I can safely say that Helen Green is one of the most talented people I’ve ever known. I discovered her art through our mutual love of Lady Gaga and the beautiful atheistic of her work made me a fan for life. I had a chat with Helen about her amazing career so far and what it is like to count some of her famous idols as fans of her work.
Hi Helen! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the type of art work you do.
Hey Ellie! I’m a Freelance illustrator based in Birmingham, UK. My work is a combination of my love for portraiture and music, fan-art I suppose!
The first time I came across one of your beautiful drawings was through Lady Gaga, she posted a drawing you did of her with Disney Princesses drawn on her body. Was that the first time your work had been publicly recognized by one of your muses/icons? What was that experience like?
There were a couple occasions leading up to that particular image Gaga shared -The first occasion was in February 2012 when Gaga shared two of my drawings one after the other. The first one she posted along with the message; “Monsters who made this? The fan art lately is INSANE. Im obsessed.” and following that, she shared the other with the message; “omg and this one!! who did it!??!?”.
(I just googled parts of the wording to look for those tweets again, and oh my gosh I still get butterflies when I read them.. weird what a couple of tweets can do!).
That moment meant a huge amount to me. There I was, happily drawing away, pretty much accepting that Gaga may never come across my work, yet enjoying it regardless. And then one evening she posted those two tweets. I hadn’t seen them until about two hours later (I had been offline, working on another Gaga drawing). I was freaking out! Not only did Gaga see the drawings, she was seeking out who made them! Such a bizarre feeling, especially when she eventually found me thanks to the amazing people who reached out to her with my Twitter name.
The other piece she shared was ‘Disney Gaga’ in mid 2012. That piece was my interpretation of Gaga as a Born This Way-themed Disney princess with her Born This Way fairytale castle in the background. Gaga shared it with the message:
“This is my favourite thing in life. just putting it out there, Disney can we make this happen?”.
Her reaction couldn’t be more perfect!! The image went viral. Articles were popping up; “Lady Gaga’s Disney ambition” and “’Princess’ Gaga Wants Own Disney Movie.”
It was very surreal seeing my work and my name appearing in articles online, and my local paper. It felt as if it was happening to someone else, not me. Because in real life, I couldn’t be more further than the centre of attention.
Going further back, when I drew models more than I drew musicians, I had my work shared by Allison Harvard, Charlotte Free and Audrey Kitching – three of my faves. It’s a wonderful complement and makes me so happy to know that they appreciated the drawings.
You became apart of Lady Gaga’s Haus collective and have done work her Born This Way Foundation. What other artists would you like to work with in the future?
I would love to work on something for Melanie Martinez again! I made a design for her merch a long while ago now. She’s such a talented singer and songwriter, and a joy to draw! My dream commissions would be for bands such as Muse and Sparks (or Franz Ferdinand Sparks), maybe Kasabian.. though I may not be the kind of illustrator for them, it doesn’t hurt to fantasise! To be honest I am excited to work with any artist/band that feels that my work connects with their image and their music. I’m looking forward for whatever new project comes my way.
Especially with Gaga!
Being a fan of music and being a self confessed Little Monster, have you experienced fans getting your work replicated in tattoo form?
Yes! Quite often I see people sharing pics of their tattoos. I love it! It’s such a huge complement when somebody likes my drawing enough to get it permanently inked. I have a lot of saved images scattered about of people’s tattoos that I ought to organise in one place.
What inspires your work and what tools do you use to create your pieces?
I collect images on Pinterest that could be useful for future drawings, a board full of “poses and hand positions” that I can refer to at a later stage. Inspiration usually starts from a music video, a promo photo, a candid photo, a ‘selfie’.
Then if need be, I then take a look at my collection of pose references for one that fits with my idea!
My tools of choice are watercolours, gouache, pencil and sometimes ball-point pen, and Photoshop.
Are you self-taught? Do you think people need to go to college or university to learn how to be a good artist?
I did study art in college and Foundation, and then went on to do Illustration at uni, but overall I am very much self-taught.
College definitely helped though, my Fine Art tutor was very keen on mentoring me, helping me to develop my painting skills and pushing me out of my comfort zone.
Uni helped me to recognise my strengths and encouraged me to experiment. So in my experience, a combination of the two has helped me to become a good artist. But I guess it all varies from person to person.
I do think that if I just relied on teaching myself, I would be in a very different place with my work.. I might not be as daring or explorative or critical, even. After leaving college and uni I feel like I’m continuing the job of my tutors; constantly analysing myself and my work, finding ways of improving, and telling myself off whenever my work gets too comfortable/repetitive!
What piece of work are you most proud of?
I would say the David Bowie GIF! It was a pretty experimental piece for me as I hadn’t previously made an animated portrait, other than ones with little hints of movement with blinking/wandering eyes. I was so happy with the end result, it pretty much lived up to what I had envisioned.
Following the overwhelming response the GIF had received online, I was contacted by David Bowie HQ asking me to write a few words about it for a post on the website and social media.. that was absolutely incredible, I felt extremely honoured to say the least. There’s a good chance that David Bowie might have seen the GIF too, though I don’t know how to feel about that! Does he like it? Does he hate it? Argh. I will never know.
There will be a Gaga GIF sometime. That’s a promise!
What advice do you have to aspiring artists who want to get their work out there?
Create work that excites you, stay active on social media and don’t let the number of “likes” affect your confidence and your opinion of your own work. Share works in progress too, because it’s always interesting to see drawings in their early stages!
Set up a professional-looking website that shows only the strongest pieces in your portfolio. Separate your portfolio into genres / categories for easier browsing if need be. And make sure there is an easy to get to contact page so whenever a potential art buyer checks out your page, they can get in touch with you about a new project or make an enquiry.
I’ve not done this yet, but promotional mail-outs (business cards and postcards) are a good way to reach out to art directors for potential commissions. I can’t delve into much detail about that as I haven’t yet tried it myself.
(Other bits of advice I gave in an interview with Lady Gaga A Go Go a while ago):
It can be difficult taking criticism, but in my experience I think that my greatest moments of improvement were in response to some form of criticism. Criticism should be taken as a hard-hitting kind of motivation, not a sign to give up.
Also it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the talent of other artists and illustrators, if like me you follow a lot of them on Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr. Don’t let other people’s work intimidate you or knock your confidence in your own work. Instead, let it motivate you to keep improving. After all, these artists have been in the same position. Hard work and self-belief are very important in order to get anywhere!
I love your Society 6 page, where you sell prints of your work on phone cases, t-shirts, tote bags, frame art work & more! You’re a well rounded entrepreneur already, where would you like to see Helen Green Illustrations be in ten years time?
Thank you! I would love to see my work in a clothing range for a fashion company such as H&M, for example. That would be pretty exciting! I’d love to continue working on projects for artists and bands, as well as expanding my online shop, adding wearable art.
I’d love to see my work on TV. I’ve actually been close to having my work appear in a documentary but the image they wanted was made exclusively for someone else (damn!). I’d love to be taking more editorial commissions, I love the challenge of working to a tight deadline, and the reward of seeing my work in print inside a well known publication.
Along as I’m still excited about what I do in ten years time then that’s all that matters! And if my work would be ten times better than it is now then that’d be fantastic too!