Helen Musselwhite: paper maker

For this month’s issue of CR, illustrator Helen Musselwhite created a charming wildlife scene using nothing but a selection of different paper stocks…

For this month’s issue of CR, illustrator Helen Musselwhite created a charming wildlife scene using nothing but a selection of the latest coloured, metallic and translucent papers. Here on the blog we thought we’d show the process of her making it and post some other images of her work…

A sketch plan of the piece in this month’s issue

CREATIVE REVIEW: Where and when did you go to college – and what course did you do – illustration?
: I went to college in the late 80s in, ahem, Swindon (don’t really like to tell to many people that, not because of the art school I stress, that was great and I met two of my very best friends there, it’s just it’s not like saying “Oh I went to St Martins” is it?!). I studied OND and HND graphics but veered towards illustration most of the time.

CR: Where is your studio / where are you based?
HM: I live in south Manchester and work from home.

CR: Do you take on many commercial commissions – or do you see yourself more as an artist than an illustrator?
HM: I suppose I’m more of an artist at the moment as a lot of my work is private commissions and I take part in quite a few gallery exhibitions. I would love to do more commercial illustration work, a book cover would be nice!

CR: How did you get into working with paper the way you do?
HM: I think I got into working with paper because I thought it would be quicker than painting (not true) and I also love the rich, flat and continuous colours of paper. I’m also very keen on watercolour paper, I like the different textures and brown paper and card for its utilitarianism. I really like that you can score, fold, curl and photocopy onto paper. I use a lot of pattern that I get from my collection of 60s and 70s pillowcase and duvet covers.

Japanese patterned fabric is good to use too. I like the idea of building layers, to create a scene that the viewer could jump into, another world that’s a bit like a fairytale or a children’s story – everything’s nice and everyone’s happy.

CR: Looking at images of your work (rather than at the artworks themselves), it’s tricky to know the scale you work at – tell us about the size of image you tend to create…
HM: I make most of my work to fit into any box frame that I can find to buy, I used to buy a tiny frame (until it was discontinued a few weeks ago) that was only 115mm square x 45mm deep. I’ve made pieces up to 800mm x 600mm and all sizes between.

CR: Undergrowth, woods and birds… Tell us about your choice of subject matter and what inspires you
HM: My choice of subject matter is inspired by things I see everyday walking my dog. I live in semi-suburbia, really close to the countryside. I really notice the changing of the seasons and am enamored by the beauty and complexity of Mother Nature. I really like leaves, the shape, colour, and uniformity, I like the shapes of trees and branches, the colour combinations that occur naturally and I like the character and natural engineering of birds, oh and I love owls! There’s nothing I like more than to be walking down the lane and being greeted by a Friesian cow looking over the hedge.

CR: Your images are a bit like stage sets – have you ever been asked to design a set for a theatre or film production? Stepping up to a larger scale – and perhaps working with materials like wood and metals – is that something you’d fancy doing ever?
HM: I would love to work on a much larger scale; I think it would be a natural progression as I said before I want viewers of my work to want to jump in – so with a film or theatre set you really could do that.

Metals, wood and plastic would all be great to work with, thinking about it a large sculpture would be fantastic to do… a life-size tree with owls and birds, I’d love to get my teeth stuck into a commission like that.

CR: What else makes you tick? What are your favourite biscuits and what’s on your stereo this week!?
HM: What else makes me tick? Lets see… the vastness and immediacy of the internet, buying a new book, listening to music, the scent of roses, sweet chilli crisps and rosé wine. And my dog when he sits at the top of the stairs with a stolen shoe in his mouth…

On my stereo this week: three tunes I’ve downloaded that will get heavy rotation then I’ll probably go back to Radio 4 until I find some more tunes I just can’t live without!

Misery Business – Paramore (my song of choice when playing Guitar Hero – I’m not very good but love it especially the end bit, only play it when we go to a friend’s house, if we bought a Wii I’d get no work done at all). Jump in the Pool by Friendly Fires, and In For The Kill (Skream’s Lets Get Ravey remix) by La Roux.

My biscuit of choice is McVites plain chocolate digestive.

Here are some more of Helen Musselwhite’s creations…

To see more of Musselwhite’s work visit her site at helenmusselwhite.com.


Milton Keynes