Interview with Surf Artist John Holm

John Holm developed an appreciation for the ocean as a young boy. He grew up on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii, during a golden era. He spent an idyllic childhood amongst the azure blue waters and stunning beaches.

John relocated to California in the 1960s to study art. He learned to surf in the chilly waters of Santa Cruz, a far cry from the tropical paradise of home. It was at this time that Holm realised the majesty of wave riding.

Following his graduation, John became a Navy pilot. He was stationed in Monterey, California, a Central Coast area renowned for its stunning, rugged coastline and powerful waves.

John Holm’s life took somewhat of a diversion with regards to his art and surfing. A thirty-year career in advertising took John to the East coast, living in New York for several years. Holm’s job took him on to Seattle, where he has settled to this day.

These days John is doing what he loves. He surfs and he paints. His art is a tribute to a bygone era, representing his early memories of the ocean in beautiful impressionistic style. John depicts the vintage Southern Californian surf culture using vibrant colours and iconic imagery.

To look at the art of John Holm, is to glimpse into the soul of surfing.

Tell us a little bit about your path to artistry?

I was always encouraged by my parents, who were gifted artists. I have a fine arts degree from the LA Art Center but I went into advertising because it offered more job security. I was an Art Director and Creative Director in film and print advertising for over forty years and worked on Madison Avenue for a time.  I very much enjoyed collaborating with writers, musicians and filmmakers. I kept up my sketching skills by daily rendering layouts and storyboards. I started painting surf scenes as I was phasing out of advertising.

How do you approach the blank canvas? Do you have a creative vision and process you follow with each new piece of art?

A blank canvas is full of possibilities. I just jump in. Sometimes I go for a spontaneous loose pallet knife style. Other times impressionistic brush and even detailed classical painting. I often use my fingers and palms to apply paint. Sometimes a painting will take a different direction than what I start with. I may step away for a day or two so I get a fresh perspective.

With all of the inspiration in the world, how do you decide which idea will be brought to life? Do you have boundless inspiration or do the ideas percolate with time?

I have endless inspiration: fascination with surf culture, painters and the beauty of light on the water. I mix it up with different subjects but always try to capture the passion of watermen for the sea. I am always happy when a surfer finds the work authentic.

What keeps you motivated? Do you have any daily rituals that maintain your artistic flow?

The day starts with a walk or motorcycle ride to the coffee shop. Check the news. I will look at my painting and inevitably see something that needs work. I paint, garden, paint, take out the trash, paint, make frames, paint, walk the dog…Now and then we take the camper to the beach to get our ocean fix.

For creative people out there contemplating following a less conventional path, and dedicating time to their craft, any words of advice?

My advice for new painters is to study the techniques of your favorite artists. But find your own voice. And as someone said, “never apologize for your work”.

How can people connect with you and find out more?

I post new work on Instagram @holmsurf. Commission inquiries can contact me directly at