Illustrator Interview – Helga Pearson

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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!

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48 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Helga Pearson

  1. I, too, “met” Helga through 12 x 12, and this has been a delightful “get to know you better” interview. I love reading about other people’s journeys into writing/illustrating. I’m always bowled over by the wonderful stuff artists create in so many different media. Thank you Joanna, and thank you, Helga!

  2. I am so pleased to be introduced to your work Helga I enjoyed reading about your journey. Its exciting to see the transformation in your work using new tools. I would imagine there are so many multicultural stories to tell, and it’s great you’re thinking about writing along with illustrating. I love the picture of the little — looks like he might be running away. So many wonderful things ahead of you as you explore your illustrations and generate story ideas. Enjoyed getting to know you better. Great interview Jonanna. I love your aournd the world illustrator posts, as I would love to be able to illustrate.

  3. I also “met” Helga through 12×12 and find her work just beautiful! I love that little boy, heading out the door with his suitcase and his stuffed monkey – so eloquent! And although the church perspective may bother you, Helga, I think that painting is lovely! It was fun getting to know more about a fellow 12x12er! Thank you Helga and Joanna 🙂

  4. Delightful illustrations, Helga…thanks for sharing them with us. And welcome to 12×12!

  5. Thank you so much everyone. I was incredibly flattered to be asked by Joanna to do this interview. As yet, I’m a pre-published book illustrator and the journey thus far has been an incredibly rewarding one. I’ve met so many remarkable, generous and talented people just like you and it makes me realise every day that I’ve finally found the right ‘tribe’.

  6. Helga, your artwork is very inspiring, so beautifully done. Thank you for sharing your pieces with us and best of luck on your “Goodbye Mom” pb dummy challenge 🙂

  7. Yay, it’s Helga! I had the pleasure of interviewing Helga a while back, and I just love her work. Helga, my brother is also using the Wacom tablet and loves it — will this be the end of traditional art supplies? I’m just impressed that you can figure out how to use it. Kudos on the digital ills, though … so soft and cozy, you just want to jump right in!

    • Thank you so much Renee. I will never forget that you were my first interview ever! I’ve used Photoshop for many years which I believe helped me a great deal in using the Wacom. I love it so much because it bypasses all the usual anxiety that goes with putting pen/pencl/brush to paper. Making a misake is not a problem anymore, so you get to go back to just having fun and experimenting when you create art.

  8. Cathy Mealey says:

    Wonderful interview – always fun to learn more about other 12X12’ers. When I was in elementary/middle school I loved to draw with oil pastels. I remember even then, they were quite expensive and I would get one new box on my birthday which had to last for a whole year. If I was lucky, I got paper too! Wish I had saved more of my work – I tossed most of it for space reasons. : – (

  9. I tried to read Helga’s comments with her SA accent in mind! I could almost feel the sunshine and smell the ocean, 40k away, coming through! I love your work and can’t wait to see more. You inspire me with your fantastic display of emotion with color.

  10. Joanna says:

    Helga’s post truly does inspire the senses, Julie, you are so right!

  11. Thanks to the two of you for the wonderful interview. I am so impressed by your work, Helga. It was a thrill to hear more about you. I love cats, too, and love how you described your Muffikins – Muffin. Purr.

  12. Joanna says:

    Muffin was duly noted in the scientific research I am carrying out about authors/illustrators and animals!

  13. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor says:

    What a great interview! Thanks so much for sharing Joanna! And thanks Helga, it was wonderful to learn more about you and your beautiful art!

  14. Oh dear Muffin. I must really do some illustrations as a tribute to this fabulous, little furball! ;D

  15. Heather says:

    Helga, your work is beautiful and I love your technique with the Wacom tablet. I also have a soft spot in my heart for sock monkeys 😉 Great interview, it’s nice to get to know you a bit better!

