Wonder and whimsey

Rainbow hues and sunny warmth greet you as you walk through Carolyn Stich’s storefront. It doesn’t take long to realize you’re in a special place.

Stich’s lively spirit is contagious Her colorful, intricate artworks instantly paint cheer on visitors’ faces.

“Regulars come in here all the time and see the art, and it just makes them smile,” Stich said. “And I can’t think of a better purpose to have on earth other than just to make people happy.”

Stich, a prominent artist in Holland, has been sharing her passion for art and people with the lakeshore community for more than 13 years. She has illustrated children’s books and is well-known for her imaginative works created with gouache paint, an opaque watercolor.

Carolyn Stich
Carolyn Stich
Credit: Daytona Niles

“Gouache is so fun to use, it’s just like using watercolor, but it’s better,” Stich said. “I love the vibrant colors and the ease of it. If you make a mistake, you can actually add water and pull it back up, which you cannot do with watercolor.

“You can go totally opaque with it or be transparent, and you can use all the same watercolor techniques. We’re very old friends, gouache and I.”

Stich’s subjects range from Holland’s iconic Big Red lighthouse and tulip lanes to animals and architecture. Her inspiration comes from nature, exploring the outdoors and her own personal experiences.

“There’s always inspiration,” Stich said. “There’s never a shortage of things to paint.”

And you’d never guess how Stich got her start in the art world.

“I actually started out as a black and white architectural illustrator,” she laughed. “I guess I changed a little bit.”

Something to believe in

Credit: Daytona Niles

After realizing she needed to get out of the house and find her own space to draw and paint, Stich began looking around Holland for a place to rent. She found a small space above downtown Holland’s popular Apothecary Gift Shop.

“I set up my shop and it didn’t go very well,” Stich said. “Rent was just so expensive, but it’s amazing how people throughout your life come and help you.”

Sharon Fisher, owner of Apothecary Gift Shop and its building, saw something special in Stich and her work, and pushed her to move forward.

“I told Sharon that I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Stich said. “I needed to step back and go back home and draw. But she said no — she believed in me and thought I could do something with my work.”

Fisher then offered Stich an even bigger office on the same floor at a lower price for a year so Stich could continue her work and offer classes.

“After eight years in that space, Sharon never raised my rent,” Stich said. “It was amazing.”

Bringing joy

Credit: Daytona Niles

Stich left her space above the Apothecary to better serve her students. She teaches classes with special needs children and adults, and the stairs at her original space were difficult to navigate for some students. Her second space was located on College Avenue, just off downtown Holland’s main drag. The second studio was a great fit for teaching classes and reaching the community.

“Somehow in the middle of everything at that second space, we created a retail shop,” Stich laughed. “I can’t even say how it started. It wasn’t a part of my vision.”

Aside from original artworks, Stich sells anything and everything with her art on it, including journals, greeting cards, coloring books, pillows, cutting boards, calendars, ornaments, puzzles, magnets, coffee mugs — the list goes on.

“I have all wonderful staff and people around me, and it’s just pretty darn cool,” Stich said. “I do the drawing and my staff does everything else. I come in with the drawing and it’s either a yay or nay, and then we’ll create some product for it.”

Not getting much foot traffic on a side street, Stich decided to pack up in 2018 and make the move to her third and current studio inside Claremont Court on downtown Holland’s bustling Eighth Street. There, Stich is looking forward to offering more classes when she is able to.

Wine and canvas painting for groups was always pretty popular, Stich said. During the height of the pandemic, she taught art classes via Zoom and she has provided a few drawing tutorials online.

Stich also focuses on making her art accessible to everyone.

“I think it’s important to make my art affordable and accessible,” she said. “If someone can’t afford an original, they can afford a $4 notecard, which we make in 5 by 7, so people can frame it.

“At some point, everyone can afford something. And I’m really happy with that.”

And being able to connect with a variety of people in the Holland community has meant a lot to Stich. 

“The most rewarding thing is just meeting people,” she said. “People like my art and it makes them happy, and it’s pretty incredible to get that kind of response.

“Opening the shop up every day and being able to do that is pretty cool. I pinch myself.”

Winning it all

“Enduring Delft” by Carolyn Stich

With Stich’s whimsical art and community connections, it’s no surprise that she won Tulip Time Festival’s poster competition not only once, but twice.

Stich won in 2015 and 2019, and her designs were the face of Tulip Time’s merchandise for each year.

“When your community gives you so much and is so accepting, and you can give back to them, it’s pretty amazing,” Stich said. “To win Tulip Time was just amazing. They ask you to say something when you win, and I just couldn’t. I was crying the whole time; it was such an honor.”

“Enduring Delft” was chosen in honor of Tulip Time’s 90th anniversary in 2019, and it was all inspired by a classic Michigan card game.

“I was playing euchre with my family the week the poster was due and I didn’t really have a clue of what to draw,” Stich said. “The Bicycle Cards have that beautiful symmetrical design on the back with all of the bicycles. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, guys, I can’t play anymore. I’ve got to go.’ “All of a sudden, instead of bicycles, I had tulips in my head. And it was all just because of euchre.”

Article written by Kelsey Smith
All photography by Daytona Niles