Artist Spotlight: Maria Holbein

I first met Maria in art class at Houghton College.  I’ve always admired/been just a little jealous of her beautiful work.  She is also a really cool and genuine person.  Thanks for letting me interview you, Maria!

Study in Blue and Gray

As a kid I was always interested in art. When it came time to choose a direction for higher education Art seemed the natural choice. At Houghton College I pursued a degree in Fine Art with a concentration in painting. In 2009 I graduated and was offered an internship with the great artist Thomas S. Buechner. The only other senior to be offered the internship just happened to be Eric Holbein—my then boyfriend and now husband! Eric and I moved to Corning, NY and studied with Tom during the year following graduation. In June of 2010 Tom became suddenly ill and passed away. It had been almost exactly a year since I began my internship with him and I am incredibly grateful for that year.  In the following year I continued to work part time for the Buechner family taking care of the business and archival aspects of Tom’s paintings. During this time I continued to paint on my own. Currently I am painting in my living room/studio and showing my work out of the West End Gallery ( in Corning! I work in both oil and watercolor and the portrait/figure are my favorite subjects.  Eric and I have recently begun another creative venture that I just have to mention—the creation of the brand Whole Bean Mugs! Find us on Facebook or look us up on Amazon!

Corning Alley

At what age did you realize that you loved art? As far back as I can remember if I had a pencil in my hand I was drawing. I can remember as early as 2nd or 3rd grade sitting at my desk drawing instead of doing my schoolwork.

Summer Garden

What is your favorite part of being an artist?  While it is important for an artist to show his or her work, this is not my favorite part. I most enjoy doing the actual work. There is something both satisfying and exciting about being completely creatively attuned to my work. My mind is cleared and incredibly focused; a sort of creative drive takes over that almost seems not of myself but at the same time allows me to fully invest myself into my work.

Pinnacle Grey

What inspires you?  Life inspires me. People and experiences are so crucial to my inspiration. I find that I need input; sitting alone in my studio with my own ideas and creativity is a great way to become stagnant. Inspiration comes from interaction with ideas. Often those ideas are visual in nature and can be as simple as the intoxicating green of sunlight filtered through a leaf or the unlikely linear beauty of power lines. Looking at artwork, the ideas and creativity of other people, is another big source of inspiration. By viewing the great masters or interacting with the work of my peers I find that ideas of my own begin to flow. Viewing the work of the masters or interacting with the work of my peers are both great ways to get ideas flowing and become inspired to create.

Red Dress

Explain your process. It all starts with an idea—usually based on a photograph or observation (working from life) and occasionally just an idea in my head to which I attempt to give visual expression. From there I usually make a drawing and in doing so sort out the composition making any major modifications to placement and structure I deem necessary to make the picture successful.  If I am making a watercolor I get very specific with my drawing and planning; once I start laying down paint it is important to know what I want to do with it ahead of time. Watercolor pigment can dry within a matter of seconds and if I want to work wet in wet it has to be done immediately. Timing is critical with watercolors.  With oils my approach tends to be more spontaneous often starting my drawing with a paintbrush. So I will lay down a tone, usually thinned burnt sienna, lay in basic drawing which is simple but fairly careful with placement. I don’t want to be laying in details in my underpainting because I am going to be painting over it with colors but I want to get my placement right because it is a lot more work to move things around later in the process. Like watercolors I have to option of working wet in wet or letting the paint dry and working wet over dry. The big difference is it can take days for an oil painting to dry so the whole process is slowed down. Oil is also a little more forgiving because of the opacity of the pigments. I can decide to repaint whereas with transparent watercolor anything that dries is permanent.  In both mediums I will use a variety of techniques with the paints depending on what I am going for.


You spent some time working for the late Thomas Buechner. How did that time affect you as an artist and a person?  I learned so many things from Tom—where to start!  In terms of painting I learned some things directly while other things were indirectly absorbed from being around his work so much. He taught me to begin my picture with a clear idea of what I wanted to be communicated to my viewer, how to make an underpainting, to get my drawing right, to make every stroke count, ways to be effective in communication, not to waste time, and so much more. I think from working with his paintings I absorbed a lot about composition and handling of paint—things that are hard to teach verbally. Working with the business side of his paintings I learned to keep a careful inventory system, how to work with galleries, how to price, how to frame, how to ship paintings, how to photograph work, how to work for a rigid and particular man and how to be self-directed in my work.  Tom was an incredible person in many ways. If I could grow my time management skills to just a fraction of his I would probably double in productivity.  Never have I seen a person have so much respect for time or accomplish so much with his time. Tom did everything with a high standard of excellence and is an inspiration to me to be unsatisfied with giving anything less than my best.

Our View of Market Street

What is your favorite thing to paint?  My favorite thing to paint is the portrait or figure. Hands down. I don’t know what could be more interesting or meaningful. It seems to me that there are endless things to communicate through the human figure.

Lemon Tea

 What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from anyone about art?  Tom was known for saying “Do good work.” I find it so important to remind myself of this. When you are trying to sell paintings it can be easy to get caught up in trying to make work that you think people will like. If this becomes your focus you begin to lose the integrity of your work. The truth is my best work and the work that sells the best is what I have poured myself into and have simply done well.

Pool Shed

What is your favorite piece?  My favorite has a tendency to change as I change and my work changes. I think right now it is this little watercolor, titled Pool Shed.


About Melody

My name is Melody Martin. Check out my art blog, and learn all about the steps and techniques that go into oil paintings.
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9 Responses to Artist Spotlight: Maria Holbein

  1. Margaret says:

    This is a great interview and I’m so happy to see more of Maria’s gorgeous work! I can’t decide if I enjoy the watercolor or oil paintings more. I love “Red Dress” — there’s something incredibly sophisticated about it, but I think my favorite piece out of this collection is Pinnacle Grey. Maria, your skill is so admirable and it was an honor to have you as a classmate!

  2. Melody says:

    It’s tough for me to say, but I think my favorites are Pool Shed and Study in Blue and Gray.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I love this. The self-portrait is my favorite, how simple yet capturing it is.

  4. arrynvogan says:

    I loved reading this post! It is great to hear how Maria is doing post college! I too have always loved her work…it is stunning. I was sad to hear about Tom Buechner passing. I didn’t know that. So glad I was able to meet him when I did. I really love the Pool Shed and Lemon Tea.

  5. Carolyn Martin says:

    lovely interview and beautiful works of art. Each painting is so wonderfully unique I can not choose a favorite? I really enjoyed this spotlight on Maria~she has such a talent!

  6. mbwnyberg says:

    I love your work. It is very beautiful. There are no other words necessary.

  7. Nancy says:

    Having been the roommate of a fellow Hougtonnite artist (Allison Syvertson-Gallman), I know the many hours of dedication, the passion, the personality that it takes to create such masterpieces as the above… and I was also Maria’s babysitter (as well as that of her siblings). I graduated from Houghton in 2000 (*Nancy does math in head to figure out age difference between she and Maria*). Maria, you’ve used your God-given (and mother inspired, perhaps?) gifts quite well… quite obviously! Allison’s portraits always amazed me. As a Biology major and not artistic in the least, I am easily mesmerized by the beauty artists can capture and translate with their hands. I’ve not had the pleasure of speaking with you as an adult, so reading your responses was most definitely a delight. Continue being beautiful and capturing beauty, dear one.

    Nancy Poster W.

  8. Maria says:

    Thanks, Melody. And thanks everyone else for taking the time to look and read.

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