An interview with illustrator Helen Lang

I've known Helen for about a year now, having met her when a friend (who works with her Mum!) sent me one of her cards and suggested I interviewed her for my blog - I also ended up including her work in my book. She's a fabulous lady and I love her work, so I wanted to share it with you here... What’s the most important thing to know about you?

I'm a bit of a perfectionist…

Helen Lang artwork

Describe a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Helen Lang.

A really good day is an early walk with Desmond the border terrier and coming back to a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie. Getting an email confirming a new order for work or a sale of a limited edition (or confirmation of a payment from a client) cheers me along nicely. It’s also wonderful to have people react and respond to my work… so an email saying how someone had received a gift of my work and investigated my site and my work further is superb.

Successful completion of an artwork or a project is a great feeling and being proud of the work is just a superb feeling too. Seeing new screen prints all dried and ready to go out to galleries and shops is fabulous too.

A bad day is when things seem to be going quiet and it means tackling the emails and putting on my marketing and promotional hat! Work has maybe slowed down and I need to get things out to people to show them what's new and why they need to work with me! A really bad day is perhaps when nothing flows and the floor is covered with ideas gone bad and nothing seems to be jelling. A really really bad day could be when an artwork is nearly completed but a last minute mistake throws everything up in the air. Nearly everything I do is generated by hand… so mistakes are not allowed!

Helen Lang artwork

What inspires your ideas?

Work and artwork inspiration can come from absolutely anywhere! I get inspired by lettering on old packaging, graffiti, music flyers, interior and music magazines, adverts etc; inspiration really comes from everywhere. Work ethics and business inspiration come from illustrators and product designers such as Rob Ryan, Ella Doran, Orla Kiely, Emma Bridgewater and Cath Kidston. Their abilities as artists and designers to promote and engage people in their work... so much so that they are now household names. I find that REALLY inspiring.

Inspiring conversations with my friends Matt Karsenti (Soulem Productions) and Helen Edwards of East End Prints are always good for getting a positive direction and a refreshing point of view on where work can go. These two friends have the same focused and hardworking attitude in running their businesses as I do and it's interesting to hear how their self employment is going.

Helen Lang artwork for John Lewis

Describe the process you go though to turn your ideas into products.

A design is generated through initial pencil, pen sketches and a variety of workings out.

When I feel happy with a design I compose it and complete the work in watercolour, gouache and pencil. My tools are pens, fine paint brushes and a very, very steady hand! When turning the designs into products I usually work with third-party manufacturers' templates - for example on mugs and tea towels etc - and there are a variety of different sign-off stages to getting the product generated.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?

Network, be prolific, keep at it, get industry experience if you can, competitive shop so you know what is happening in the market and generally be very nice to people... and use twitter!

Which three items could you not live without?

Corkscrew/bottleopener.

The Apple Mac

Glasses (unfortunately, my eyesight is appalling… quite possibly due to the invention of the first item??!)

Helen Lang artwork

What are you most proud of?

Making freelancing work - 2011 was my first year of being completely financially dependent on my artwork and illustration skills.

Despite economic doom and gloom in the news, last year was an excellent one. I worked with John Lewis and Wild & Wolf on exclusive product ranges, had my work stocked by the Tate Britain and over ten other UK galleries. I got to work with fabulous clients such as Burger King and Boden and had a limited edition screen print commissioned by Pedlars (who also held a pop up shop in Selfridges)... so fingers crossed that things are just as good this year!

What’s next for you?

I'm exhibiting at Pulse in June (eeeeek!) to showcase new products. Please come and say hi. I'll be at LP28 in the Launchpad section.

I'm completing my second pop-up book for Templar and hopefully John Lewis will extend the range of accessories in their exclusive product range.

Getting a bigger studio space is also a priority for 2012. Although my working space is pretty tidy, I've got larger volumes of screen prints and stock and I can't wait to get beautiful storage so it all looks amazing! Things have expanded rapidly at the end of last year and home is starting a look a little like a 1950s warehouse so it's a must to get things organised there!

Helen Lang artwork

And, finally, what’s your favourite colour?!

Bengal Rose. Its just so beautifully clean and bright a colour. It looks amazing oozing out of a tube.