Little Houses by Helen Musselwhite and published by Laurence King Publishing brings counting to life through the magical and colourful world of paper cut houses. Journey to lots of different little houses as you learn to spot and count from one to ten, (well, as your child learns to count from one to ten)!
Helen’s beautiful paper craft, which has been commissioned for projects worldwide, from the National Theatre London, to Stella McCarthy store windows, creates a magical world in which to count and learn. She also takes part in the upcoming documentary, Made You Look. Which we are screening this October in The Lighthouse cinema. Helen will also be one of our special guests that night along with Andrew Rae and director Anthony Peters.
We took the time to sit down with Helen and get to know her and her work more. Helen studied Graphics and Illustration in Swindon School of Art. She started making paper sculptures about ten years ago for her friend’s jewellery shop in Oxford. Helen then started making pieces for a local shop and from there started selling her wares through Etsy. A blog soon followed and a website and commercial jobs after that. Helen joined the agency Handsome Frank, 5 years ago. She calls herself a paper sculpture illustrator and has ‘maker of nice things’ on her business card.
This is your first picture book, how did it come about? What was the process involved in designing the book?
Around 2 years ago I was approached by LK about any ideas I might have re books for children based on my paper cuts. This was a dream come true as the thing I’d always wanted to do was illustrate a book! Little houses were already a bit of an obsession and had been a regular image in my work and quite popular so I proposed a counting book around them.
The process started with concept sketches and I made a mock up of the artwork for no 1 (crofters cottage) and drew up all the pages before embarking on the actual artworks. Everything had to be photographed (by Wilma) and retouched (not too much though!) The whole project took about 18moths.
What’s the appeal of working by hand?
I like the physicality of working by hand – starting with basic materials and transforming them into something beautiful (hopefully!). Also I never have got round to using a computer to make illustrations so had to use another means. I suspect if I relied only on working digitally my work wouldn’t be anything much at all.
Are you hoping to produce more books of the same nature? What’s on the horizon?
I would love to make more books, both fiction and non fiction- I have some ideas brewing! At the moment I’m working with the BBC Philharmonic making illustrations for promotional uses based on their 2015/16 season and then I’ll be immersed in a large Christmas commission. I plan to take some time off from commercial projects in the New Year to work on new book ideas.
You feature in the Documentary ‘Made You Look’ which explores the landscape of the commercial arts in the 21st centenary? And you’re coming to Ireland for the special screening on the 20th Oct. What does working by hand bring to the relationship between your work and its audience.
Making work by hand directly and intimately links me to each piece of work, each cut of paper. It takes quite a long time to make my work and more often than not it’s a labour of love – the phrase “blood, sweat and tears” often sums up the making process (working with a scalpel has its perils!). I’d like people to look at my artwork, especially Little Houses and think “I’d like to jump into it” to see what’s in the houses, what’s behind and to the sides – it’s a glimpse into another, happy and carefree world.
I have tasked myself to make each artwork as beautiful and well made as I possibly can. I’d like the viewers of my work to see this, it’s a craft first – commerciality comes second. I do realize that without commerciality though I wouldn’t be doing this job. I’ve been very lucky so far that I can do what I love for a living.
Helen’s book is beautifully crafted and considered. The attention to detail for each of her sculptures shows the care and love she gives to each of her pieces. Her first book is a testament to her craft and skill and my three and five year old nephews agree.
Tickets for Made You Look are on sale now here.
Little Houses can be bought through Laurence King here.
Words & Images by Tess Purcell
Video clip from Made You Look