck to my father – who’s no longer with us – he loved the Wheel of Fortune card. The deck wasn’t even printed, I was just showing him my drawings. We got to talk about it. And then when he passed, I really felt his energy in the art. The card kept jumping out at me left and right – still does, when I use my deck – totally my father’s energy. It’s very special to me. It’s one of my favorite cards.
GG: Looking at your stuff, it’s obvious humour is important to you and your aesthetic.
HS: Subtle laughter is crucial. ironic jokes helped me get through a dark time. Making serious depression and darkness hilarious was a fun challenge for me in the beginning of my zine days and helped me share emotion that was more approachable and relatable.
‘The dumber the better is one of my mottos. If i’m not pleased or smiling it’s not for me.’
I think it’s just my style. I literally am my art. I don’t try to be funny. I just think it comes out funny.
GG: Apart from humour, does intention play a role in what you’re creating?
HS: 100% EVERYTHING I make is with intention to make tools for growth and to inspire positivity for others. As simple as sparking a laugh even.
GG: Aw! Like our Balance candle. I loved your take on Pangu. What was the appeal for you?
HS: Part of the collab was to introduce a pop culture reference of sorts… i had a VERY hard time with that! I do not follow pop culture at all, hah.. but I wanted to open my heart to this request. I deliberated for a week and was feeling very strongly about not using an actual person. I began to search the history of the yin yang and balance and was reminded of Pangu. How perfect. I loved the historical images from Chinese mythology. I loved the idea of introducing a mystical character and culture to our collab!
I’m also obsessed with the Yin Yang symbol. It just all came together and it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe Pangu is my person.’ I didn’t want something gendered either.
‘Making Pangu androgynous was interesting to me. I gave them boobs. I just was open to doing my version of it.’
I loved the story of pulling apart and creating a space that’s very balanced and the four different elements [earth, wind, fire and air]. You know, if we can balance all of those things, that’s where we can thrive, for sure. That’s the ideal.
GG: Yessss. Balance is a cool thing. How do you bring about balance?
HS: Communication, meditation, intention, thinking of others, thinking of myself! (Self care), exercise, coffee, naps, sex and rest!
Balance, rest, understanding and spiritual personal growth was NOT discussed as a kid or young adult. It was GO GO GO. I just know when I’m off balance, so I can just do a check, like, okay, where am I off balance? Have I gotten outside? Am I touching? Am I grounded? Am I resting? Have I cried?
Balance is needed in order for me to grow MORE and open my heart MORE. May I always be seeking to balance my levels! It brings serenity to myself and others around me – I’d like to think that my art and tools can bring balance to others as well… and the mushroom effect will be REAL.
THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU LIL’ SIMP <3 <3 <3