Behind the SketchbookHelen McLaughlin
In this interview we meet Helen McLaughlin. Helen has always been creative and was always encouraged by her parents and teachers. She talks about her transition from traditional media to now working completely digitally.
How did you get into art and making?
Just a lifelong thing that I’ve always done. It was what I was most encouraged in by my parents and teachers, and so I followed it into higher education with an Illustration degree back in 2002.
What art do you like to make?
These days I make digital art using various software and a graphics tablet. Previously I loved to paint traditionally and still sketch things out on paper when the need arises.
What materials do you use?
None at the moment, unless you count bits and bytes! When I used traditional media it was all sorts – acrylics, pencil, charcoal, oils, oil pastel, animation cells
How would you describe yourself?
Professionally qualified, but lapsed
What or who inspires and influences your work?
One of the first painters I studied in detail was Cezanne. During my uni days I found a love of Anime and animation in general as I was studying it, so my work from those days features a lot of line drawing and flat colour – quite a contrast which I’ve at times struggled to reconcile. The films of Studio Ghibli are great favourite with me and my nature painting definitely ends up emulating backgrounds from these movies.
How have you and your work changed over time?
I’ve gone from traditional media to digital painting almost completely. These days, I think even digitally, some of the brushwork is still informed by both the painty and animation styles mentioned above, especially now that I’m experimenting with a wider range of brushes. I worked as a graphic designer on websites for a while, and my work became quite formal and clean as a result, so currently I’m enjoying trying to loosen up again. As for me, I have gone through a lot of changes – previously always driven by wanting academic success, I’m now learning how to motivate myself all over again. I’ve realised that I need to produce work for me, not just others’ scrutiny, and come to rethink what kind of work I actually want to be doing.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
Self belief really says it all with me. I’ve never truly had any, so it’s no wonder I’ve struggled to keep up my art in the last 15 years! Since finishing my degree and losing the university environment (constant tutoring and feedback being available, fellow artists’ encouragement every day) I have had no idea how to get myself to work, or how to like anything I have been doing. My biggest fear when I sit down to do any work is that it will go wrong, and this usually means I’ll change my mind and play games instead, or something. This is all the more frustrating when I consider that switching to digital art means it’s easier than ever to produce artwork, and yet I still find barriers and reasons not to. It’s been depressing to say the least, but therapy has helped me start to improve. I encourage myself to do something most days now, even if it’s just a few tweaks to a piece I’ve spent weeks on.
What has been your biggest achievement/s so far? No matter how big or small?
There are good achievements like my degree and the odd bit of TV animation work, however the biggest one now feels like the difference between myself now and about 5 years ago – from doing nothing to doing something every day and feeling pleased with some of it.
How did it feel to experience this achievement?
This feels like the right direction, finally! I feel more hopeful for the future than I used to.
What difficulties, doubts or fears did you face and how did you overcome them?
The fear of messing up before I’ve even started a piece of work, of being bullied over my work if I do finally finish and show it, of never achieving what I want in my creative life, and the worry of being able to cope with pressure and keep it up, if I ever do achieve it. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, honestly! It’s helped to figure out just who I’m trying to be an artist for, what kind of work I really want to do, and remembering to encourage myself, not tell myself off. I’m my own worst critic and bully. If I’m honest, I haven’t overcome any of this yet, but I’m getting there slowly.
What or who has helped you in your journey?
My husband, my therapist, all the people who comment and encourage me when they see my work, and getting back to talking with fellow artists. This last one I think I need to do a lot more.
If someone could wave a magic wand and make amazing things happen for you, what would be your dream?
To wake up every day unafraid to do my work. Just happily getting on with my big project and making a success of it.