ARTIST OF THE WEEK: SANDY VAN HELDENJuly 24, 2017
Dutch illustrator Sandy van Helden tell us about her art and inspirations while she shares ten of her favourite pieces. She explains how she considers her art as her primary medium of communication and aims at sending powerful messages and positivity through her illustrations, to the rest of the world.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue illustration as a career?
I realized I wanted to be an illustrator at a very young age. When I was about four years old, adults started asking me; ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. My only answer was ‘tekenares,’ –the Dutch word for draughtswoman. Back then, I didn’t know that it had a fancier name, but I definitely knew that this was what I wanted to become. Every morning I woke up early and sneaked downstairs to the living room; there, on the coffee table, I drew endlessly.
Did you attend an art school or University? If so, how was that experience for you?
Yes, I went to the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. It was a great experience for me, especially the first two years. It felt refreshing to be around like-minded people. I grew up near Leiden, a typical Dutch student city and I had a hard time finding people there that were also interested in art and design. Therefore, it felt extra special to be surrounded by inspiring students at art school.
What is the art scene in Amsterdam like? Has it inspired your work at all?
I have the feeling that the art scene in Amsterdam is quite small, especially the illustration scene. We have excellent museums with interesting exhibitions such as the Stedelijk Museum or FOAM. However, these institutions mostly focus on established photographers or artists and not so much on contemporary designers.
How did you decide upon and refine your style?
I’ve never deliberately decided upon a style; it grew organically. Nevertheless, over the years I did make some conscious decisions about what I want my work to represent. For instance, I decided that it was important to me that my work represented a diverse group of people; male, female and everything in between. That’s why I aim to portray different body types, different kind of hairstyles, and diverse skin colors in my illustrations.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given, about art or otherwise?
Do what you love, that’s the only way it becomes worth all the hard work and sleepless nights.
What motivates you?
I always had a distinct urge to create, this is still what drives me the most. That, and MON€Y.
Can you describe your creative process?
Every commissioned project starts with me reading the briefing. I write down the most important aspects and think of ways of how I can communicate this in an image. In the meantime, I try to keep in mind who my client is and who’s the targeted audience. At this point, the illustration takes shape in my head. I make small thumbnail sketches and search for different kind of reference materials; like models in various poses, symbols, surroundings, etc. With all these elements combined, I create the first draft. I send this over to the clients, and after approval, I finalise the illustration.
Where do you most commonly find inspiration?
I find this a difficult question to answer, inspiration is such an abstract matter. It does not only exist in the things that I find interesting, but it also has to do with my background, my environment, etc. However, my work usually focuses on aspects of contemporary culture. I like to use illustration as my main medium because it allows me to tell stories that capture the current Zeitgeist.
What has been your proudest career moment?
My proudest career moment until now was seeing my illustrations on gigantic billboards in the railway station of Stockholm.
Can you tell our readers about any future illustrations you are working on?
I’ve been working on a fun project with the Dutch branch of the World Wildlife Fund. Inspired by my iMessage Sticky Sandy stickers we made witty icons that help children navigate through their new website.
See more of Sandy’s work here.
Follow Sandy’s most recent work on Instagram.