Monday, 23 April 2012

Sketchbook Peeks - Helen Hallows

Before we start, tell us a little about yourself/how did you get into art/craft/design career and how it all started and where you are now.

I can't remember a time when I didn't make and draw. I grew up sewing, drawing, colouring and my best ever birthday present was a gingham portfolio handmade by my Mum and Step Dad and filled with paper and pens and crayons. I was seven. I grew up near London and Sundays were often spent at museums and art galleries. I loved the gift shops!
In spite of some effort to send me down the academic route, I knew myself well enough to know that I lived for the things I made, and for how I felt when I made them. When I was revising for my A levels I found a book on making bread and started baking. It didn't matter what I made I loved making. I knew it wasn't an easy route to take in life but I was prepared for the challenge. I went to foundation college at St.Albans Art College and then studied Woven Textiles at Loughborough College of Art and Design. I had an amazing education, very much based on the principles of the Bauhaus Art School, before courses went modular and still grounded in traditional elements of colour theory and drawing.
Just before my third year I found the confidence to draw in a way that was true to me; simple line drawings, with references to naive and folk art. After graduation I had a freelance career designing embroidered and appliqued designs for stationery, home and fashion. It allowed me great scope for experimenting and working on a wide range of briefs for commercial clients across the world. Working with applique meant my work was strongly about shape and colour. I moved in to working with papers when design became computer biased and my designs could be scanned and manipulated. I now create original one off framed pieces and limited edition prints. My originals are created in ink, collage with vintage papers and stitch. My creative journey from the first marks I ever made is there in each piece and gives the work it's integrity and uniqueness.

How long have you been using sketchbooks?

Since A-level days. As a teenager though I kept a diary which often had visual elements. As I developed at art college, I always kept a visual journal, a combination of notes, images and colour swatches.

How often do you sketch?

Unfortunately it is a luxury now. I'm challenging myself to do more and to establish sketching days. I've just been on holiday in East Yorkshire and loved sketching the landscape. After having my children I just couldn't find the time for regular sketching. I hate working from photos though as they never record the landscape as I saw it and are too crowded with information. I would often see an inspiring landscape when out with my family and put it to memory and sketch the vital components of shape and colour when I got home and then try to recreate it in the studio. This gave the pieces a simplicity of shape, colour and mood.

How do you feel about the prospect of starting a new sketchbook?
I love a new sketchbook! All those virgin white pages. I love choosing a new sketchbook too and get quite emotional about it! It has to feel right. Starting it is another thing though. I usually throw myself in knowing that I'll not be content with the first few.

When/where do you get your inspiration for your sketchbook pages?

I don't really look to others for inspiration for sketchbooks. I think they are such a personal thing you have to trust your own style. That said I have been really inspired by Hockney's Yorkshire Sketchbook and as an ode to Hockney decided to create my own version. I set off on this trip with watercolours to emulate Hockney's sketchbook but quickly reverted to pencil. I didn't have time for the paint to dry! Once I get going I sketch in a bit of a frenzied way and wanted to get on!

How would you describe your creative process?

It's a mix of art and design. I still create colour swatches as I did as a designer. I do need to sketch, either from memory or into a sketchbook as I have to simplify from the reality of the place. I use mixed media of ink and collage and need the sketch as the bones of the piece.

Have your sketchbooks evolved over the years and if so, how?

I'm far more confident about my visual language now but the sketchbooks remain quite similar to those I did in my third year at art college. I still keep visual journals but I'm less disciplined with that these days, I suppose because blogging has taken over and I see my blog as an online visual journal.

What is your favourite medium to work with?

In my sketchbooks it's a pencil or graphite stick. On my large pieces I love to paint with ink. It's fluid and intense.

Do you have a favourite sketchbook?

Yes, the sketchbook I created at the start of my third year at Loughborough. It was done on a research trip to St.Ives in Cornwall and I discovered the confidence to draw in my own style and that I loved image making (I'd opted for woven textiles because I was inspired by colour and structure). I loved the whole trip and discovering St.Ives and the liberation of exploring the world with a sketchbook in your hand.

I'd love to say thanks to Helen for taking part in my Sketchbook Peeks Series. I love her work and had to share it with you all, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you want to find out a bit more about Helen and her work you can visit her website here, where you can find links to her blog, shop and also find details of workshops as well.


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