Helena is a Spanish illustrator and graphic designer based in London. Her mysterious and conceptual illustrations, often depicting characters in surreal situations, are rich in detail and color. Her work is inspired by art, literature, and cinema. She has published two illustrated books in France (Louna au Musée and Bonne Nuit Louna) and among her clients are publishing houses like Penguin Random House and Anaya and publications and newspapers like Il Corriere della Sera and BuzzFeed.
Hi Helena! Can you describe a typical day in your life as an illustrator?
I get up at around 9 to make the most out of the natural light during the day, which is the best light for me. The first thing I do when I get up is having a nice cup of green tea with fresh mint and some toast, as I can’t think or work with an empty stomach.
I check my emails first, and then plan my day ahead. I double check my deadlines, and prioritise the projects that will be delivered first. My tasks for the rest of the day could involve doing research for a new project, sketching, exploring colour palettes, painting the final illustrations, and or retouching the scanned paintings before they’re delivered.
After taking one-hour break for lunch, I get back to work. If I’m in the zone or have a tight deadline, I would work for long hours.
You decided to move to London five years ago, what made you relocate? How has it enriched your career as an illustrator and designer?
I wanted to live abroad after finishing university. I decided to move to London mainly because it’s one of the capitals of design and illustration, and also because of its rich visual culture. I wanted to start working as a graphic designer and knew that some of the best studios in the world were based here.
Living in a city with such a vibrant cultural scene, with plenty of events and amazing museums and exhibitions inspires me everyday. It’s been a very enriching experience for me, it has made me grow both personally and professionally.
“Sometimes I find inspiration in a book I’m reading, looking at someone in the tube, or looking at a painting in a museum.”
Nature seems to be a recurring theme in your work. What fascinates you about this subject? How is it significant to you?
Living in a very big city I really miss the beauty and quietness in a natural environment. I think that’s what made me look to nature for inspiration. Similarly, I started introducing vibrant colours to my colour palette to add some brightness to the grey days here in London hehe!
You’ve done illustrations for a few books. What is it like collaborating with authors and publishers?
I find the experience, or working with talented publishers and authors very enriching. Their guidance and vision allows me to maintain the personality of my illustrations, while making me face new challenges that make me improve.
What is the difference between the way you approach commissioned work and your personal art?
The only difference is that the process is much more free when I’m working on a personal project, like a series of illustrations for an exhibition, or a personal illustrated book. I usually skip the research step and start drawing straight away. Sometimes I find inspiration in a book I’m reading, looking at someone in the tube, or looking at a painting in a museum. I scribble and sketch these ideas very quickly on my notebook. Sometimes, it takes me months or even years to materialise these ideas, some other times it is much more immediate and I start working on the final illustration straight away. The process of working on a commissioned piece of work is much more methodical, given the fact that I have to follow the guidance of other people and meet deadlines.
You’ve been shortlisted for a few prizes this year. Could you tell us about them and what it means to be recognised as an emerging artist?
I think prizes are a good opportunity to get some exposure, and to get the illustrations in front of judges who are often the art directors and will commission work. It’s always nice and flattering to be shortlisted for a prize, and also encourages me to keep working hard.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your past self?
I think I discovered illustration very late, at the end of my university degree. I always loved drawing but I didn’t really know I could make a living out of it. I would’ve said to a younger me that I could’ve focused on it earlier on in my career.
What’s next for Helena Perez Garcia? Are you working on any new projects?
At the moment I’m working on new illustrations for four books that will be published next year in Spain and The States. I also have a new one scheduled for the beginning of next year. I’m particularly thrilled by one of these book projects, because it’s by one of my favourite authors. I’m also working on other smaller but equally exciting projects like commissioned paintings and editorial illustrations