Artist Helma Speksnijder – known to many on Instagram as @Helmium – specialises in illustrations that evoke similar comfort to big warm hugs or evenings spent under a cosy blanket.
To get to know more about the artist behind these homely drawings, we invited Helma to tell us more about her life and blossoming career.
On her background, hitting rock bottom and turning things around:
I graduated from art academy in my twenties and became and a high school art teacher. I obviously drew a lot when helping my pupils, but I quit drawing for myself during this period. After ten years of working as a teacher, I then became a manager. Two years after that switch, I became ill and hit rock bottom.
I was hospitalised for ten weeks because of a very severe depression. In the last few weeks I was in hospital, the medicines kicked in and things were getting brighter. With the little energy I had, I started to draw and posted the work on Instagram for my family to see.
Looking back at that period in my life, I am so grateful that I started to draw on Instagram. It felt like I was breathing again. I am someone who needs a bigger goal in life, to have something to work towards. To have a reason to wake up in the morning. Drawing and posting on Instagram each day became my goal and purpose. I did that for two years straight.
On rediscovering confidence and advice for others:
It took me some time to re-learn some things like proportion and composition, how to draw faces my way etc. I felt insecure at times about my drawings, but I kept in mind that one or two years from now I would be glad that I started at that time and place.
My advice for everyone who wants to draw would be: just start, somewhere, anywhere. In two years time, you’ll be glad you did! Looking back at my work, I have to laugh about some drawings and how silly they look. But, at the same time, they are precious to me because they brought me to where I am now. That is the reason why I have kept them on my IG account (oh no… please don’t look!).
On the power of Instagram:
In my first year on Instagram, I got involved in a lot of challenges – #the100dayproject, #IFdrawaweek and #inktober. I loved getting cues about what to draw, and I got to know a lot of other IG friends. Posting in these hashtags made my following grow organically. I would really recommend joining some challenges when you want to start drawing. You get to know new people and get a lot of inspiration by looking at other work.
I love Instagram. It is a great way to show your work to a worldwide audience and the creative community is really supportive. In my first year, I took part in two exhibitions in Madrid and Athens. I did some great commissions, learnt how to make patterns digitally and was promoted on big sites like Picame. That would have never been possible without Instagram.
On finding balance in her work:
Drawing each day really helped me rediscover my style and my way of working, but it also helped me find my subjects.
I used humour a lot in my earlier drawings, but I would get a lot more comments on the occasions that I drew about more personal subjects. People recognised themselves in my drawings and posts. At some point, I realised I was doing the same thing that I do in my ‘real life’: I hide behind my humour. People liked my humour, but I was able to form real connections with people when I allowed my work to be more personal.
That’s how humour slowly left my work, although I do sometimes revert back to it.
On the themes of her work:
My work follows the subjects I am thinking about. Attachment, parenting and connecting are big themes in my work.
‘Connecting’ is the word I think will cover it all. Being able to connect with yourself, others and your surroundings. Loving yourself, showing your love to others, loving and enjoying the little things in life. Like warm blankets, nice cups of coffee and tea, pillows and books. ‘The world’ is so cold and a hard place today. People can be so hard on each other, excluding people that are different to them. I want to offer the people that see my work a warmer, nicer world. I hope my world warms their hearts.
On her process:
When I start drawing I just want my lines to be packed with emotion. I like to use as few lines as I can for this purpose. I always start by sketching with pencil. Sometimes I draw by memory, it really helps that I have drawn so much these years. Sometimes I use photos or take photos myself. They help me get the postures right.
After sketching and altering, I draw the black lines. This part is very important to me. They have to be just right. The next part differs from time to time. Sometimes I scan my drawings and colour them digitally, sometimes I use markers or gouache. After colouring by hand, I digitise and tweak my drawing.
On opening a shop and adapting:
After two years of drawing and posting daily, I got a lot of questions about buying prints of my work. So an Etsy shop on 15 March, 2018. Two years earlier, I left the hospital on that same day. I wanted a positive association with that day.
Having a shop is a whole new adventure. I had to learn a lot of new things: how to list products, how to tag them, how to make them found and how to make prints. Also how to serve the market while staying true to yourself.
I always drew in black, white, grey and red. I would occasionally use other colours. On Instagram, my followers liked my colours and my drawings were very recognisable. But I found people don’t buy pieces with a lot of red in them. It doesn’t match their interiors.
So, what do you do then? Stay true to yourself or make adaptions so you can market your work better? 2018 was a journey in finding new colours, while at the same time staying true to myself. I experimented with watercolours (hard to combine with linework because of the paper) and now I am drawing partly by hand, partly digital. I have found new colours that accompany my all time favourite – red.
On evolving styles:
I am more content with my colours now than ever before. I often found the black, white, red and grey colours were a little ‘hard’ and pronounced, whereas my subjects were more ‘soft’. I think it’s more in sync now. I love to see my work and style evolving over the years. I would hate to do the same things over and over again.
I think that when you draw and draw and draw your style just finds a way to surface. So, even when its evolving, it is still clear that its a piece by me.
On the future:
Looking to the future, I would love to work for magazines or illustrate a book. I have found my creativity blossoms when I get some guidelines and restrictions for my work.
I also want to up my Instagram game. I am not a frequent user of Instagram stories. Having my face up there feels a little intimidating. At the same time, I know how important it is for people to see and get to know the face behind the brand. So I’m hoping to find a way that suits me. I think I just have to start.