Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Helga Pearson

How long have you been creating art for children?
It really depends on what you call 'art' but I've been a creative little monkey since the very beginning. This picture of me at 4 yrs old, shows one of my more spontaneous body-art creations.

My younger self (the one of the left) was thinking, how fabulous would it be to use charcoal and cover my entire body from head to toe? Not satisfied with just this, I then enlisted the boy from next door as my next subject and proceeded to the paint him in charcoal. Ah, the hubris of the young creative mind.! My mother thought this was hilarious, which is why this photo exists, the boys mother was however not so easily amused. Not even when I explained to her that we were meant to be soldiers seeking our fortune, or a fight, whichever came first.
I only started taking drawing seriously when I put aside my wildling ways, picked the leaves and twigs out of my hair and donned a uniform to go to school. When I was a bit older, my father came home one day with nibs and ink and for ages I became obsessed with ink pen illustrations as well as lithographs. I never quite got the hang of colour, not until much later and not for want of trying, believe me! Without any formal training, I tried every pigmented art medium I could lay my hands on but the results were always  disappointing. I eventually stumbled upon oil pastels and finally found a medium I could connect with.

How long have you been writing for children?
Not long at all! *laugh. It wasn't until I signed up to the 12x12 challenge that I even thought about writing as well as illustrating children's books. I'm 34 now and if I'm honest, I'm only at the very beginning of my journey. I keep reminding myself though that Julia Child only started cooking when she was 37 - anything is possible!

Can you share a bit about your publishing journey?
I spent most of my twenties working in the advertising business. I started out designing leaflets for a national supermarket chain. I soon realised however that art and leaflet advertising are very different things. When it came to placing hundreds of products and accurately pricing them, my ability to focus was zero. I moved on to help out in the market research and strategic planning departments, which was a lot more interesting. I learnt a great deal working in advertising, specifically how to use design programmes like Photoshop and Freehand which has really come in handy over the years.
After I left advertising I tried a few different things but the one I loved most was being a bookseller. I'm a bibliophile of epic proportions, so working in a book store and sharing my passion with others was a perfect fit for me. I had also been producing fine art pieces with oil pastel in my spare time but although I adored illustration, I really didn't believe I was able to produce them myself. The trouble was, I had convinced myself that all illustration came from the imagination and try as I might, I couldn't produce work straight out of my head. Once I discovered the truth however, that most illustrators use a great deal of reference pieces for their work, it all kind of fell into place. I'm still learning everyday but at least now I feel like this is something within my ability to do.

After I had my son, I stopped working full-time and signed up for a illustration course with Mark Mitchell. He has been such a inspiration as a professional illustrator and invaluable as a guide and teacher. I recommend that anyone starting out with a desire to illustrate sign up for one of his courses. It was through the people I met on this course that I was inspired to buy a digital Wacom tablet, now a lot of my illustration work is done digitally.

Where do you do your artwork? Would you describe your space?
I have a small studio... ok, it's our spare room and laundry corner, but let's not quibble. Would you like to  see it with our without the overflowing ironing baskets?

Please tell us about your illustrations. Can you describe your creative process for us? How would you describe your style?
My process seems to be refining itself more and more with every passing day. I start out with thumbnail sketches for the entire story and then tackle each thumbnail individually and flesh it out. First off, I'll look for as much reference as possible for the elements I've included in my thumbnail and from this, I might do a few character sketches and then start drawing out the full-sized compositional sketch. Lately, I've been doing a lot of my drawing with my digital tablet, as well as my colour work. I'm not sure if this will always be the case, I sometimes miss the tactile yumminess of working with oil pastel and paper.

This composition comes from the picture book dummy I'm currently working on, called 'Goodbye Mom'. After writing the story I got down to quickly scribbling thumbnails for every page, these are just a few of them.

I then focused on 'Tea with the Lion' two-page layout and started looking for reference that might help me draw this.

Using these reference images, I drew up a few Character and Reference Sketches.

I start putting together the final composition sketch that shows the placement and look of everything I want in the final illustration

Once the final sketch is done I decide on the palette or colours I want to use in the final piece. I did this by referring to finished pieces I had already done for the book and making sure the colours I used didn't stray to far from these for continuity purposes.

My first attempt at a digital colour composition for this layout was somewhat disastrous but I learnt a great  deal from it. I'd just gotten my digital tablet and was still in the process of finding my feet. I tried again after making a few adjustments, I feel the second attempt is actually stronger because of all the mistakes I made initially. (6.First Attempt 7.Finished Work)

Which comes first the story of the illustrations/sculptures?
For me, the story has always come first. I adore anything that tells a story, a picture, an object, a song – it's the essence of everything for me. Perhaps it's why I love illustration above any other form of art because it's sole purpose for being, is the story. How cool is that? Methinks pretty cool.

Helga can be found at:
Twitter: @helgapearson

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Helga Pearson 
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