Interview with Artist Michelle Tholen

4 mins read

We sat down with Michelle Tholen for our weekly series on influential artists from the SF Bay.

Thank you for agreeing to chat with us, Michelle. Can you tell me a little bit about your background, interest, and specialization in art?

Sure. I developed my artistic side pretty young. I had a drawing class, my only art class in the middle of school. One day I remember taking one of my drawings home, and my mom was so thrilled. She was so pleased with how I was doing in the class, so I kept drawing. I’d keep sketchbooks around, and it was constantly my hobby. I kept drawing because my mom admired my work.

Is that it? Were you set after that?

No, towards the end of school my mind totally switched and I thought “I need to get a real job.” So, I went to school in the East Bay, got my CPA license, became an accountant, and worked for four years. But whenever I got home at night, I’d teach myself to paint on canvas using oils. I’d constantly go to the SF Museum of Modern Art, and I especially found inspiration in the works of Rothko. Eventually, I threw in the towel and decided to be an artist. I lived as a starving artist, hosting lots of big shows, and showing other artists’ work as well. I worked as an artist full-time for about sixteen years, and only recently picked up account work again on the side where I work fifteen hours a week for an architecture firm.

Do you feel it was that inspiration in your childhood that determined who you became?

Not really childhood, but it’s very instinctual for me to want to create. I was especially inspired by artists when I was older, but I always had¬†this innate creative side of me that I’d express in many different ways. My husband says I’m crafty, like how I always want to try new¬†recipes, make flower arrangements, or design handmade note cards.

Where are you based out of right now?

We’ve been living in Oakland Hills for the past two years.

What works are you most proud of, and what’s on the horizon for you?

I recently composed a piece in the Rothko style using gold and well, it sold within two weeks! I’m used to parting with my work though, it’s the way of the artist. In the near future I’d like to pick up a completely new style, but it’s so so hard because I’m a perfectionist and it has to be really good for me to devote myself to it. That pressure kind of stops me from moving forward. What I really want to try is some graffiti black and white art, but it’s hard to sit down and do that when you have a 3-year-old! I’m going down to San Diego with my husband and 3-year-old kid; that’s my plan for the week.

To learn more about Michelle Tholen and her work, please visit her website.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.