Interview | from the desk of artist Mary Roberts-Holmes



Mary Roberts-Holmes is a Bristol based artist currently working from her studio space at Caraboo Projects - an exhibition and studio space in Bedminster, Bristol that she co-founded with a group of six others. She is normally found getting messy and experimenting with a variety of different mediums after taking her sketchbook and camera out into the surrounding landscape.

Her work is rooted in the tradition of landscape painting, where a series of paintings will emerge from observational drawings of a place. She is drawn to a site for the aesthetic qualities, but equally the social or environmental context. Behind all of her work  is the intention to communicate a particular feeling or atmosphere. By working in series the paintings evolve organically, sometimes becoming abstracted and surreal. 

Mary grew up in Bristol where she also completed her foundation art course. She moved to London to study Painting at Camberwell College of Arts which she followed with a postgraduate diploma in Drawing at the Royal Drawing School. Mary lived in South Korea for a year, teaching English, whilst continuing to make paintings and drawings from the little flat she resided in at the time, these were later exhibited in a gallery in Gwangju. She returned to Bristol in 2015. 

In the interview below Mary shares with us how her ola notebook is used in her creative process.


Ola Interview with Mary Roberts Holmes.jpg


ola: When designing and testing our notebooks, we are constantly imagining the journeys they’ll take after they’ve left our studio. Could you tell us a little about how you use your notebook?

Mary Roberts-Holmes: I make little drawings, usually small composition ideas in notebooks or sketchbooks that I carry with me. Notebooks are really useful for making quick little drawings if you just want to get down an impression of something without using a big sketchbook. 


o: Are there any journeys or trips that you’ve taken a notebook along on? If so what did you fill it with?

MRH: Yes, I took notebooks with me when I went to Nepal, India and Vietnam. I draw a lot from observation so made lots of drawings while I was travelling. When I was travelling on the buses and particularly long train journeys I used notebooks to make quick drawings or to get painting ideas down.


ola interview with Mary Roberts HolmesRock Pool.jpg


o: Do you have a particular ritual, routine or starting point when beginning a new project or design?

MRH: I usually start a new series by sanding and priming up boards to paint on, I take my time doing this. hopefully it helps me to slow down and be more focused when it comes to painting. I clear out my space before starting a new series of paintings, turning all of my previous paintings and drawings around or storing them away so I can concentrate on the new work. 


o: I mentioned above that your pieces provoke a slight surreal feeling. What inspires your paintings, and how do you hope the viewer will interpret them?

MRH: I find that by going out and drawing is often inspiring and can lead to new ideas and thoughts for paintings. I tend to work in series so the paintings develop and evolve from the original ideas. Last year a made a series of paintings for an exhibition titled ‘Gott Mate Mutt’ that were, in part, inspired by Kurt Vonneguts novel Cat’s Cradle.

I think people interpret my paintings very differently, I am always interested in hearing how people interpret them and sometimes it makes me see the paintings in a new light. I have a sense of intention in what I am making but this can change during the time the painting is being made.


MRH sketchbook scan


o: We have shelves full of books and magazines in our studio which we are constantly revisiting for research and inspiration. Some of the most valued have been recommended by friends. Is there a title you’d suggest we check out?

MRH: I have a book ‘Ice Age Art: Arrival of the modern mind’ in my studio that I love, I got it from the British Museum after I saw the exhibition which was incredible. The book shows pieces people created from as far back as 40,000 years ago. I would highly recommend it!


MRH Sketchbook scan 2


Quickfire Questions


Pages – Ruled, plain, dotted or something else? Plain.

Size – A4,  A5 or A6? A4 and A5.

Format – Landscape or portrait? Landscape.

Favourite Tool – Pencil,  pen, something else? Pencil and paintbrush.


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1. Mary Roberts-Holmes 

2. Mary Roberts-Holmes' 'Rockpool'

3-4. Inside Mary's Sketchbook.

5. One of the Series 

Katy Goutefangea