Textile designer and illustrator Helen Bullock laughs a lot, wears colourful clothes and wears her pink-ish blonde hair in a messy top-knot. Her personal style and personailty are the perfect refelction of her work – vibrant illustrations of runway and street-style looks, portraits, sketches, prints, and textiles.
Whether it’s designing scarves for Louis Vuitton, shop windows for Liberty, prints for Phoebe English and Isa Arfen or illustrating runway looks for Garage Magazine, Helen is aware of the industry without being completely in love with it.
Helen in her London Fields studio
Q: How did you start illustrating and printmaking?
A: I did a BA at Central Saint Martins in fashion print, and we were lucky enough to have quite a lot of fashion illustration courses with an amazing guy called Neil Gilks. He really allowed me and the whole class to be a lot freer with our expression, so illustration was just something that I then carried on doing. Then when I did my Masters, also in textiles, I was exhibiting at Vauxhall Fashion Scout and I just asked them “Can I be your in-house illustrator?” Then I later approached a few magazines.
Q: Do you feel you’re more of a textiles designer or an illustrator?
A: I don’t know, I like to think that they both merge into each other. I try to keep the same spirit within the textiles and the illustration, doing it as a big overlap. As soon as I go towards one, I miss the other… I just want everything (laughs). I’m just greedy!
Q: Illustration or art?
A: I don’t think there needs to be any definition between the two.The way a lot of illustrators that I admire work, it feels as at home in a gallery as it does in the pages of a magazine. I think I’m more of an art based illustrator than commercial, definitely.
The textile collaboration with Phoebe English
Q: On the commercial side, you do tote bags! How did you approach the idea of using your illustrations and textiles on bags?
A: I just realized after speaking to friends or mentor-type people that it’s good to have a product. Because, I’ve made dresses before, but they’re for a specific market. The bags sell, you don’t need to worry about sizing, I’m really bad at sewing, bad at pattern cutting (laughs). So it was an obvious product.
Q: Historically, illustration was used to document fashion in place of photography, yet now it’s become an added expression. Essentially, how do you see fashion illustration today?
A: I see fashion illustration as a luxury element. I think it provides the cherry on top. When you have an illustration, it’s like BAM, it’s a bit different. It’s just a nice little treat!
Helen's window display at Liberty
Q You do illustrations of runway for publications like AnOther, The Profile Magazine, GQ Style and Showstudio; how do you choose which looks you illustrate?
A: That’s what takes up the most time, sometimes. Going through all the shows… Well, sometimes the client will have a specific look, which is kind of nice, because it’s a challenge, and maybe I would never have gone for that, so then you have to make something from it. But when I’m choosing it, sometimes it’s the face, sometimes everything is so bland, pretty or nice so I want something angular or a bit awkward. That will be something that I look at. I want some volume or a weird, odd face or definitely some kind of print or pattern. Something you can get your teeth into.
Q: Who are the textile designers and illustrators you admire?
A: Illustrator-wise, there’s such an enormous list, now. Five years ago, there was Julie Verhoeven and David Downton, who are amazing but now I love Richard Haines, Jill Button, Kelly Beeman, my good friend John Booth, my good friend Neil Gilks. You’re just spoilt for choice with illustrators out there. And old school like René Gruau or Antonio Lopez. If I’m doing a new project, I will always look at Jessica Stockholder, Robert Motherwell, Johann Hauser… There’s just a lot to feed off.
Runway illustrations for The Profile Magazine
Q: With social media and fashion illustration – do you see it as a good thing or bad?
A: It’s really difficult to pin that one down. Because I love Instagram, it’s my main social media. For some people it is a job, but it’s not my job, but it can give this false sense of achievement. There’s no litmus test, anybody can be an illustrator. But it’s nice to be able to reach a different audience and I definitely feel like I know these people that I follow on Instagram, like other illustrators that I mentioned. It does bring everything closer, so I couldn’t live without it, but equally, I’m like, “Oh, I’ve only got 100 likes,” you know? Another thing is - social media becomes a problem when it starts being sold as a currency and exposure becomes a replacement for money.
Q: So, what’s next for you, Helen?
A: Oh there’s so much. Probably my favourite thing is a commission from a friend, who has a vintage Jaguar who’s commissioning me to decorate it. It’s inspired by the dazzle ships, so we’re going to use the stickers you put on windows, so I’m just going to hack at it and have this kind of jaggedy collage situation. And then he will have it for a few months and we will change it up! There are a few other things but I can’t talk about it, but you’ll hear about it soon…
Find more of Helen Bullock's work on her website helenbullock.com.
Interview by Dino Bonacic