Holly Neilson graduated from Northside Christian College in 2013. When she is not working on her business Paper Hands, you can find Holly at Tree House Art in the Centre for Innovation and Creativity, where she is the Artist in Residence. Holly has also presented to our Senior School students, where she shared her experience as an artist and a business owner. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection(s) to Northside as a student and as an alumna. 

I graduated from Northside in 2013, after 13 years of being a student. In the last few years of high school I spent a lot of my time in the art rooms. It became my biggest joy, painting and creating and eating endless toasties (thanks to the art teachers). I developed a genuine passion and freedom to express myself honestly through the visual art subject and I knew it was a special gift that I would continue using after school in some kind of way.

Several years later and I am now working as a freelance Artist/Illustrator and have founded me own creative business called Paper Hands. I work in various fields of artwork including: 

Children’s Book Illustrating, Murals, Commissioned Artwork, Markets, Teaching Workshops, Gallery Exhibitions, Logo/Design Branding and Stationary/Textile Design.  

It's very surreal that this dream is now my full-time career!

What have you been working on since graduation?

I started my freelance business, Paper Hands, a year after graduating from year 12. Since then it has opened up a lot of opportunity and work experience in the art industry for me. Some of the bigger projects I have worked on include collaborations with Queensland Art Gallery, Museum of Brisbane, Children’s book illustrations, Solo Gallery Exhibitions and hosting my own Watercolour workshops across different educational platforms. 

I'm hoping to launch my own little line of textile designs soon too.  It’s been a busy but colourful and fun few years in this business and always plenty of new projects waiting to begin.

Who is your greatest role model or inspiration and why?

I’d have to say my family. They have supported this creative dream of mine ever since I started playing with the idea of freelancing and starting my own business. I wouldn’t have made the leap without their unwavering love and confidence in my ability to do it. They keep me chasing my goals in this creative world of mine. It's lucky that I have this kind of support.

In your opinion, what makes someone a great artist? 

When they can be totally vulnerable, honest and true to their own individual art practice. Accepting their uniqueness and trusting their creative process is so powerful and something I really admire in an artist. It's a competitive industry and there's a lot of pressure to conform, so it takes a lot of courage to stand on your own. 


How do you balance being an artist and a business owner/entrepreneur? 

I have found the best way to find balance is to separate the two roles for different times in the day. It’s very hard to do both at once! I know for myself, I am most creative in the morning, so I tend to do all my artwork/creative work in the first part of the day and focus on my business admin in the afternoon. It’s definitely a balancing act but easier when you have two different time slots for the different work roles and know when you're most creative!


What three lessons have you learned along the way as you started your business? 

  1. Trust the process
  2. Separate your creative time from your business/admin time
  3. Nurture and protect your value as an artist


What advice can you give to Northside students who are interested in arts?

Firstly, good for you! It’s a wonderful world to be in and work in. I would suggest thinking about what direction you would like to take your art. There are so many opportunities in the art industry but often artists are unsure of where to begin, so think about your favourite mediums to work in at school and what creative platforms you could use those skills in. Whether that’s in gallery shows, children’s books, textile design/fashion or graphic design, markets etc. That would be my hot tip!