Helen Cann: I map places and themes that interest me, like the moon or the route of a bat flight

    Illustrator Helen Cann talks to DACS about maps as fine art, a typical day in the life and the joys of Payback.

    How did you first get in to illustration, and what about it made it something you wanted to pursue?

    I wanted to illustrate books since I was a child. I loved drawing and painting and just followed my passion.

    How did you transition from books to maps to fine artwork?

    I haven’t really transitioned as I have several practices working side-by-side and they often straddle each other. I continue to illustrate children’s books alongside creating maps and showing work in galleries.
    I started drawing maps in a quiet patch during the last recession and at the time I saw them as fine art. Initially, they were shown in galleries as original pieces. They were picked up by a publisher and I was commissioned to write and illustrate a book, Hand Drawn Maps – Thames and Hudson. So, in a way, the maps came full circle from fine art and back to illustration again.
    My drawings and paintings were also something personal that I did in my free time and occasionally exhibited. They too have found their way out of the gallery - I was most recently commissioned to create a set of drawings as props for the set of the recent BBC One production of Howard’s End.

    How would you describe your style and does it change across the different mediums you work with – books, maps and fine artwork?

    That’s a hard one. A general description would be that I always work by hand with minimal Photoshop help, if at all.
    My book illustrations are watercolour and collage. They’re decorative and slightly stylised. I have a large collection of papers from around the world that I use for the collage.
    My fine art maps are hand drawn and lettered, covered in notes and tiny drawings. I map places and themes that interest me like the moon or the route of a bat flight or a journey I took sailing across the North Atlantic documenting whales. Commissioned maps, however, are always created with the end use in mind so the look depends on the client’s brief.
    My drawings are usually figurative or portraiture and in pencil or biro. I enjoy the fluidity of Biro and that it’s so unforgiving. ‘Mistakes’ become part of the image and give it some soul.

    What would a typical day look like for you?

    I get up later rather than earlier, bus it to the studio and work as long as I have to. Coffee is imperative throughout the day alongside good conversation from my studio mates. I walk the couple of miles home in the evening most days.

    How has receiving royalties from Payback helped you with your practice?

    Royalties have always been a great little extra pot of cash each year that I haven’t had to work very hard for!

    Do you have any tips or advice for first time Payback claimants?

    Do it. It’s almost like free money! And put the closing date in your diary so you send the form off in time.

    You also completed a Publication History Claim, something DACS introduced for the first time in 2017. How did you find filling out the additional form? Was it worth it?

    The form took some time and I spent a few days googling myself to collect various ISBN numbers. It was definitely worth it though. The time I spent completing the history was more than compensated by the money I was paid - a massive jump on previous years.

    Why is DACS important to artists?

    DACS has been standing up for and fighting for the rights of visual artists for years. They collect and distribute royalties for artists through Payback and through Copyright Licensing and the Artist's Resale Right. I can’t think of another body that works so consistently on behalf of artists in both the fine art and illustration professions together.

    What advice would you give to those starting out in their career?

    Keep doing it. There will be ups and downs throughout your career but don’t give up. Drink good coffee. Join DACS.

    Find out more about Helen Cann
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    Image: We Dream of Blue Whales © Helen Cann, 2015.

    Posted on 15/12/2017 by Laura Ward-Ure