Entrepreneur Friday – Helen Dearnley
This week’s Entrepreneur Friday is with Helen Dearnley. Helen is a fine artist and illustrator based in Lincoln. So grab a cuppa, sit back and take 5 minutes to read her Entrepreneur Friday.
Entrepreneur Friday – Helen Dearnley
Tell us a bit about your business
I’m a Fine Artist and Illustrator (BA hons). I create illustrations for print and products that are available to buy direct or from my Redbubble shop. I take commissions for book illustrations, greetings cards, editorial illustrations and music industry merchandise, and I’m currently working on my first graphic novel, entitled “Cloudbusting”.
What inspired you to start it?
I was inspired to become an artist mainly due to A-ha’s iconic Take On Me video.
A teacher at school showcased my first ever Mothers Day card illustration of a daffodil as the best in class.
I became a single parent in 2001, and having no replies from any job applications, it was through buying all the beautifully illustrated books for the boys that an interest in illustration developed. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter encouraged my decision to continue my studies at University (Hogwarts!) with a joint honours degree in Fine Art and Illustration, to develop my practice in both disciplines, and as I graduated in 2008 when the recession hit, after two degree shows and exhibiting illustration work at New Designers, my career was launched by participation in Anthony Gormley’s One And Other The Fourth Plinth Project in London.
What is your career background?
During my degree, I was fortunate enough to work with Magne Furuholmen of Norwegian band A-ha, for a collaborative art installation in which I made dolls for an exhibition in Kristiansand, Norway. My degree show installation included an independent comic based on A-ha’s iconic video, so my multidisciplinary practice stretches from digital installations, an interest in animation, theories of Jean Baudrillard, and the writings of Philip K Dick.
Along with Magne, I’ve worked with many other artists, and had work exhibited in Lincoln, Nottingham, Italy, Berlin, Brighton, London and St. Louis. I’ve exhibited alongside artists such as Jon Burgerman, Julian Opie and Bill Drummond.
I’ve travelled a lot to Oslo, I love Norway! So I have a strong interest in Norwegian illustration, including graphic novel illustrator Hariton Pushwagner, Svein Nyhus and Steffen Kverneland, along with Magne’s work, which includes collaborative work with supergroup Apparatjik.
What is your vision for your business?
I’m hoping to gain commissions for murals in business premises or private commissions and I’m currently working on my first graphic novel, Cloudbusting, which is set in Lincoln during the 2012 Floods. It documents my own experiences as a single parent seeking work in very challenging circumstances, and is inspired by a dream I had after going to sleep reading Eric Drooker’s “Flood”, and Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting video.
So far, over one hundred pages have been illustrated, so it’s just over halfway through. I’m thinking of setting up a Patreon page for people to support the creative process and receive exclusive updates. When it’s finished, I will seek a publisher, or self publish it.
You’ve balanced being a successful business woman with raising a family. Any advice for other women?
My current exhibited work is drawn from my experiences as a Carer for my eldest son, who was diagnosed with depression a few years ago. “Portrait Of Ian Duncan Smith With Bandaged Nose” (after Van Gogh) was painted after a successful appeal for ESA, and when Ian Duncan Smith resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary earlier this year. This work is exhibited in “A Journey” exhibition at the Institute Of Mental Health in Nottingham until September.
When life spins you a curve ball, take some time out to deal with any pressing issues, then return to carry on – this painting is a totally new direction for me – I’m not ordinarily a painter! And I’m not normally much of a political activist, but too many people are affected by cuts to mental health funding and welfare that it felt important. And it was selected for exhibition after a long period of unproductivity. You can have a break for days, weeks, even half a year, but remember your time is incredibly valuable, so make the most of it and turn it into an advantage.
How do you maintain a good work/life/family balance?
Make sure you set your work hours, which for me are usually when the kids are at school / college, and then give yourself plenty of time off, especially in the holidays, set your Out Of Office. Look at those without children that brag about being up at 3.00a.m. working with a look of haughty derision!
As I work from home illustrating by myself in my studio all day, I like to get outside on my bike as much as possible, especially when procrastination sets in. The summer holidays are a blessing and a curse. I need to be creative, so if I don’t do some work I go a bit mad! So I allow time off, but also do small projects that aren’t a huge commitment, do small bits of self promotion, and work on developing proposals for the autumn.
What was your light bulb moment? When did you realise you wanted to be an entrepreneur/business owner?
There’s a story about A-ha only ever having one light bulb for their flat in London, which they would have to take from room to room, and it was their iconic Take On Me video that inspired me to become an artist when I was ten, so working with Magne Furuholmen as an artist in the early days of Myspace (remember that?!) was inspiring, and later meeting Morten Harket to illustrate the encounter will always be the pride of my portfolio.
For me it’s a lack of other options, adapting to my unique circumstances, and wanting to be able to work around my role as a single parent whilst realizing all these ambitious art proposals and producing high quality illustrations for clients.
I originally wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, but my practice went in the direction of comics and graphic novels. Cloudbusting was inspired by a dream after going to sleep reading Eric Drooker’s Flood, and Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting video, the idea of the government destroying research alludes to my inability to undertake a Masters degree. It is my unofficial MA.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
That even artists as successful as Jeremy Deller have had proposals rejected.
Joining groups such as Stop Working For Free is great for releasing frustration at all those “feel free” requests, and campaigning for Universal Basic Income, along with a-n’s #payingartists campaign, and learning how to set a price for the work and not allow others to try and diminish the value of quality creative content – ignoring bad clients to concentrate on producing high quality illustrations for the good ones.
