+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety
Where a person may view an object and see only its utilitarian use, artist Cindy Fletcher Holden will likely be drawn in by its pattern. Repetitive shapes in a sail loft. Linear rows of thread spools. Conical push pins. Such patterning may spark the subject of her next project.
When she was a college student, Holden visited boatyards with her father and ended up buying a wooden boat. Her father, who was helping her replace the boat’s engine, informed her that she needed to search for engine parts. “He saw parts, I saw art,” says Holden.
Her paintings are inspired by what hits her in the moment. For example, on a walk along the Sassafras River on the Eastern Shore, a section of pokeweed gave her pause and was later interpreted onto a canvas. She prefers to paint on either really big or really small canvases, not caring for sizes in between. In her studio, many canvases dwarf her as they rest against the wall. A current work in progress features cars, outlined and roughed in. More finished works present a zoomed-in effect, exploring twists and turns of beads around curated objects or displaying an image within an image, such as a scene reflected on the shiny side of an automobile. Holden draws out and showcases such details.
Ever since college, she has been drawn to photorealism, now her dominant style. The act of smearing paint makes her happy, coaxing it into a crisp finish. Sometimes she paints what she sees—bold renderings transformed into images that bring the smallest details to the forefront. Other times, she experiences what she terms a delayed reaction, and a metamorphosis of the subject matter transpires. She will figure and reconfigure one or more images into a cohesive composition.
One way Holden makes a living as an artist is by taking art commissions. One of her primary clients is Starbucks. Hired to execute other people’s art, she travels to various sites in different states to paint murals onto interior walls. Narrative is sometimes included, such as a description of how coffee is grown, which Holden scripts. She employs her hand-lettering skills for which Starbucks hired her before her work for them evolved to also include painting. Her work with the company is highly valued; one company representative referred to her as a “rock star.”
In Annapolis, she hosts the biannual art show “Art Between the Creeks,” in which she displays her work along with those of a revolving group of other local artists. “There’s a lot of talent in Annapolis,” she says. Hosting the show compels her to produce at least one large work every six months.
Holden’s parents encouraged her to pursue artistic expression, proffering sketch pads and bouquets of ballpoint pens for her. Her parents saved her early works, which Holden now has. She took her own skills for granted, including her awareness of spatial relationships. But it may also be her birthright; her grandfather was a professional sign painter and muralist. Her first job was in freelance signage art, and she used the same type of brushes, techniques, and gold leaf that her grandfather used in his work.
Born in Annapolis, Holden and her family lived in Severna Park before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she attended a high school that boasted a healthy art department. She was commissioned to paint murals in people’s homes while in high school. She relocated back to Maryland (the family had maintained a boat in Pasadena) when she decided to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art. She was second in her graduating class, which, she says, coupled with her art degree, inflated her ego. “I had to slap myself into humility,” she admits. Holden needed work, so she applied at a sign company for a job as a sign-writing apprentice and learned hand lettering.
After her apprenticeship, she piloted her wooden boat down the Intracoastal Waterway until she ran out of money around Beaufort, North Carolina. She stayed there, learning sign work. When her father became ill, she brought the boat back north to Maryland. Holden looked for a job, but found that sign shops had moved beyond traditional hand lettering to computer-designed products. She drove around, searching for boats needing work and leaving her business card, struck by the realization that she needed to find a way to make it. Of that experience, Holden says, “Probably best—I think everyone should go through that.”
Having eventually developed into her passion and livelihood, lettering also became a hurdle when she suffered an overuse injury to her shoulder this year. She was told she needed surgery, which would require not taking on any work for six months. Being a solo entrepreneur booked with projects, she decided to chance an alternative solution.
In winter 2019, she had stem cells taken from her hip bone and inserted into her shoulder. Thus far, it’s working, but she has had to change her method and be mindful of her movements while her shoulder heals. Right now, she can’t engage in the same body mechanics that boat lettering requires, such as lying with her weight on her hips and thighs, reaching down from the top of the boat, hooking her foot onto rigging to hold herself in place. She also began painting on smaller canvases, which she found she loves and views as her fallback if, at some point, she can no longer handle the oversized ones.
She still loves mural work. Her Starbucks projects have helped spawn such work locally, including a two-story shed she was commissioned to make look like an old general store. These types of projects provide her with a challenge she enjoys—having a puzzle to solve. She especially looks forward to commissions where the parameters are loose, giving her more leeway to be creative and do as she pleases.
With her personal art pieces, Holden never wonders what her next project might be. She is always a step ahead, inspired by the opportunity to experiment and see what she can compose. Moving forward, what will she create next? According to Holden, “The best answer? We’ll see.”
For this painter who trusts her vision to pilot her toward new horizons, she can literally be taken at her word. █
To see more of
Cindy Fletcher Holden’s works,