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Tri-Valley artist's joyride continues

Positive attitude finds expression in portraits, motorcycles and jewelry

Pleasanton artist Holly Ellsworth-Rose works on a whimsical painting of her favorite animal (the giraffe) using a "scumbling" technique to shows layers of colors. (Photo by Mike Sedlak)

To see the delicate designs on her jewelry, you might not guess that Holly Ellsworth-Rose dreams of riding a Harley-Davidson through the Black Hills of Dakota.

"I sold my Harley before I got married and had kiddos," said the Pleasanton artist, who was one of Harley's two licensed fine artists -- and the only woman.

Her dad was her mentor, a man who painted and sculpted, and taught her to do the same. In 1993, when he bought a Harley-Davidson, he introduced her to the adventure of riding in the wilds of scenic Utah.

Holly, who was earning her living doing airbrushed portraits, began to focus on painting closeups of the legendary motorcycles as well as children gazing with wonder at the Harleys.

"Harley-Davidson had one artist, Scott Jacobs, who was authorized to paint Harleys," Ellsworth-Rose recalled. "My mom was living in Sacramento and saw that Scott Jacobs was going to be at a gallery."

Her mother shared Holly's paintings, and the publisher said to have her get in touch.

"My first painting incorporating kids and Harleys was 'Hog Dreams,' and I used a friend's son," Ellsworth-Rose said. "My second one, 'Fill 'er Up,' was my most successful. A little boy is pumping gas, and a little girl is drinking an orange soda."

She would come up with ideas then scout out a locale with the elements she needed for her paintings -- the perfect gas station and gas pumps, the right children.

Her Harley paintings were large, sold for $15,000-$18,000, and took six months to finish. Harley-Davidson CEO Jeff Blustein and his wife Brenda bought two for their art collection, "Getting in Gear" and "Fill 'er Up."

"They told me they had just been to the Norman Rockwell museum and that my artwork reminded them of his," Ellsworth-Rose remembered, adding that she considered it the ultimate compliment.

She created a series of her children-and-Harley paintings, which were distributed and sold internationally. "Getting in Gear" was made into a jigsaw puzzle distributed by Target nationwide.

Ellsworth-Rose said she has been making art as long as she can remember, holding a pencil or crayon in her hand or molding wax in her young fingers. She grew up with her mother in Northern California and spent summers with her father in Utah.

"My dad later went back to school to get an art degree," Ellsworth-Rose said. "I got my creativity from him."

When she went to Chico State, her goal was financial freedom and she majored in electrical engineering then worked for a small engineering firm in Folsom. But she realized she wanted something more creative -- and to be her own boss.

She honed her sculpting skills and created statues of children, while working part-time at Intel, but found each piece took a long time and needed a commensurate price tag. After several years, she began airbrushing custom portraits, working 24/7 in her garage to support herself -- after she sold one to a gallery in Folsom, she began to meet gallery owners and earn a living in photo-realistic portraits.

"Then my dad bought a Harley Davidson. He was living in Salt Lake City, and we'd go on rides," she said. "Utah is so beautiful. And I fell in love with the people and the machines -- incredible people, diverse, all amazing."

Eventually Ellsworth-Rose returned to engineering, working in sales, then met her husband and moved back to Northern California.

"We had kids (now 12 and 14), and I would dabble in painting," she said.

Now, after six years in Pleasanton, she creates jewelry, with a studio and office in her home.

"It's really exciting to learn about marketing, about business," she said.

"I started putting my images on metal washers first," she added. "One of the things that was super frustrating for me was that even my prints were, like, $250 or $1,000, not affordable to everyone. And having kids, I can't spend six months on a painting."

She dubbed her jewelry "Cheeryos," due to the shape of the washers when she began -- round with a hole in the middle -- but also because of their upbeat designs.

"It's my hope that women feel cheery when they wear them," Ellsworth-Rose explained.

She said she enjoys seeing what she can do with "found objects," and going wine-tasting with friends, she "found" corks.

"I turn the corks into necklaces," she said. "I slice them on my saw and sand them, and add a chain and dangly beads. I make them fun. They are my latest 'canvas.' A red cork with a little heart is one of my more popular pieces.

"I want to focus on hearts and simple reminders so people can put on one of my bracelets and it puts a smile on your face, creates a second of positive energy," she continued.

"I've always tried to be thankful for everything I have. That is one of the keys to happiness. As long as my family is healthy, how can I be anything but positive?"

Her catalog will be out soon but for now her jewelry and artwork can be seen at cheeryos.com.

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