QL: It’s the greatest joy that I bring you my chat with incredible artist Helen Dealtry. When Elizabeth and I chatted about the amazing books she curated for the spring, I knew Helen would be the perfect artist to create a breathtaking piece for quarterlane. She’s renowned for her stunning watercolor floral paintings. We’ve printed her incredible art in limited edition to be included in all spring boxes. Read on, to learn about Helen’s inspirations and to get a glimpse into her home and beautiful work. Photos by Christine Han.
Hi Helen, thank you for talking with us. We’re so honored to have you as our spring artist. Who better than you to represent spring? Your floral designs are known throughout the world. Tell us about your interest and passion for floral painting?
HD: My pleasure, thank you for having me! I hope everyone enjoys the spring artwork; it’s my favorite time of the year to paint
I put a lot of my passion for florals down to the exposure to them that I had as a child. The women in my early life all took great pride in their English gardens. I learned a lot about color, form, and texture just by being surrounded by blooms and vegetation. But it wasn’t until later in my life that I found I understood how to translate all that into a painted image.QL: Did you study art in school? How far back in your life does a love of painting go? Did you have art books in your home as a child? What are some books and stories you loved growing up?
HD: Thankfully, art was a big part of my life at school, and I was lucky to have great teachers who pushed me in the field. I studied fashion and textile design at Winchester School of Art on the south coast of England. Winchester is such a beautiful old town, with gorgeous early English architecture bisected by rivers and surrounded by fields.
I’ve always painted or doodled or drawn on surfaces for as long as I can remember. My first memories are of drawing on chalkboards, then mixing powder paints and drawing with pastels. If there were a clean surface, I’d make a mark on it. It was later that I discovered that inks and I made the perfect match.
My Grandfather Jim was an artist, not by trade, but he drew the most beautiful scenic settings and birds. Every birthday or Christmas I’d receive a book on birds from him. Once my parents recognized I liked art, we’d scout charity shops for ‘how-to’ books. I found books on everything from learner charcoal drawing to oils (which I’m still dying to master!).
Favorite books as a child were hands down these three: The Secret Garden, The Witches and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I like a dark, atmospheric tale.
QL: You initially came to the US to work for a textile design studio. How did you decide to go off on your own? Did you read any business or entrepreneurial books before you did?
HD: I did and working in a studio was the best training I could have had. I worked my way up from trainee designer to creative director. There were a few factors involved in why I decided to go solo. I’d been designing anonymously for nine years under the studio, and I just felt the timing was right to try putting my name on the artwork I was painting. I wanted to collaborate directly with designers and create art with more of a narrative. Running a business is the most challenging part…I have been learning as I go. I took part in a business program at FIT last summer, and that was great, but that side of the work doesn’t come naturally to me!! It’s always a struggle to keep up with business reading in the midst of looking for inspiration and managing the creative end of things, but I learned a lot from Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
QL: Your work exudes your passion for the visual. I imagine you have a collection of art and design books. Can you tell us some of your favorites? What other genres do you enjoy?
HD: I do have quite a few, but I’d love to acquire more. I tend to work from life the most. When I do find books or magazines they are usually from second-hand stores–it’s the first thing I look for when I’m exploring a new town. I love books on sculpture and anything from the 40’s and 50’s that has hand painted imagery. A few inspiring art books I own are Textiles: The Art of Mankind by Mary Shoeser, Cy Twombly by Jonas Storsve and Brancusi et l’idee de sculpture.
QL: As an artist, sometimes I find it hard to slow down and take time for myself to rest and read. Do you carve out space and time for reading or looking through books? What are some go-to books or genres if you do.
HD: Resting more and reading more have been on my new year’s resolutions for many years, ha! I read in the bath. That’s my relaxation time until the water is too cold… then I carry on in bed before I go to sleep, which is almost always immediately! We are part-time upstaters these days, and the train ride up the Hudson has provided me my new reading nook! The slower pace of upstate seems more conducive to reading time, I’m less distracted there, and I’m enjoying that. I so enjoy the escapism of fiction. Some of my favorites are My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Gold Finch by Donna Tart and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Alternatively, I love to books on cooking and food.
QL: Tell us about the piece you created for our spring boxes? I’d also love to know your working process? Are you a big planner or do you just paint again and again until the result looks effortless?
HD: It’s really a bit of both. I can’t make something look effortless unless I have planned ahead of time. Layout, palette, and direction are all considered ahead of time when I’m working on a job. The marks I make are 85% intention, 10% forced random gesture and 5% last minute elements that pull the piece together. And of course a whole lot of practice!
For the spring boxes, I wanted to paint something colorful and fun and hopeful. I think we all need a bit of that right now. There’s nothing more beautiful to me than a fresh sea of crocus and daffodils after the gray of winter, add to that a good book and a cuppa tea, and I’m a happy lady!