Meet a Maker - Helen Musslewhite

Meet a Maker - Helen Musslewhite

If you've been past our Manchester store, you will have noticed that our window is currently home to ten sets of little houses. These gorgeous paper sculptures have been made by Helen Musslewhite, who is a visual artist and in our opinion a paper wizard! Helen made the sculptures for her book Little Houses - A Counting Book which has been published by Laurence King and is available to buy in-store and online. We caught up with Helen to find out about her paper magic and a little bit about her book.

Can you tell us a bit about Little Houses A Counting Book? Little Houses basically indulges my love of miniature things and houses! A couple of years ago I was approached by publishers Laurence King about making a book based on my work. I’d long held a wish to make a children’s picture book so jumped at the chance! It took around 18 months to make – from the initial ideas to publication. Each piece of artwork took between 10 and 40 hours to make – there’s a lot of detail as the numbers get bigger. Then it all had to be photographed. It’s a long process but a very proud moment when I held an advance copy for the first time!

Little Houses features 10 different houses, which is your favourite? That’s hard to say, I spent so much time and care to make them that they are now like family to me! That said I do have soft spots for 8 Ndebele Houses and 10 Amsterdam.

Tell us about why you like working with paper? A blank sheet of paper has the potential to be anything you want it to be – that’s what I love about it. It an honest and humble material that has so much potential.

Your work combines paper cutting and folding to create detailed sculptures, when did you start using this technique? About 12 years ago I started working with a jewellery designer in her shop. We needed to make window displays that were cost-effective and from an easily available material. The first piece I made was a tracing paper angel for a Christmas window. Very quickly I realized it was a fantastic medium and I tried white paper for the next ones. Not long afterwards I moved to Manchester and decided to make illustrating with paper my full-time job- to my daily amazement I’m still doing it now!

Other than paper, what other materials and tools do you use in your work? Recently I’ve started to use coloured Perspex shapes, wooden veneers and shapes, and metal alongside the paper. I’ve also just started to dip into the world of Photoshop, Illustrator is next!

Where do you produce most your work? I work from a studio at home in South Manchester, sometimes I spread out a bit, into the rest of the house it depends on what I’m working on and how big the artwork is.

Where do you draw your ideas from? Everywhere! My most enduring inspiration comes from nature and the countryside. I live on the outskirts of Manchester and walk my dog every day between the leafy suburbs and farmland so notice the changing seasons. My first inspiration came from modern art and design discovered at art school and I do delve back even further sometimes!

What advice do you have for artists who are looking to working with paper? There are a lot of papercut artists practising now and I see a lot of similar styles. My advice is to look at other peoples work, be inspired by it and then forget about it – create your own style and way of working with paper! Also always use a sharp scalpel blade!

What are you working on at the moment? I’m about to start work on a couple of new books alongside more commercial illustration – I’ve just started working on a monthly illustration for a wine column in The Dish magazine from The Sunday Times.

Helen's Little Houses sculptures will be in our window until the end of February, you can see more of her work on her website

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Jo said:

Wow! What an amazing window display! Unfortunately I didn’t see this one but thanks for sharing on the website. Helen’s work is beautifully crafted and I really enjoyed reading about it. I always love to see your window displays and look forward to seeing future ones.