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Uprising: Fighting the Stigma Around Digital Art with Helena Elias



The ex-fashion designer turned NERD illustrator talks about the fantasy novel she’s writing, her passion for travel and digital art creation, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Uprising: Fighting the Stigma Around Digital Art with Helena Elias

Growing up in suburban Australia, Helena Elias prioritised artistic pursuits whenever she could, “Art was always my main hobby in any form I could find, but classical piano, sewing and reading were always staples in my life. I was frequently trying out new things, moving from one project to the next – from pottery to quilling to gem cutting.” Though her parents weren’t creatives themselves, they continually supported her in her ambitions to pursue creative endeavours. 

Helena’s creativity led her to study fashion design, a process that she describes as ‘very intense’, embarking on a two-year course at a TAFE college in Australia. Describing her experience, on reflection, as ‘a good indicator of what the next years working in the fashion industry would be like’, Helena’s experience wasn’t the creative dream that most of us expect. “It was a little lonely as everyone was so focused on their studies, and I wasn’t getting much sleep between that and work, so I was pretty happy when it was over.”

After finishing her studies, Helena spent the majority of her eight years as a fashion designer in Australia and a few of her final years in the UK. “I started off in a design assistant role, slowly working up to my last job heading up a design team as senior designer at a Manchester-based label, working on both apparel and print design.” Though she made strides in her design career, Helena sought the experience of transitioning into being an illustrator and full-time artist. However, working full time in fashion left her with very little opportunity to set aside moments to focus on her passion.

Helena decided to take a break from her career to travel and got back in touch with the childhood artistic flair she so long hoped to begin again. “I took six months off for a working holiday in Vietnam right before the pandemic, and I used it as an intensive six months of oil painting, drawing and learning digital art. Everything has just come from hours spent practising, observing other artists and experimentation.” It was this experience that assured what she wanted to do.
Just before the global pandemic hit, Helena had moved back to Australia where she was surrounded by ‘good creative friends’ in a house share who she says made ‘the lockdown experience an enjoyable one.’ Most importantly, this gave her the opportunity to re-evaluate and redirect her time to her illustrative pursuits. “While the lockdown itself in Sydney was short and things returned to the new-normal fairly quickly, the limitations on travel and closed borders have kept me grounded and in one place, with loads of time and restless energy to pour into art.”

Having the opportunity to swap careers, considering the circumstances, was a blessing in disguise for Helena, as she was able to transition into a full-time illustrator. “It took around six months through the start of the pandemic till I was earning enough money to support myself working full time as an artist. I don’t think I could have juggled trying to get it going while working full time in fashion, so if not for the lockdowns and financial assistance that came with them I’m not sure I ever would have been able to truly give it my best shot.” 

Helena’s friends and family were aware of her artistic ability and she did many ‘casual commission pieces for a while’ before landing an international commission for an author’s book launch. The experience was exciting, but Helena remembers her inexperience, “I remember grossly underquoting my price, and hours spent deliberating if the work was good enough to show the client.” Helena stresses the importance of having a mentor who leads you down the right path. “I had the wonderful luck to meet Billy from Billelis through a good friend, and he was instrumental in my early success through excellent advice and guidance.”

Even though she agonised over her first international commission, the exposure she received paid off as she attracted the attention of an Instagram influencer. It was this particular commission that changed things for Helena, “When they shared it to their page my follower count tripled overnight and I found myself booked out to three months in advance, and it’s been that way ever since.” Since then, Helena has learnt to plan her time well, ‘leaving flexibility’ in her calendar and now relishes ‘not being chained to a desk in one city.’ 

Amongst her commissions, Helena also endeavours in commercial projects through NERD and keeps on top of her craft by staying up to date with ‘trends both inside and outside of the arts.’ For Helena, being an artist is transformation - ‘always moving forward and improving’ and doing ‘what feels most creatively right’ - trusting instinct and creating the best possible work she can. “For professional projects, while I always want to nail the brief and make the client happy I also really find it really important to make sure it’s a great piece of art, and sometimes that means finding creative solutions to meet the brief AND create something that will look great.”

Helena is continually inspired by the new platforms that make art accessible on a global scale and make artists evolve the ways in which they showcase their talent. However, her experience with digital art has not been wholly positive. “The stigma around digital art not being as valid as traditional art often gets me riled up – I create art in both forms though these days mostly digital, and I find the dismissal of ‘Instagram art’ from the fine art community very frustrating.” Helena believes this is where the artistic community should be evolving and adapting to accept digital art as an accepted form of expression within the community. 

Aside from art and illustration, Helena is ‘a huge consumer of books’, citing her favourite authors as Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks and Robert Jordan. “I love the worlds that they create and emotive story writing that transports you to a different place.” Perhaps it’s this passion for novels that inspired her to write her very own fantasy novel. “I used to write short stories quite a lot when I was younger but it’s the first time in years that I’ve picked it back up again. I listen to hours upon hours of audiobooks while working, and after coming across a lull in books that I wanted to listen to, I realised I could spend time dreaming up a story of my own while drawing.”

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Genres: Illustration

NERD Productions, Thu, 21 Oct 2021 15:42:00 GMT