Ballarat artist Holly Would is wearing brightly coloured earrings and a matching necklace as she welcomes visitors to her Bridge Mall studio space.
The words 'I am strong', 'I am invincible' and 'I am woman' are written boldly across the jewellery she learnt to make during COVID-19 lockdown periods.
They were created while working through a difficult period of re-confirming her self-worth and regaining her confidence while attempting to leave a traumatic relationship.
The messages reflect Holly's current artistic theme of empowering women and her belief in the power of art in personal recovery and growth.
Holly acquired the studio space in the previously empty Bridge Mall shop through the Ballarat Evolve program in August.
There she displays her artistic creations including handmade jewellery, crocheted 'friends' and a framed series of work on paper exploring childhood trauma.
It only really matters if I like my art but it is very validating to be able to share it with people and maybe even inspire them.Holly Would, artist
The studio and exhibition space is a broader celebration of Ballarat artists with the work of others also hanging on the expansive walls.
While explaining her work and the space, Holly said the initial project she pitched in her Ballarat Evolve application was the creation of an art series exploring childhood trauma.
She said she loved engaging with the public in the space and was proud to see it become a community hub.
"I have had to bring in chairs for people so they can sit and have a chat with me," she said.
"Some people hang out for half the day. I don't mind, I think it is a privilege someone wants to come and share with you."
Holly said she wanted to 'share the love' and was hosting new exhibitions for different artists each month.
"I don't ever want to be successful by myself, you want to grab all your mates and everyone in your community and say come on, get involved in this," she said.
Holly said her artistic journey began as a child, although she may not have realised she was creating art at the time.
"I was doing art as a child without knowing," she said.
"I used to make my own colouring books. I would look at things and instead of buying it because we were really poor I would learn how to make things myself.
"I hand sewed Christmas stockings for my brothers one year. That was me surviving. That was me coping and I got to escape into this little world of art.
"I was one of those kids at school who was always doodling instead of doing their work.
"I didn't know that is what I was doing as a child but it was keeping me sane and safe."
Holly said she lost her connection with art when she was 21, had her first drink and fell into reliance on drug and alcohol use for about eight years.
"I didn't know at the time I was trying to survive and shut down everything that was going on in my head," she said.
"I am six years sober now which is awesome. But I didn't make much art during that period of time which I feel my soul was suffering because of.
"When I got sober art came about again. I was terrified I wouldn't be able to do it anymore.
"I remember I had the shakes from withdrawing from drugs and alcohol months into recovery. I was sitting in a painting class at RMIT at the time and I got the shakes.
"I was very anxious and started to have a panic attack because I thought I would never paint again and I had destroyed my life because the one thing that I care about is going to be taken away from me.
"I removed myself from the room with my sponsor at the time and she talked me through it. I still got the shakes afterwards but I just had to hold my hand, even though the other one was shaking too.
"I just had to hold my hand and do what I could do at the time, that is all I had.
"Now that I have been diagnosed and I am getting proper treatment for complex PTSD and bipolar I know how much better I am but also my art is as a result."
Holly said she recognised her experiences of childhood trauma, alcohol and drug use and the death of her brother by suicide two-years-ago had shaped the person she was and she conveyed this through her art.
"Whether I like these labels or not, they all make me who I am," she said.
"Negative experiences still shape us, so there is no point pretending it didn't happen or not acknowledging it.
"People use the word survivor to talk about victims of childhood trauma and things like that, but I like to take it a step further, I don't want to just be a survivor anymore I want to be a thriver.
"It is not about just getting by, I want to go further than that. I don't want to let that define all of me. It doesn't define me."
Holly's series on childhood trauma is hanging proudly on the wall of her Bridge Mall exhibition space.
The series represents Holly as a child progressing to an adult with words hidden in the patterns of her body.
It progresses from 'trauma', 'anxiety', 'complex PTSD' in child Holly to 'no', 'all of me', 'this is me' and 'thrive' written within adult Holly.
Holly said the words on her handmade jewellery on display were inspired by song lyrics; 'don't tell me what to do', 'don't tell me what to say', 'kindness isn't weakness', 'I belong to me' and 'I am strong', 'I am invincible', 'I am woman'.
"Being brave enough to put your art out there is a big part of it," she said.
"It used to all sit there in boxes and drawers hidden away and I never used to share it with anyone.
"I was a perfectionist and used to slash them with a stanley knife if I didn't think they were up to scratch, I was really self critical and really hard on myself.
"I can still be way to hard on myself but I don't destroy them anymore. Now because I am more embracing of myself I am more embracing of mistakes and that I am flawed.
"It doesn't matter, I don't have to get everything right the first time."
Holly's crocheted friends on display in the studio were produced during COVID-19 lockdown periods.
Holly said she was in a 'creative funk' so taught herself how to crochet and has yarn bombed her neighbourhood and Bridge Mall.
She said she hoped her art helped take people away from the mundane of everyday life, even if just for a moment.
"You are walking down the same street you walk down every day then oh my goodness there is a yarn bomb," she said.
"It could change someone's day or they could go what a load of rubbish, but it doesn't matter, they still stopped and it still gave them this moment out of the mundane of life that we can get trapped in.
"I think art is a very special medium in that way."
Holly said the Ballarat Evolve art space had given her confidence and provided a place where she was comfortable, able to thrive and realise her worth.
"It only really matters if I like my art but it is very validating to be able to share it with people and maybe even inspire them," she said.
Holly's studio and exhibition space is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm at 59 Bridge Mall.