My guest illustrator today, Helga Pearson is a new friend whom I have met in the 12×12 Picture Book Manuscript Challenge. This group is active, super encouraging and an opportunity to get to know some wonderful authors and illustrators from around the globe.
- Illustrator or author/illustrator?
[Helga] Funny story. Neither. Well, not for the longest time. It was only last year that I signed up for an illustration course and decided to finally follow my secret dream. And it was while doing the course that I spontaneously decided to write something original that I could then illustrate. That’s how I came up with ‘Goodbye Mom’, which is the book I’m working on for this years Picture Book Dummy Challenge. In my heart of hearts, I hope to both write and illustrate in the future.
- What’s your nationality and where do you live?
[Helga] I’m South African and I live on the lush, tropical coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Although, to be fair, I can’t see the ocean from my living room, but I still know it’s there! Okay, it’s about 40km away, but I still know it’s there – somewhere.
- I love books that help children discover more about other cultures. How do the multiple cultures in South Africa influence your Art?
[Helga] When I was younger, I always wanted to travel somewhere else, I was never satisfied with living in Africa. Now that I’m a little older I realise how very lucky I am. My little country is thoroughly unique and special. It has so many stories old and new that haven’t been told yet, so I’m excited to see how this unfolds in our literature, art and our children’s books. It would be a real dream if I could be a part of that in some small way.
- Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.
[Helga] Like many illustrators, I’ve been drawing since I was a child but I only started taking it seriously as a teenager. I’ve worked in advertising and market research and I’ve produced Fine Art for quite a few years . It was two years ago though, when I was asked to produce artwork for a small boutique line of greeting and gift stationery that I realised what I really wanted to do. I wanted to illustrate! It took me nearly another whole year to sign up for an illustration course and openly admit my commitment to the world of illustration and picture books. What can I say, I’m a slow life learner.
- What is your favorite medium for your artwork?
[Helga] Up until very recently, I would have said oil pastels. I’ve tried every other medium and again and again I came back to these. It was a costly habit however. The artist-quality oil pastels I used were imported from France, Switzerland and Japan, so all my spare pennies went into buying art supplies. Nothing beats the feeling of really connecting with your medium however, so it was worth it.
That’s also EXACTLY how I felt when I finally got a digital Wacom tablet just a couple of months ago. It was kismet, love at first scribble. I’ve been neglecting all my other commitments simply to spend more time learning how to use this amazing tool. Naughty I know but I simply adore the amazing scope and freedom it allows you compared to my traditional approach to art.
- How is being a member of the 12×12 challenge impacting you?
I initially joined on a whim. I thought to myself, that it would be a great way of producing new material for the purpose of illustration. As time has passed however, I’ve realised how much I really enjoy coming up with new ideas and engaging in the the writing process. It’s opened my eyes to new possibilities that otherwise I may never have been brave enough to consider.
- What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?
[Helga] Arthur Rackham, a man who could draw and paint like an angel, was very influential on me as a child. It’s not only his work I find inspiring however, it’s his story. Did you know he was an accountant? He put himself through art school at night and sold editorial illustrations in his spare time. It was only when he left his clerical position, years later, that he became the celebrated artist we know and love today. Enid Blyton, as an author, was a huge part of my childhood, “The Wishing Chair’, ‘The Far-Away Tree’, ‘Mr Pink Whistle’ all impacted me tremendously. I also remember when I was five, receiving a humungous, doorstop of a book by Grimm and Anderson, as a present from my older brother. I still treasure it to this day.
- What does your workspace look like?
Well my current workspace looks like a computer on a desk, which isn’t very inspiring. So I much rather include a scrumptious picture of my many, many Oil Pastels.
- Can you share a piece or two with us and the process of creating them?
[Helga] This first piece was created with Caran d’ Ache oil pastels on Fabriano paper. I particularly enjoyed doing this illustration for a few reasons. Firstly, I love drawing African woman. I think they are intrinsically beautiful and they know it! Their quiet confidence and radiance inspires me so much. Also, this composition seemed to simply flow out from onto the paper and every artist will tell you how much they love it when this happens. Now that I’ve done my illustration course the perspective on the Church really bugs me. I’m sure my tutor would be thrilled to know his lessons are making an impact!
This second piece is my favourite thus far in my illustration journey. This little boy is one of the first digital pieces I’ve done. I got my Wacom tablet just a few months ago and already I feel as if I’ve made real progress. I started out by creating my own set of Photoshop brushes, based on my oil pastels. I thought to begin with, it’s best not to reinvent the wheel. I have somewhat of a signature style which I’m happy with, so I wanted to replicate this digitally. I start out with a layer dedicated to the line drawing, then I create a new layer on top and start painting. I’ll often create three or four different layers but then merge them as I’m working, so I don’t crash the computer by using too much memory. My favourite thing about painting digitally, is the freedom to make mistakes and go back and undo them. Also, I seem to work a lot faster, generally I’m slow, slow, slow.
Five Fun Ones to Finish?
What word best sums you up? Quirky
If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go? Italy in spring time, what more could any artist ask for?
What do you do for non-art related relaxation? I read. I’m a voracious, carnivorous reader. If it stands still for too long, I’ll read it.
Cats or dogs? I have both but I must admit, I adore my fluffy, puffy Muffikins – Muffin my cat. Cats are not only cute, they’re practical. What other pet do you know will keep you warm while you work ?
If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be? Mr Pink-Whistle, created by Enid Blyton. He’s so jolly and helpful, I just imagine he would be bags of fun!
Helga, thank you so much for sharing with us today. I would so love to take a trip to Florence with you! I wish you much success as you move beyond your illustrative talents in the coming months to delight us with your storytelling skills!