Only ever spending any time together at busy music festivals and other people's parties, it took me almost a year to learn about this part of Helen's life.
Often secret talents turn out to be infinity more rewarding once discovered than those you've been hearing too much about - Helen's designs and illustrations are addictive. Sometimes using computer manipulation as well as more traditional techniques, I usually have no idea how she has created a finished piece, but that only adds to the intrigue.
What’s your background and how did you become interested in design?
Since I can remember I’ve been covered in paint- I think lots of people start life this way, but it’s something I’ve never grown out of. Drawing became my big thing through school and I’ve carried that with me ever since. I rambled around before finding design - I became a qualified massage therapist, then ran a ski chalet in Courchevel, then moved up north and worked in a hospice, then as a team leader and outreach coordinator for hobbycraft, running the local school art club. Things changed and I moved home suddenly, where I found myself wondering what to do with my life. It was the day of university clearing and I spontaneously decided to have a look. I saw Goldsmiths Design had some spaces, so I applied. Getting together a portfolio after a four year break seemed impossible - feeling defeated, I ended up getting plastered with a friend to forget about it. I woke up bleary eyed, my head felt as if there was a balloon being blown up inside it, and it was the day the application was due. Through a manic panic of last minute hope, I pulled all the art I had out of the cupboard and assembled it into a portfolio. I’m still amazed I got in.
What sorts of mediums do you enjoy using?
It’s hard to pinpoint which mediums I enjoy most, as they vary a lot! In school, I stuck to pencil drawing - mostly drawing portraits. In sixth form, my hands were constantly covered in charcoal - grabbing anything from my bag lead to making a mess, putting black smudges on anything I touched. I took this a stage further, while I was studying massage therapy and tried massaging people (under a cloth) with oil paints, glazed with massage oil. There was also a picture that I drew by colouring the whole page in with graphite, then drew the picture with a rubber. At Goldsmith’s, I veered away from messy things, exploring digital media, film and photography. These days I add in a bit of everything, some pieces being paint, pencil, bits of cut up paper and digital tweaks.
Along with some pieces that are just great to look at, a lot of your work seems to focus on social issues. Do you see yourself as political and what is it that you are particularly concerned about at the moment?
I generally don’t consider them to be actively political but I guess they are. I think drawing can be a tool to communicate issues happening around the world, in a calm and (hopefully) non-judgemental manner. There are many problems that fade into the backgrounds of our daily lives such as homelessness, which has figured a lot in my work in Bristol, and by giving these issues attention in a creative way I hope to encourage some level of empathy for those people.
"Nought - Even before he was born, the outside world influenced Drew’s future."
"Six - Fighting at home and bullying at school are things most of us have experienced. Throughout Drew’s early years, they were a constant, moulding part of his life."
"Seventeen - Drew was kicked out of school at 17. His attendance flopped and he spent all the time he could elsewhere. This wasn’t too difficult because his Mum was away from home, working all the hours she could - unfortunately this meant she wasn’t there to stop his dad’s aggression. Realising there were others who could help him get by, he left."
"Twenty-seven - Ten years later, the psychological claws of the past riddled Drew with guilt, depression and anxiety. Everyday tasks were nearly impossible. Relationships he had managed to build fell away, as his job, finances and home also disintegrated."
"Thirty-four - The empty crisp packet crunched under his pillow, damp from the cold. “Maybe tomorrow”, he thought."
Tell us about your most recent project- “100 Bristol”... Are you enjoying living there?
I’ve moved around a lot over the past few years and it is so good to find somewhere that really feels like home. However, I am concerned by the amount of articles naming Bristol as the best this, or the best that, because I think it will contribute massively to the rising house prices and push local people out of their homes - could a rent cap help?
Despite that, there is a huge sense
of community in Bristol. The 100 Bristol project was so much fun to do, even if some days were hard to get going, because I ended up discovering loads of curious things about Bristol I didn’t know before. It means a lot to me that other people have got on board with it, lots of the pictures are about shared experiences with my friends here in Bristol, which makes them pretty special. It was more about getting something done everyday, which freed up my creativity because I didn’t feel the need to be too precious. It wasn’t about creating perfect things, but just daily musing. Having a small parameter - like using Bristol as the theme - I found my creative mojo again, which had been slowly diminishing after finishing uni due struggling to find related work.
Thanks to people buying prints of my 100 Bristol project I was able start up my own little freelance design and illustration business, which I now work on full time! I’m very grateful I’ve been able to do this.
Did you find it challenging to keep up with the time demand?
The further along I got, the easier it became. It ended up becoming an important part of my routine! It was difficult when I was away from home, as I mentor students at Goldsmiths, so was harder to fit in between full day’s work and long megabus rides. I miss it a lot now that I’m finished - it does such a lot of good for your head to do a snippet of something you love everyday.
Who are your main influences or idols?
I’ll admit that I am not someone who follows people/artists/celebrities/politicians that closely - but there are a few people who spring to mind. I think that Akala, an English hip hop artist and poet, has been doing brilliant things lately - from giving lectures about parts of history that have been covered up by a white regime (such as the defacing of pharaoh statues) to his programme on the BBC ‘Roots, Reggae, Rebellion’ about how roots reggae became ‘a cultural lifeline for young black people who were experiencing racism and rejection in their own country’.*
Annie Mac is someone who I really admire. She sits right up with the best radio DJ’s and presenters, also running her own festival Lost and Found. I think it must have been challenging to get to where she is, in a world that is not dominated by female DJs - this quote from wikipedia sums it up “Her first live set at the station was at Radio 1's Big Weekend in Dundee in May 2006 as part of the Essential Mix live broadcast. Annie remarked on air at the time how it was the first time they had trusted her to do a live mix.” Her documentary ‘Who Killed the Night’ is super interesting, as you can also tell she masters balancing family life with her commitment to dance music.
*Description from the BBC.
Where can we find more of your work?
At the moment it is mostly on facebook - but my new website is in the pipeline. My online shop (which will be getting more and more added to it over the next few weeks) is www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HelenLucyStudio and I'm also on twitter.
Thank-you so much for agreeing to this Helen and I look forward to seeing you again at the weekend!