My portfolio has continued to evolve and grow, experimenting with different styles.
What has surprised you about owning your own business?
That anyone thinks that artists and illustrators should work for free! No one expects doctors, electricians, hairdressers, or anyone in any other profession to work for free, but for some reason, because we do what we love, and love what we do, we often get asked to contribute for nothing. That I may as well have Article 27 of the Human Rights Act projected onto the Houses Of Parliament.
Who and what inspires you?
Music, cycling, the Richard Linklater film Waking Life, Pushwagner, Van Gogh, Jean Baudrillard, Philip K Dick, Borges. A-ha – this year I went to see them perform live in Oslo, where images from the Take On Me video were displayed on stage, and I was invited to visit Magne’s new sculpture park at Fornubuporten before it was officially opened by the Queen of Norway. The Nobel Peace Centre – Malala Yousafa and Yoko Ono for Imagine Peace Tower. Magne’s “Climax Card Game” for the Nobel Peace Centre in 2007 is my favourite work of his, along with Norwegian Wood, where I first met Magne and his best friend Guy Berryman, who said I know more about art than he does ☺. Women artists such as Sophie Calle, Candice Breitz, Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin, of course, who challenge societal norms through their work. Other artists I like are Jeremy Deller, Matt Stokes, Damian Hirst and Jim’ll Paint It, but what inspires me most are existential experiences and an innate drive to seek beauty and truth within a contrary world.
Do you have a daily routine or rituals you do?
Get a good night’s sleep and write down any dreams – dreams inspire my work!
I always make sure I have proper breakfast at a table that has no work stuff, and I always get all the housework and food shopping done at the weekend, so it doesn’t interfere with work.
What obstacles have you had along the way?
Rejections, especially Arts Council funding applications, bureaucracy, avoiding the minefield of exploitative “opportunities”. “The pram in the hallway” or lack of opportunities for artists that are mothers, especially residencies. See Marina Abramovic.
Companies wasting my time – Orange mobile phone missold a business contract back in 2012 with a third party company that went bust, leaving myself and other creative entrepreneurs with ridiculously high mobile bills – I illustrated this scenario, complete with a giant Orange Jabba The Hutt, and a mobile phone magazine published it online without paying for it – they eventually paid up – when life gave me Orange, I made sure Orange paid!!
What is one thing you wish you’d known when you first started?
Why new fine art graduates are not having work invested in, and how to apply for arts council funding.
How many people think that they can do what I do with an app for free – without understanding that illustration and fine art takes years of training and talent.
Tell us your favourite tools that make your life easier (apps, websites, software etc)
I obviously rely on Photoshop for editing hand drawn illustrations for web and print, editing the pages for Cloudbusting for size and page order, along with all my own social media content, which is all my own original content.
I work on a 20” iMac running on El Capitan, and I have an iphone for taking primary resource photo references for illustrations, which is now newer than my old bridge camera, but I have a sketchbook, not an ipad, for drawing. Most of my illustrations are hand illustrated and inked or painted, then scanned in.
I’m also experienced in After Effects for animation, although animation is too time consuming to produce at the moment, and wish I had Rotoshop. I have downloaded Studio Ghibli’s animation software, but have yet to try it out!
Redbubble is currently great for selling a wide range of prints and products featuring my illustrations, and as the customer pays for the product, there are no upfront costs – uploading work is free, and I receive a percentage for sales for my work, not some other retail company.
Tsu is the only social media that actively pays creators for our own content, unlike Instagram, Facebook, Flickr or Pinterest that try to make a profit from our content, or attempt to undermine our IP.
Facebook has provided a source of opportunities, useful for networking, but try to claim the rights for content, which is why I never upload original work direct to Facebook or Twitter, it is linked from my blogs – I have two separate blogs for fine art and illustration. If you follow me on twitter, you can keep up to date with all my ongoing projects.
What is your favourite quote?
“The imaginary was the alibi of the real, in a world dominated by the reality principle. And, paradoxically, it is the real that has become our true utopia – but a utopia that is no longer in the realm of the possible, that can only be dreamt of as one would dream of a lost object.” – Jean Baudrillard.
About Helen: I’m Helen Dearnley, and I’m a fine artist and illustrator based in Lincoln. I’m also a single parent of 2 boys, and a Carer for my eldest son.
The blackbird is the artist’s signature, representing the realm between waking life and The Land Of Motionless Childhood, which is near Pinchbeck.
My multidisciplinary practice is a heterogeneous conflation of influences as diverse as the comic book world of A-ha, the writings of Jean Baudrillard, Philip K Dick, Jorge Luis Borges, Gaston Bachelard, music, dolls, film, architecture, along with theological and philosophical discourse following from a research specialism into how animation and illustration are used to explore the realm between reality and the imaginary.
Through my work with Magne Furuholmen, I have visited Oslo to see the original illustrations from the Take On Me video in the National Library of Norway, and the Nobel Peace Centre, and am currently working on an international Peace Painting Project with Norwegian artists, along with my ongoing graphic novel, entitled Cloudbusting.
I currently have work exhibited at the IMH in Nottingham until September.
I’m available for new commissions, and my work is available to purchase via my Redbubble shop.
Facebook: Helen Dearnley Illustration
Fine Art blog http://helend-blackbird.blogspot.co.uk
Illustration blog: http://helendearnleyillustration.blogspot.co.uk
Thank you for sharing your story Helen.
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