  16. YAY Helga! I met Helga through 12×12 and the illustration course we are both in. Is Muffkins the kitty in your on-line portfolio? It is so gorgeous I felt like I could pet her through the screen. I do have to say tho’ I am disappointed…..I was going to ask you to be a guest on MY blog, but lucky Joanna beat me to it. We’ll just have to do it when you’re ready with your next book. Blessings!

    • Joanna says:

      Sorry to get in there before you, Laura Anne…. I would just leave it a couple of months and do your interview as I am sure it will be different and unique. 🙂

  17. Love this, Helga and Joanna 🙂

    love your art, Helga… i hope you get published one day soon and I’m sure you will!

    I must get a look at these drawing tablet things 🙂

    Denise of Ingleside, PEI

  18. Oh wow, thank you so much Laura and Denise! I’m working hard towards publication, never fear. This is the year of finishing my PB Dummy and putting together a kick-butt portfolio. As soon as this is done, I’m going to get my marketing cap on and begin looking for an agent and approaching local publishers. I just have a good feeling, that this is something I can really do, despite knowing how tough it is. So I appreciate all the fantastic support, you girls are incredible! 😀

    P.S. I have an oil pastel piece in my portfolio that looks EXACTLY like Muffin although it’s painted from a photo of another cat.

  19. JRPoulter says:

    What a delectable, delicious, yum of an interview! 🙂

  20. Joanna says:


  21. It was great getting to know Helga. Her illustrations are charming. I also love learning about new cultures through books and images.

    I miss oil pastels. I haven’t used them in ages. They remind me of the art classes I took long ago. Maybe I can look into purchasing them the next time I go to an art supply store.

  22. Helga your illustrations are beautiful. My dog often sits with me at my computer while I work or steals my chair when I get up to make coffee.

  23. Sylvia Liu says:

    Helga, I have known you (virtually) since Mark’s illustration class, but I am constantly amazed at how you have picked up a new tool like the tablet and become so masterful at it, while maintaining your signature style. Great interview!

  24. Oh my! I can’t believe I didn’t leave a comment before. I got so engrossed in this interview and then in the work Helga does on her blog, I forgot to come back to leave a comment. (so sorry Joanna) This was a wonderful interview.. I love her illustrations. Hope she has great success with her book.

  25. Thank you Diane, Sylvia, Rena, Medeia! I so appreciate you guys coming over to have a read. I’ve had SO much fun and it’s great to hear from you all. Mark’s illustration class was my first experience of how fantastic the kidlit community can be. The 12×12 group has only gone on to confirm my admiration for this supportive and inspirational bunch!

  26. Joanna, Helga – Thanks! What a great interview. So neat to learn a bit more about Helga. I just can’t get enough of her and her work from Marks and Splashes, 12×12 and KitLitArt ‘s #PBDummy challenge. All the best on this fun road to publication.

  27. Tina Cho says:

    I love your illustrations, too, especially the second one! Wonderful interview, Helga, and Joanna! Your place in South Africa sounds beautiful!

  28. Dana Carey says:

    Great interview, Helga & Joanna. I enjoyed learning more about you, Helga (I remember the interview you did on Renée’s blog). Good for you mastering the tablet so quickly. Your work is lovely. Good luck with the picture book! (And don’t beat yourself up too much about the perspective of the church! I like that illo!!)

  29. Virginia Rinkel says:


    Your interview was inspiring. Living in Michigan at this time of the year, is usually a little drab in color, as spring is just beginning, and I’ve always loved color – especially African and Mexican – color is life…loving all the pages of your book – are you going to try to publish this as an interactive book also? Bet you could make that monkey do really cute stuff. Keep bringing us color, in your books, your words, and your self-being.
    Thanks Joanne for doing this interview.

  30. Karien says:

    As a fellow South African Im very proud of Helga! She will be a success here, I just know it. And her work? One word, wicked!

  31. Hi Helga, so good to read about you here and your interesting life.

  32. Thank you for the interview and insight! Helga, I too am only realizing now, in my mid-30’s and after working as a physio for a decade, that I’m desperate for the switch to art/illustration. Thanks for the inspiration and I’ve gotta get that tablet!

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