Holly Hollon remembers begging for a Gourmet magazine. She was with her mom at the grocery store when it first caught her eye. Sure, the pink frosted cake resonates with her “unapologetically feminine” side, but it was really the words on the cover that struck her—twirling and stunningly handwritten.
She remembers studying the text and imitating the style over and over, a fascination that paralleled her love for Fanny McFancy children’s books and their whimsical script. Although she didn’t always want to pursue illustration, these childhood sparks mark her first attachment to calligraphy.
After graduating from Auburn University with a degree in graphic design, Holly began a career in advertising before transitioning to be a full-time illustrator. Her freelance work picked up in 2011 after investing in her calligraphy skillset, and she’s since expanded from wedding invitations and stationery into small business branding.
Departing from the tightness of traditional calligraphy, Holly’s work is whimsical in a way she’s grown to love. “I just dove in rather than waiting for it to be perfect. It was personal (and) real, and didn’t feel like it was made on a computer,” she says. Although she tried to perfect her letters in the beginning, she sees how her style has emerged through the distinctly handwritten qualities. “I embrace the imperfection of the hand. Not all of my letters look exactly the same.”
Her inked marks curl lightly, and they’re often paired with soft color inspired by decorative Chinoiserie style. Light pours into her studio, nested inside her Cahaba Heights mid-century ranch. Among prints, papers and inks is a small apprentice’s station for Biscuit, her 3-year-old daughter who’s taken up quite the confidence in design, told by her watercolors displayed along the walls.
Holly uses a modern method of calligraphy in her looser style, but she has not lost any of the decorative qualities. She calls herself a maximalist, using ample intimate detail that brings elegance to invitations, crests, illustrations and logos.
Right now, one of her favorite parts of her job is creating packages for small business owners, including a logo and other branding materials. “So many women are starting their own businesses, and the corporate look is not what they all need. They want something that feels personal, elegant and unique to them,” she says. Her specific interest in calligraphy, her background in graphic design and her feminine taste come together on these projects.
Though all of her work is united by her use of line, color and type, Holly relies on the meaning and heart behind each individual story. “Every project easily becomes my favorite,” she says. She learns the story behind a business or studies the destination of a wedding, leading to illustrations tied so tightly to those concepts.
For example, Holly created a package for the lifestyle brand Huckleberry Collective that reflects both the business itself and founder Christina Brockman (who’s also Holly’s neighbor.) The logo takes the form of a crest, decked with fruits and vegetables, flowers, and a rolling pin, topped with a hot-air balloon at the crest’s point and Christina’s dachshund Basil resting under the arch. Holly incorporated each element carefully to demonstrate Huckleberry Collective’s work to elevate the everyday and Christina’s own personality.
The intricate weaving of details exudes the depth of each business. “My work is conceptual. Every element has a purpose, and nothing is fluff,” Holly says. The same dedication to individuality and heart bleeds into all that she does.
Often, Holly digs into the sense of place behind each project, bringing out the unique traditions and textures. For a destination wedding in Portugal, her designs resemble the pink marble columns, blue flowers, and vivid tiles that fell right in with Holly’s go-to color palette. “I love to be inspired by the couple and the things that are important to them,” she says.
For best-selling author Martha Hall Kelly, Holly too dove into place and story, only with fictional characters. The novels Lilac Girls and Lost Roses both include character maps that Holly illustrated, with winding lines connecting each landmark. She created Sofya’s Paris and Caroline’s New York, tying the cities themselves to each character’s personal journey.
The soulful story behind anyone is what drives Holly’s work to be what it is. “Even if I’m working on something of my own, I have to imagine a client,” she says. The core of her designs is the individual, and the artistic background she has allows her to perfectly tell each story.
Dixie Design Collective
Along with her own business and her past advertising experience, Holly also helped direct and launch Dixie Design Collective, an online stationery company where she still serves as a creative consultant. Like beautiful script, Holly has always loved stationery, ever since she would design and color her own greeting cards as a child. “The tangible has always been important to me and my work,” she says.