Today being Sunday, I thought I’d post this interview with Helen Lang, one of the artists who sells work through Elphicks in Columbia Road. If you haven’t already been, or if you’re visiting London and looking for a gift or memento to take home, then this is a great place to find something unusual – she sells a range of her own and other artists’ illustrations, prints and artwork.
The flower market is on Sundays from 8am to 3pm, but many of the small independent shops are open at other times, too – Saturdays are a good day to visit as it’s much quieter.
Helen Lang, who has recently started selling her work there, talked to me:
When did you start drawing?
I know its sounds like a bit of a cliche but I have always drawn. Family photo albums are full of shots of me on a floor covered with paper, hundreds of pencils and a rainbow set of felt pens scattered about. My Dad was a litho printer and the summer holidays were filled with going to work with him and getting to draw on all the misprints. When i went to my mum’s work I would draw for all the girls in the office and I think if you go back to the canteen and open the cupboard there’s still a drawing I did of a flamingo for the tea lady.
How would you describe your style?
Wonderfully sophistaticated and beautifully quirky?! I’m not really sure how you would describe it as a style but my illustrations are very intricate and crisp, but essentially happy and colourful. My work has developed over the last two years and has become a lot more decorative and I’ve loved exploring the typographical possibilities in my artwork. Some imagery has a very romantic lilt with other work simply being created to celebrate fun and colour. Floral elements and natural forms are also very important in my work and the ability to incorporate lettering is key to my style.
I see that you’re originally from Devon… do you live in East London now, and if so, what are your top five places?
Yes, I have to confess I’m a janner from Devon! and although I don’t live in East London currently (I live in Tooting Broadway) I do love exploring the East End. My favourite places include Bistrotheque for its unique and hilarious nights (Lipsynchers and Bearlesque especially !!) I also love Spitalfields market which, although getting slightly touristy and very cleanly organised, is still a fabulous place to see an eclectic mix of fashion, design and interiors. I love the bagel shops at the end of Brick Lane and adore queuing late at night for two salt beef (no mustard please) bagels. Columbia Road market has also been a big love of mine and it’s wonderful to have my work selling in Elphicks. I can pop over to stock up with all kinds of brooms, lavenders, pansies and herbs for a tenner and then have a chat with Sharon who runs the gallery. It’s a wonderful environment.
Do you find living in London gives you more ideas/energy for your drawings?
Living in London doesn’t necessarily give you more ideas but it does have a wonderful sense of creativity and creative networks. I do feel that there is a passionate art scene in London and the East End really showcases this passion. I’m a member of the East End Arts Club run by the fabulous Helen Edwards and her briefs for shows give me a lot of flexibility and scope to generate fresh new work. I’m really excited by her shows and the gallery spaces she is able to exhibit in are superb too.
There is a real sense that anything goes in London and the market places and galleries are so much more open to seeing new artists work and ideas. I love the exhibitions and gatherings that allow people to network and collaborate and I think that’s where I get a lot of energy from.
Any tips for aspirants about making a career as an artist/illustrator?It looks like you’ve found a good balance of creative and commercial work….
It’s all about a good balance. You can be a hugely talented artist but if you don’t have the ability to make your work accessible to buyers then you’re stuffed. Promoting your work successfully and with a clear understanding of the marketplace you will be selling your work in is key. Pricing is also a big factor and being sensible with your attitude towards selling your work is key. One thing I have learnt is never undersell yourself but do be aware of what the competition is offering.