ARTIST RESEARCH: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

I am lucky and honoured enough to get lots of questions from students so I thought I would try and answer these here for everyone.

Describe your work:

My artwork is intuitive and intricate and often features motifs from nature. I use expressive mark making to create abstract pieces which feature repetition and rhythm, layers of complexity and organic forms.

I’m fascinated by the interplay of colours, shapes and patterns. My paintings are rarely envisioned but develop over days as I respond to the materials and the marks on the page, creating complex illusionary landscapes.

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What are you inspired by?

I’m mesmerized by the beauty, colour and pattern in our natural world. I’ll frequently have a love affair with something where I become obsessed with it for a while; from snow flake structures, to patterns on shells, or the colours and patterns on fish scales, or antique Indian textiles, or bird feathers or butterfly wings, or the patterns on maps… I also have some magpie tendencies and am rather drawn to the glittering and glinting, iridescent or luminous… I try and seek inspiration everywhere - I will go out and walk in nature with my camera - seeking small details and interesting patterns and shapes.

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Tell us about the processes you use to create your pieces?

I experiment in my sketchbooks and will sometimes take a germ of an idea from these and use it as a springboard for a larger work. A lot of my work contains an element of watercolour paint. There is something about the unpredictability of this kind of paint which I find alluring and magical. I love the way the paint and colour mixes with the water on the page and creates unexpected patterns. I love the transparency of it, the ability to build up layer after layer of paint. There’s a slight wild-childness about watercolour, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do, and I love it all the more for that.

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When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

As a child, I was always drawing. I loved spending hours creating elaborate and intricate patterns from my imagination. I used to get through so much paper that my dad started to buy me large rolls of wallpaper lining-paper to keep up with my insatiable demand for more paper. I used to have a large box in which I collected shiny and patterned papers, from sweet wrappers, pages torn from magazines, bits of shiny wrapping paper. I loved my “special paper” box, I used to like tipping it on the floor and seeing how the different patterns and colours combined with each other. So, drawing and painting was something which came innately to me as a child. But I only became a full-time artist later in life. I took a rather circuitous route to get here as a profession and it is perhaps all the sweeter for it.

Tell us about your studio space - what do you love about it?

I am very lucky to have two rooms at the top of our house in Hastings. I’ve painted the walls and floor white to maximize the light. Having painted wooden floors also means I can roll back the rugs and make a real mess without any worries. I love rugs and have them everywhere, bright bursts of colour and pattern that sing to me. So, although the walls and floor of my space are white, the space is far from minimalist.

I love collecting weird and wonderful objects and picking up old or unusual objects in junk shops. My place is scattered with old tins, patterned ceramics, pebbles from the beach, old books and interesting textiles.

The house is half way up a hill, so one of the rooms has an amazing view of the town and sky. I just love this view and find the ever changing colours and patterns of the clouds a great inspiration. Having two rooms, means I can move around depending on the time of day – leave artworks to dry, whilst packing others.

Helen Wells
Helen Wells

Where do you seek inspiration?

Sometimes being an artist is like being a visual adventurer. I am always on the lookout for colours, patterns, tiny inspirations that I can collect, expand upon and use in my paintings. Sometimes these come through active searching, I might take a walk on the beach or in nature to actively seek-out some inspiration, looking at the details of plants and the shapes of the leaves, patterns on pebbles, or the way the water creates lines in the sand.

Tell us about the materials you use:

I love to mix art supplies and mix media. I like to experiment, explore and combine different art materials to create layers of interest and variety.

Watercolour paper

I mostly use watercolour gummed blocks. These are paper pads which are gummed on all four sides so that the paper remains taught and entirely wrinkle free. They tend to feature a little gap in the glue so that the painting can be sliced from the block with a pallet knife once completed. 

These types of pad allow me to use a large quantity of paint and water and for the paper to remain smooth and beautifully flat. They do not require pre stretching.  I use different types of paper finish depending on the type of painting. I will use 'hot pressed' paper when adding pen detail as the paper is super smooth and allows the pen or pencil to glide along, and I will use rough or cold pressed paper if I want the finished paintings surface to be textured. I mostly use Arches Aquarelle with is chlorine free and made of 100% cotton fibres for strength and stability. 

Helen Wells Expressive Sketchbooks

Sketchbook

I have used lots of different types of sketchbook over the years. I often have a small moleskine notebook in my pocket or bag. My favourite larger sketchbook though is a Fabriano Venezia, it has thick 200gsm paper which handles wet paint and ink really well. They come in a variety of sizes, I often use the 23cm x 30cm one.

Ink pens

I use black ink pens regularly in my work. I most frequently use a Rotring Isograph pen which has a metal nib and and a refillable ink reservoir. They come in different thicknesses and deliver a high definition and precise line which allows for fine detail work.  

WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN

I was born in London in 1975.