Grace Helmer | Spotlight
Grace Helmer is a freelance illustrator, born in Brighton and now based in London. After graduating from Camberwell College, Grace joined a collective called ‘Day Job Studio’: a collaboration of artists that consist of 10 of her classmates from college. Mostly focussing on oil paints and digital editing, Grace has commissioned for a number of high-profile clients such as Apple, Google and Penguin Random House and her work has taken her to exhibitions around the globe. We asked her some more about her work and her process…
What interested you in oil painting?
I started painting at college. They introduced oil paints to us which I’d never tried before. Through my foundation and degree course I carried on painting, it felt right for different projects. I like oil because although it does take a bit longer to dry, you have that time to smudge stuff about, remix on the page and scratch and layer it up. Whereas water colours, gouache and acrylic all dry too quickly. It makes me a bit anxious knowing I can’t have that time.
How did you get to where you are now?
When I graduated I was really lucky that I was doing an internship at a publisher and they kept me on as a freelancer. I was going in two days a week to the office and they allowed me to help them on the design and illustration of different books. Through that, they taught me how to use lots of different programs like Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. I was really lucky to have that opportunity that guaranteed two days of work a week, so I could support my personal work and know that I could pay my rent and develop illustration work on the side.
Tell us a bit about your collective…
[At uni] I was really lucky that I met a lot of people that were into the same stuff as me. After we graduated we stuck together and formed a collective called ‘Day Job’. We did a lot of exhibitions and installations and helped each other as our individual careers have got going. We immediately got a studio together, and although we were all working part-time jobs, we knew that you could go to the studio after work and there would be someone else there. It was motivating. If I’d just been by myself, without this community, I would have found it a lot harder to carry on.
Why do you find creative collaboration so important?
My work has always been improved on by being able to be around other people and chatting to other people about it. I’ll never think of an idea if I’m sat at my desk because there’s nothing there to change your pattern. In my studio there’s illustrators, animators, people doing stained glass, other people doing paintings, ceramics and set design. It’s so nice to be able to get inspiration from each other and talk about our ideas. When we get stuck, or if we can’t choose which way forward, you’ve got someone there to help you and chat to. I personally need that to motivate me. Because you see all these people around you, it makes you sit in your chair and get to work.
Where do you find inspiration?
I get inspiration from travelling. last year me and my friend Charlotte organised a residency travelling around Japan and it was just a chance to take a break from commissioned work and working in one place in the studio and to figure out how to work on the go. And that led to a lot of work I ended up doing afterwards because I learnt how to be more free and trust myself more with my art and work a bit quicker. And it also led to doing exhibitions, so we ended up having one in Hong Kong, with our collective Day Job, which was themed around the year of the dog.
What’s your work process?
Usually, after I’ve decided what I’m going to do, I’ll sketch it out. Sometimes they’ll be thumbnail sketches that you look at ten minutes later and have no idea what it is, and sometimes they’ll be more organised sketch, either in a sketchbook or on my iPad. Then I test out colours, usually digitally. I’ll just go for it once I’ve got the composition, draw it up on a bit of paper, start painting and figuring it out as I go. Often there will be moments in the images that just appear as I’m painting that I never planned. That’s what I like about painting: I could make a mistake and I have to go with it.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m working on editorial commissions from magazines, newspapers and websites. I’m trying to work more on my own comics and get that going on the side. I like that week to week you never know when someone will want you to do something or you could get an idea for something and change direction. I like how unpredictable it can be.
What do you want to be doing in the future?
I’m grateful that I can do this for a job, being a illustrator and taking inspiration from travelling. Just walking around looking at stuff and then using that in my work. I hope that I can carry on doing that for the future and just pushing, always practicing and getting better.