Using black pigment and rubbers on tracing paper, Bristol based artist Helen Jones creates tremendous original monochrome drawings of clouds. Like windows into other worlds, Helen transports herself and the viewer through her imagined cloud landscapes, evoking the sense of escapism and discovery that she feels when creating her work.
Having joined Smithson last year your work has been going down incredibly well and we are excited for what’s to come! We’d like to take this opportunity to delve a little deeper into your work... how long have you been drawing clouds for?
Since 2010! When I finished my drawing degree I was doing a lot of seascapes with the clouds behind, but I then realised that it’s the clouds I actually find really exciting. Living and working in Bristol means that I don’t spend much time by the sea, but the clouds are always there. Cloud forms are so spontaneous and reactive to the elements, making such a wide variety of marks and patterns; wisps, dashes, cross-hatching, swirls, spirals, puffs, columns, fish scales, never ending highways, mountainous ships, that they look as if they have been drawn by someone that has no idea what clouds look like. It’s a huge thrill to draw on all these possibilities when making my work.
That’s amazing that you’ve been doing it for 8 years and still now you’re developing your mark making. When did you discover the technique of applying pigment onto tracing paper and taking it away with rubbers?
As part of my Drawing and Applied Arts course at Bristol UWE, we did a workshop about colour. In this workshop we had to black out a page and then use rubbers to take away squares in the size of a colour. Using black to symbolise a colour was really confusing, but the workshop did allow me to discover the drawing technique I use today.
Your works are all monochromatic, why is this?
Most of our output during the course was in black and white, we were somehow discouraged from using colour and it has just stuck. I’m still anxious about using colour to this day, however I hope gain confidence and to include colour in my work in the future - my tomorrow is bright!
You have clearly become hugely practiced in your technique, your process seems incredibly fluid and natural...
Often I am wasting time because I am making marks and then getting rid of them, constantly building up and taking away to try and find something exciting. I am always looking for somewhere you can really journey into, like a little hole where you can imagine a new world might exist, somewhere you can dive in and swim around and come out the other side. I feel like my drawings are 3D sculpted in 2D. I like them to protrude from the flat of the wall and float out into space.
Have you done much scientific study on the clouds and their formations?
I'm not scientific, my mind is fanciful. I like facts but I forget them. For me it’s more about being transported away, it’s about going on a journey and taking the viewer on a journey. Letting people escape from this world into a world that I’ve created.
Like being a child and watching the clouds out of the car window...
If you feel trapped that is what you do, you look beyond and look for somewhere that you can take yourself. I’m dyslexic and spent my whole time at school being completely ignored by teachers because they just thought I was stupid and didn’t make any effort, so I would just sit at the back of the class and just look out the window. I would look across the fields and up at the clouds, the teacher’s voice just became distant noise, and I’d have escaped.
Do you hope that people will get that same feeling though looking at your work? Or having it in their homes?
Yes, it’s a bit like a portal off this planet into something else. When I was little I would look at clouds and imagine castles, and that you can walk around up there, so it’s definitely escapism for me.
Tell us about why you work on tracing paper?
During my degree we were really encouraged to look at surfaces and materials, and try drawing on different surfaces to see what it brought to our drawing. The tracing paper is essential for my process, you can’t get this effect on paper that has any grain on it.
What does working on a larger scale bring to your process and way of working
I like creating large scale work because it becomes an immersive experience. You can’t get away from it, your whole vision is taken up by the image and you become immersed in it. Artists like John Martin, Anselm Keifer and Pippilotti Rist work in this way. Their work is overwhelming, and creates an environment in which people can be in awe.
I want my work to use the force of nature to bowl the viewer over, make them dizzy, feel the overwhelming excitement, fear of the unknown, vastness, power and possibilities...
Which other artists inspire you?
I’m a complete art junky, I see loads of art in a huge breadth of styles. I love art to be playful, where you can see that people are experimenting and feel free of inhibition. I think that is really important, getting rid of inhibitions. The way we make art is the same as the way we might sing, or the poems we might write, or the dance we might do.
One of my favourite artists is David Hockney, because he creates lots of different work and is full of joy. I love that sometimes he’ll paint in a really slapdash and free way just because he’s enjoying himself and other times he will do really tight beautiful drawings that show his talent. He will also make films about other things such as ballet, because he wants to share his enjoyment for art and creativity, he wants to take people with him on his journey, he’s saying ‘look at this as well!’
Tell us about your other inspirations outside of art?
Music is something that is really important to me when I work. I listen to lots of different type of music, I love a wide variety from all eras. I grew up in Manchester listening to indie stuff like The Smiths, The Charlatans, Joy Division and The Cure. I'm open to experiencing all music, I love finding new bands and singers and love going to gigs at small venues in Bristol and festivals. I see a great connection between visual art and music - a tune and or lyrics can really transport you into the music and manipulate your mood. When I’m drawing, it’s like I’m dancing and I love that, in the past I have had complaints from artists in adjoining studios, so now I use headphones!