2022 Paper Artist: Helen Musselwhite

Getting to know Helen Musselwhite, The James Cropper Wainwright Prize Paper Artist 2022

The James Cropper Wainwright Prize is delighted to introduce its paper artist for 2022: Helen Musselwhite.

Helen is a creator of enchanting paper artistry, forging flora and fauna creations with beguiling craftiness. There is a humbleness to the way she crafts out of this one raw, natural and modest material; it is a pastoral resourcefulness, an offering back to nature. Creating inherently shares a link to nature – to things grown and made.

We were lucky enough to meet Helen at our shortlists shoot and managed to grab her for a quick-fire interview which we are thrilled to share with you all. We were ecstatic to meet the person behind the stunning artwork!

Helen writes:

“As you’ll gather from my work, a lot of inspiration comes from the British countryside. The beauty of it never ceases to amaze me and, happily, I’m well placed to observe it.”

– How did you come to work with paper?

I started working with paper after I made a large tracing paper angel for a Christmas shop window display about 20 years ago. I loved the way I could score, fold, curl and layer the paper to give depth and dimension. After tracing paper, I worked just with white paper.

After a while, I started to add colour, subtle at first then full on! I also like to use tones of a single colour which is one of the reasons this was such a great project to work on. The paper I used, from James Cropper, was a joy to work with. Lovely saturated colours and tones and great to manipulate.

– How long does a typical project take? Can you describe the process?

It’s so hard to say how long a project takes from start to finish, I never count the hours! I have deadlines to meet so there is a specific amount of time, but how many hours within that time is hard to quantify, so let’s just say a lot, my process is time-consuming…

– Do you think your current environment, as well as the environment in which you grew up influenced your work?

My process starts with research, I use the internet, books and sometimes my own phone photos. I also make a lot of notes. Next, I sketch and take part in colour studies. These are sometimes followed by a layered mock-up made from photocopies of the sketch.

Once the idea is approved, I move on to making the final artwork. It’s then photographed and cleaned up to remove dust and traces of glue before digital file delivery. Although the artwork is delivered digitally, it also physically exists. As I answer these questions I’m sharing my (small) studio with, amongst other things, a metre-tall whiskey bottle, a large tin of sardines, some big biscuits, an oversized scalpel and lots of finished pieces of artwork and bits from old projects. I get attached to some pieces!

I’ve lived most of my life in or very close to the countryside, I think you can tell from a lot of my work, and specifically, my self-initiated work. The natural world – especially the UK and Northern Europe – is where I feel at home and inspired. The history of the English countryside is also very interesting to me. Generations of my Dad’s family lived and worked on the land: farm labourers, shepherds and thatchers, so I think it’s in my blood!

– What has been your favourite part of this particular project?

I’m not exaggerating when I say everything about this project has been a joy. Obviously, the subject matter appeals but also having the freedom to express my love of the natural world and literature written in and about it made for a dream job!

– Do your other interests influence your work? For example, if you were to read a book you loved, would this help with the creative process?

I often listen to audiobooks while I’m working and get inspired by what I’m hearing. I find myself conjuring up ideas and artwork in my mind as a response, there’s a lot of rewinding so I can make notes for personal work when I have time.

Another wonderful thing about this project was listening to audio versions of some of the nominated books, especially ones read by the authors, while I worked on it. I felt totally immersed in the artwork and feel that each of the pieces I made have extra poignancy and connection because of this.

– What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was A Month in the Country by J.L Carr, the last one I listened to was The Instant by Amy Liptrot.

– And lastly, do you get many papercuts?!

Yes I do get paper cuts, very painful and an occupational hazard! I also often accidentally get scalpel cuts, I have an extensive supply of plasters and skin closures and have become quite good at one-handed first aid!

Explore the James Cropper Wainwright Prize 2022 shortlists here.

Make sure you head over to her website www.helenmusselwhite.com and check out her social media:
Instagram: @helenmusselwhite