Helen Hallows is a Textile artist based in the Midlands, just outside Nottingham. Her passion for nature and the changing seasons are evident in her work. Practical living and be true to yourself and your work is her daily mantra. I caught up with Helen and this is what she had to say...
What is your background? Where did you train?
I graduated in Woven Textile Design from Loughborough College of Art and Design (now Loughborough University). My degree gave me a fantastic training in traditional design skills. I moved to London and juggled retail work with building a freelance career. I worked with an agent who sold my textile designs internationally to clients such as Next, Pottery Barn and The Company Store. My work was all hand made, mainly embroidery and applique design for children’s and women’s fashion as well as children’s home wear and stationery. As technology developed, I started to work with papers instead of textiles so my work could be scanned for digital production. When the recession hit, my agent closed her business. I had my family, trained myself in Photoshop and worked in card design. I hated it! I needed to make and cut and glue. I started creating work that mixed painting, collage and stitch and that would express my love of nature and connection to it. I have been working in this way for five years now and have built a business selling my mixed media work.
Describe your work to us?
I find myself in nature and my work is a creative response to moments of connection I have to nature. Influenced by the seasons, it captures the ebb and flow of life. The work is responsive. It is about the way a moment feels. I express this with a naïve style and a love of colour and eclectic pattern. My work is tied closely to my philosophy on life. I'm asking people to see the everyday miracles that surround them, to slow down and to find the joy in being alive, in the simple things. If my picture is of a bird singing in a tree, that picture is saying that you too have a beautiful song, sing it. If my picture is of a cottage nestled amongst trees beneath a starlit night, I'm saying be at peace, appreciate your home, look up at the stars and feel the magic. When I take the time to slow down, I'm amazed by the beauty in the details of life. The simple narratives of nature are the important narratives of our lives, loving, growing, shining and resting.
Where are you based now and what creative hot spots have you there?
I’m based in the Midlands, just outside Nottingham. Although I’m in a small town, there are a lot of creatives living here and two studio blocks in old textile mills. One of those, Long Eaton Art Room, operates as a community arts centre where I run my workshops and it is an amazing asset to the town. I’m not far from Nottingham University where there is Lakeside Arts. They have a good programme across the arts and some fabulous cultural festival days. There’s an arts quarter developing in Chilwell, not far from me with several galleries, independent creative businesses and the Barton Bus Station operating as an arts hub with comedy nights, markets and festivals. It’s a great place to live!
What is your creative process?
I have light bulb moments when I’m going about my daily life. It could be the call of a songbird in the garden, or a sense of light across trees. My garden is a huge inspiration to me. I try to absorb the senses, colours and feelings of that moment. I journal to record these connections and I scribble down these narratives and then build the story with a symbolic personal language. I use colour to create mood and a folk art inspired composition to tell the story of that moment. I work in paint, ink, collage and stitch. I express myself with the painted mark, use collage to bring in dynamic shape and pattern and stitch adds a drawn line and fuses the media together. The stitch has been a part of my work since my days as a textile designer. As my work develops and I work on different surfaces, for example wood, the stitch is becoming less important.
Who inspires you?
I love the art of Elaine Pamphilon and the prints and collages of Mark Hearld. I am inspired by the bohemians of the ‘Bloomsbury Group’. They wrote, painted and lived together. It is on my ‘to-do’ list to visit their beautiful home at Charleston. I am inspired by those who live out their creativity fully; Georgia O’Keeffe, poet May Sarton, Henri Matisse who reinvented his creativity again and again. I want to fully live a creative life and that means expressing my creativity in my home, cooking, gardening and by expressing myself through journaling and photography as well as the main areas of my art process. I love the network of creative souls that social media has created through blogging, Facebook and Pinterest. I follow artists and writers who are living authentic lives and living their truth; Hannah Nunn, Alice Fox and writer John Siddique. I have some amazing friends who support me with their wisdom and kindness and keep me strong on my creative journey.
Tell us about your summer plans?
Summer is family time as I have two boys. It is also time to get away and connect with nature, camping and being outdoors. I’m completely energized by the summer and my creative juices flow! I’m working on a new collection of work to show in the autumn based on my connection to trees. I’m also planning an ‘Indian Summer’. A friend is about to go to India and I’m jealous! So I’m planning on seeking out some Indian inspiration and food and getting down to the Indian Textiles exhibition that the V&A are showing later this year. I travelled in India in my twenties and it has had a lasting impression. I would love to return.
What Workshops, events and new products have you got happening this year?
I have been putting a lot of my energy in to developing a new programme of workshops. Based around the seasons and connecting to the energy of nature and using that as the inspiration for creative work. The workshops are about preparing for creativity, accepting inspiration, creative ritual and purpose and finding your own voice on your creative journey. I am also running a weekend workshop in Hebden Bridge using symbolic elements inspired by nature to decorate a chair (November 7th/8th). I love to apply my art to furniture in the tradition of decorative folk art and it will be fun to share my techniques.
In September I’m showing at Melbourne Arts Trail (September 19th/20th) in Derbyshire, a fabulous annual event where artists are hosted in beautiful homes in the village of Melbourne. And then in November I will be taking part in the Harley Gallery Christmas Art Market (November 27th/28th/29th) for the first time.
Along the way, I will be creating new work as well as a few new products to compliment my range of limited edition prints. Keep an eye on my social media for exciting news of a new line of stationery. I’m also working on a sketchbook for publication to share my processes and inspirations.
What is the most important advice anyone has given you?
That’s a good question! When I turned down a place at university to study textile engineering to pursue Woven Textile Design, I was told that being an artist wouldn’t be easy. Knowing that, I have worked hard to stay working in art and design. I was born to it though. I really feel I am being true to myself and it’s a privilege to be able to live that truth. When I was starting out I went to the Ma shows at the Royal College of Art and remember reading the Marcel Duchamp quote:
“Seek, find, be yourself.
Don’t follow the herd.
Don’t repeat in spite of the encores.
If not you’ll bore us”
Why do you love collage?
I love the simplicity. The reason I studied Woven Textiles was a love of shape and colour. Collage is the same. You choose a colour and cut a shape from it. There is a strength in the mark you make when you cut a shape. It is drawing with scissors. It is also a forgiving process, I can move the shapes and layer more until the image resonates my intention. I also love finding papers to work with. I love the journey that a piece of paper has been on whether it is one I have created, or from an old book or diary. The piece of paper brings its own energy to the work in a way that using new papers can’t.
If you could wake up to one thing every morning what would it be?
A lake to swim in and a blue sky (that’s two!). Although my work is based on the seasons, I find it hard to create in the winter. I’m very affected by the weather. I can think clearly when I am in water and love to swim. To step out of bed into a lake and look at a blue sky would be perfect!
For more information on Helen Hallows go to http://helenhallows.com