Meet Helena Perez Garcia, a prolific Spanish-born, London-residing illustrator who's worked with clients such as Penguin Random House, BBC Proms, Buzzfeed, and more. Recently, she's published two new books in Spain: an illustrated adaption of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and La Isla de Los Libros Andantes, written by Vicente Muñoz Puelles. She's also published a new book in the US, How The Finch Got His Colors, written by Annemarie Guertin. Read below to learn more about her process and interests!
Hey Helena! What is your workspace like? What creates the perfect space for your practice?
My workplace at the moment is a small corner in the living room. My desk is in front of the window, and I really enjoy working with lots of natural light. I also love how quiet the neighborhood is. My flat is located in a residential area, so there's no traffic. I enjoy the silence when I really need to focus on a very delicate task, but I also love putting on some rock music in the morning to feel energized.
I'm happy with my workspace at the moment, but I'd love to have a bigger studio; a whole room of my own. Lately I'm having a lot of trouble with storage, as I work with traditional media (gouache on paper) and big formats like A2 and A1. I've been struggling to find a place for all my Illustrations. At the moment they're in folders everywhere: under the sofa, on chairs, etc. My ideal future studio will have a big cabinet with a set of drawers where I can put all my completed work. I also like my studio to be tidy, as I can't work comfortably in a mess. Inspiration is very important for me too, which is why I have a shelf with lots of art books.
What is your usual process when approaching a piece?
I start by doing some research: looking for information about the topic, images that might inspire postures and compositions, etc. I then start working on the sketches. I usually do two, three or even four sketches until I'm happy with the result, and then I start working on the final piece. When I work on a commissioned project, I always make sure that the client is also happy with the sketch before moving on to the final Illustration.
You cite literature and cinema as being 2 of the driving forces behind your work - what films or pieces of literature have affected you the most? What do you look for in these mediums?
Regarding cinema, I admire the work by Jean Cocteau. I watched 'La belle et la bête' at the BFI in London a few years ago and I was struck by its inventiveness, beauty, and surrealism. I've been a big admirer of his work since then. I also love the work of [Jean-Luc] Godard and how he cleverly uses composition and colour within his films.
As for literature, I've always been inspired by writers like Albert Camus, Virginia Woolf or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, just to name a few. I've created some illustrations inspired by 'The Myth of Sysyphus', by [Albert] Camus, a piece that really made me think. 'The Waves' by Woolfe also struck me a lot, and inspired lots of sketches that are waiting to become illustrations.
When did you discover your love for the surreal? What draws you to this dreamlike imagery?
I've been intrigued by the work of Surreal painters like Dali since I was a teenager. But then I discovered the work of Magritte and was blown away. I really like when reality and fiction are blended and you can no longer tell the difference between one or another. I'm also very interested in philosophical ideas of how perception is subjective, questioning if what we perceive is actually real or just constructed by our imagination.
You’ve worked on quite a few books in the past, is there a specific genre that you get especially excited about working within? Is there any genre or type of story that you find particularly difficult to translate into an image, and how do you work through that?
I enjoy illustrating all genres. I like the challenge of adapting my style depending on the book; a story for children, a classic tale, a fantasy, a ghost story… I haven't illustrated a science fiction novel yet and I'm looking forward to doing so. I think it will be a challenge that will help my work evolve.
I think poems are maybe not the hardest kind of text to translate into an image, but the trickiest. When I illustrate a poem I try to create poetic illustrations that reference the text in a subtle way, but also give it a new meaning.
Nature and plant life plays a large role in your work, but you also seem drawn to classical architecture and the atmosphere of quaint towns. Are there any specific locales you find especially inspiring?
I love the landscape of the English countryside. I'm from the south of Spain, and the vegetation is not as abundant as it is in other parts of Spain. So when I moved to the UK, I was struck by the intense green of the rolling hills and the beautiful vegetation in English villages. Regarding architecture, I really like the beautiful Tudor houses that you can find in many English villages, but I also love classic Italian architecture, with its large windows and bright colours.
Can you tell us about your piece in Arboretum, Vase?
This piece is part of a series of illustrations that explore the idea of identity and the self. I like to include plants and flowers in my work, as to me they represent a connection with nature that we shouldn't lose.
Are there any dream projects you’d like to work on, in the near future or beyond?
I'd love to illustrate the works of my favourite writers. I've just published a dream project; the novel Orlando written by Woolf and illustrated by myself, but I'd absolutely love to illustrate every single book she wrote. I'd also love to work on a mural, something on a larger scale, which is something I haven't done yet.