interview :: helen lang
Helen is a Westcountry lass, now living and working in South West London as an illustrator. Her quirky artworks convey her slightly obscure sense of humour with a sense of craft and elegance.
All My Love by Helen Lang
Can you remember what your earliest drawing was of?
I think it was of a Primary school visit to the Shire Horse Centre in Devon. My mum has all my old school books, the ones with wallpaper covers, and they seem to be pretty much filled with cats, wobbly houses and people with slightly frightening haircuts!
You’ve had quite a varied career. Did you always know you wanted to do draw? How did you get to where you are now?
I have always drawn and painted and have always had what I guess people call a natural talent. I think the real difference is that I’ve grown to be more confident with my work and since 2008 I started to have a belief in my work which I have never had before. I know this might sound soppy but I found my soulmate in life at that time and I think as a result my work changed dramatically for the better. The topics and style of my work changed and people’s reaction to my work was amazing.
Previously I had always directed other artists and creatives (I had been an illustration agent for over 5 years, and had also worked in the poster publishing industry and all roles involved the management and direction of art) as I didn’t have the confidence or belief in my own work to think it would make for a successful freelance career.
Don't Worry, Be Happy by Helen Lang
What inspires your drawings? How do you come up with ideas for new ones?
Inspiration comes from a number of things. Recently it has been an old book my Nanna had when she left the WAF and it was signed by her friends and has all kinds of sayings and ditties in it which are just lovely.
Briefs are quite often set by clients and there may be a strong directive to the kind of work they want created. I get inspired by lettering on old packaging, flyers, adverts, etc; inspiration really comes from everywhere.
How do you create your drawings? What tools do you use?
I work in watercolour, gouache and pencil. Tools are pens, brushes and a very steady hand!
What advice would you give to someone wanting get into a creative career?
Network, be prolific, keep at it, competitive shop so you know what is happening in the market and generally be very nice to people.
Describe a really good day in the life of Helen. And a really bad one!
A really good day is an early walk with Des the dog and coming back to a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie. Getting an email confirming a new order for work or a sale of a limited edition (or confirmation of a payment) cheers me along. It’s also really nice to have people react to your work… so an email saying how someone had received a gift of my work and investigated my site and my work further is superb and warms my heart. Completion of an artwork or a project is also a great feeling and being proud of the work is just a superb feeling. Picking up fresh screenprints from my amazing printer Phil Sheffield is also a corking feeling.
A bad day is when things seem to be going quiet. Work has maybe slowed down. A really bad day is when nothing flows and the floor is covered with ideas gone bad and nothing seems to be gelling. A really really bad day could be when an artwork is nearly completed but a last minute mistake throws everything up in the air. Everything I do is generated by hand… so mistakes are not allowed!!
What’s your working space like? Is it tidy or messy? What have you got on the walls? What do you like to have around you?
My working space is pretty tidy. I try to break the week into two. The first half of the week is for emailing and phoning and chasing around for work and payments. The second half is for all the art materials to come out and for me to get cracking! It doesnt always work so smoothly, but that’s the idea.
What are you most proud of?
Right now I am very proud of getting an order for my limited edition prints by the Tate Shop
and hopefully by May that will be surpassed by seeing my imagery on John Lewis
products in stores across the UK.
What’s next for you? What do you hope to achieve?
, Rob Ryan
and Orla Kiely
are my idols. I love the way their work has become a huge business. I admire greatly what these designers have achieved and I can only hope for something close to that.
I am working on some childrens books at the minute and hope to get these published with Templar books
. I also have a very strange desire to get my work into IKEA. What better way to reach the public with my work?!
Soon I hope to be able to move into a better studio space than my current one and to be able to put more work up on the walls.
What’s the best commission you’ve ever received? Why? How did it make you feel?
The best commission has been from John Lewis
. I had been in full time employment in 2010 when the company I worked for went into administration and I was thinking then about going freelance. I contacted the John Lewis
buyer directly and had a response the very same day suggesting I come in and see the team. I was on cloud nine on receiving that initial email and have since seen product shots which just make bite my knuckles in excitement (in a nice way!)
What’s your favourite colour?
Olive green for some reason… and I find orange really problematic!
Helen’s product range for John Lewis
will include a tote bag, notebooks, make-up bags and accessories and will be available from May.
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Further reading for the especially geeky: