Grace Helmer on Creating Tender Illustrations, Freelancing, and What to Look for in an Agency
Originally from Brighton, Grace first became interested in illustration while visiting graduates at university. However, it wasn’t until studying her Art Foundation course that she discovered the path of illustration and began to consider pursuing it seriously.
“I also had no idea what an illustrator was, really,” she told Creative Boom. “My dad wasn’t so keen on me taking up illustration because he said I would always ‘work for the man’, probably the opposite of what many parents say! He has since agreed that it wasn’t a bad choice.”
One look at Grace’s stunning work will confirm that she made the right choice. While studying a BA in Illustration at Camberwell, she became part of a team of people who would go on to create a collective called Day Job Studio after graduation.
“It really helped me when I started because I didn’t feel so alone,” she explains. “Illustration can be quite lonely after all. We’ve worked on many group projects together and often helped each other find jobs. paid illustration. I worked a lot of full-time jobs. Then slowly (over several years) the work started coming in and I was able to make the leap to full-time freelance.
Despite this success, however, it’s hard for Grace to feel like she “made it”. “I usually focus on the job, then the next thing to do, and freelance work can be so hard I never thought anything would last!”
Although this is a common concern among freelancers, we think Grace is modest. You won’t be working with Apple, The New Yorker and Penguin Random House if you don’t have something a little special going on, after all. Part of Grace’s appeal is surely her beautiful use of color, which has been honed through practice, research and experimentation with the materials she uses.
“I paint mostly with oil paints, and the colors are so vivid and stay vivid even when dry,” she reveals. “It’s so exciting to walk into an art supply store and pick out new colors to try. Also, when I started incorporating more digital working methods into my practice, it really influenced the colors – on an iPad I can try out a lot of different palettes pretty quickly. Then it’s fun trying to recreate those colors with paint. Then sometimes as I’m mixing the colors new shades appear that work better than I had expected.
Grace is known for her traditionally painterly style. However, she says her work improved a lot when she started drawing digitally. “But I think doing the essentials by hand helps me relax and restore some spontaneity,” she adds. “There are a lot of things you can’t control with paint, and I’m obviously not the first to say that sometimes accidents are the best times.
When it comes to her working method, Grace typically begins a memoir with research, taking lots of scribbled notes and blurring the vignettes. From there the best ideas are worked out on the iPad and depending on the work she will also add rough color ideas at this stage.
“After a few back and forths with a client, I finalize the composition digitally, then hand-draw and paint it (the most fun). The paintings are then scanned, lightly edited in Photoshop, and then onto the iPad where I use Procreate to add extra details and finishing touches.”
Another key part of his work is being part of the Brilliant Artists agency. This agency, created by Hannah Shilland, specializes in the training and development of established and emerging creative talents. Grace first became involved with the agency in the summer of 2020 when Hannah contacted her and asked if she would like to be a part of it. “Of course, I said yes! It’s great to have someone else to help me find work, negotiate contracts, bother clients, and be there when I have random questions about things! »
For illustrators considering going down a similar path and joining an agency, Grace says, “It’s important to have an agent who can understand you and your work, and get along with you!” If you have trouble communicating with each other, how do they successfully represent you to others? »
Wise words indeed. So what can we expect from the creation of Grace? “I’m thrilled to be getting into a private commission for someone – this is the biggest painting I’ve done in a while, and I can’t wait to spend some more time on a big picture without any digital retouching.
“I love the variety of illustration work – if I’m tired of a certain project, it doesn’t matter because the next thing could be completely different, so I’m always excited to start the next thing. “