I first came across the incredible wire designs by Helaina Sharpley at my first Contemporary Craft Fair at Bovey Tracey, Devon, 3 years ago now. I was drawn into her detailed wirework world and the old-world warming feel.
Helaina started her journey studying a BA in Design Crafts at Hereford College of Art and Design. Tea became an obsession there and she particularly loved the elegance of Edwardian Architecture. It was here, where her love of tea and the Edwardian way of life connected, this became the main feature in her work. She began working with wire when her college teacher asked her to create something 3D in wire and since, she has developed her process and now exhibits and does commissioned work throughout the UK and internationally.
I was delighted when Helaina answered some of my questions despite her busy making life. I wanted to know all about her studio life, her inspiration and plans for the future.
“I start my day with 2 cups of tea of course! I also try and make a list of things to do for the week/day, so I have a plan! I have a studio at The West Yorkshire Print Workshop. It’s a converted Victorian school building and I’m lucky enough to have a large, light and airy studio near the gallery space. There are also 11 studios and open access printmaking facilities for the members to use 7 days a week. It’s a great resource and artists’ community in a beautiful semi rural setting”.
“I wouldn’t describe setting up my business as difficult. It has been hard work, but enjoyable hard work – striving to become a full time wirework artist (which I have been for about 9 years). The first time I did the British Craft Trade Fair (in 2007) was a great confidence boost. I had graduated the year before and had work in a couple of galleries, but BCTF introduced me to lots of buyers from galleries and shops. I took orders, and won two awards, which made me believe that I should definitely continue making!”
“I try to not compare myself to others and remember I’m doing this for me – as long as I’m doing what I want, it doesn’t matter whether someone else is seemingly more successful or having a better time being an artist/maker!”
“I suppose I do look like ‘a creative.’ I wear colourful clothes (the opposite to my work!) And my house is rather full (I’m a bit of a hoarder) of tea pots, tea cups, cake stands, books. I think it’s very hard to separate yourself from your work, as essentially I am my wirework – I only make things I like (Victorian and Edwardian architecture, tea cups etc.) And I suppose, for example, my work influences the books I buy, but the books I buy inspire my work.”
“I have a lot of books, that I like to flick through when I need inspiration. I like everything related to the Victorian and Edwardian era – the posters, fonts, architecture, dress, etiquette. Once I’ve found an image, I do a drawing or two – change the perspective, create a composition, then this drawing is a template for the wirework.”
“Having a studio definitely disciplines me, as in I leave and go to work at least 5 days a week (most weeks.) I don’t think I’d have continued for so long if I’d been working from home, as I’m so easily distracted! I also just want to do the best I can, and every time I achieve something (for example, being accepted to an art fair or getting a new good gallery) it makes me want to achieve the next goal.”
“In the past few months I’ve been using my spare (sunny) time to make my garden more bee friendly! It’s not a very big (or tidy) garden, but it now has a lot of flowers and quite a lot of bees! I also like to bake when I’m in the mood (or I find it helps to lift my mood.) I own a tandem bicycle with my partner, so every now and again we go for a cycle (with a planned tea and cake stop obviously!)”
“In 10 years, I’d like to be making larger scale commissioned work, for private and public settings. I’d love to make a full cityscape!”
“My advice for new startups and students is to find a support network (whether that’s a studio setting, or local creative networking events, or through twitter etc.) Having people to share problems and successes has helped me get through tricky times and has given me confidence to do new things too.”