We speak to Helen about her work and her local Chesham background….there’s so much artistic talent here!
Helen tells us….I work as an artist, with two main areas of specialisation: firstly, I work as an illuminator and miniaturist. Illumination is the use of gold leaf (as it was used in medieval manuscripts), and I tend to work on a small scale with a lot of detail. This work is usually one-off framed pieces. I also have greetings cards made of some of these.
Secondly, I make ceramic tiles and coasters, and porcelain jewellery.
I am inspired by medieval design and by the natural world.
How long have you been in Chesham?
I have always lived in Chesham – I was born here and went to school in the town.
How did you decide to set up in Chesham?
Having grown up here, it was the obvious place to work as I already had some contacts, and it is handy for London, (for exhibitions, museums etc) while being far enough away to be surrounded by countryside.
What would surprise your customers to know about your work?
I work with traditional methods, materials and designs. The techniques of using gold leaf are the same as those used by the medieval artists who made the wonderful illuminated manuscripts many centuries ago. One of the substances that gold leaf adheres to is called gesso, and this has to be made, grinding the ingredients using a pestle and mortar for an hour, as it cannot be bought. Another traditional method of applying gold leaf is garlic juice!
I sometimes paint using egg tempera, which is raw pigment mixed with egg yolk.
People are often surprised by the fine detail in my work, especially when they look at my paintings with a magnifying glass. These days people expect ‘instant everything’, but my work cannot be hurried! All the original work is done by hand, and people often don’t realise just how time consuming it is.
My ceramic work begins with hand-carving a design on a block of plaster, which I then use as the mould to press the clay into, to make the coasters, tiles, and porcelain jewellery. These then have to dry, which takes about a week or so, before they are fired in the kiln at 1120 C. Coloured glazes are then applied and they are fired again. If there is gold detail to be added, they have a third firing.
I love medieval craftsmanship, and visit churches and cathedrals to take reference photos. The medieval craftsmen were often inspired by observing the natural world around them. They saw geometry as a reflection of the beauty of divine order in Creation, so their work frequently has a strong contemplative element, with the use of symbolism. The use of geometry brings harmony and beauty to a composition.
I often use geometry and symbolism in my work to express my Christian faith, and I feel very privileged to be able to do work that I enjoy so much!
What is the best thing about being based in Chesham?
One of the (many) things I like about Chesham is that almost wherever you are in the town, even in the High Street, you can see the green fields that surround us!
I am grateful that we have a convenient train service to London (although the best part of that is returning and seeing the beautiful Latimer valley!)
I also like the independent businesses and the coffee shops!
New developments for this month?
I am awaiting delivery of a bag (made of Fairtrade organic cotton) printed with one of my designs, which was inspired by the Heart of Yorkshire tracery in York Minster.
Where can your work be seen?
Most months I have a stall in Market Square in the Chesham Local Produce Market – that is on the fourth Saturday of the month. Check my website, below, but I should be there on July 27th, 24th August, 28th September, 26th October, 23rd November and 21st December.
Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/HelenWhiteDesign
Contact via website or etsy shop.