Vans x JD: Meet Hel Covell, Illustrator and Ceramic Maker…

This spring, Vans and JD caught up with three mega-talented creatives, who are featured in the latest campaign. Chopping it up and getting their perspective on what it takes to be a full-time creative, these candid accounts will give you some inspo and help you out if you’re looking to turn your creativity into a career, or simply want to be inspired into getting back to what you love doing!

Here’s what Hel Covell — an illustrator and ceramic maker with a unique, playful style — had to say on battling creative blocks, her creative method and finding her feet as a full-time illustrator in a new city, along with her advice for aspiring creatives who are just starting out in the game.

So Hel, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got started?

I didn’t know what illustration really was until the end of my foundation year in Leeds. I had worked through the course playing with different mediums to really find out what I wanted to do, but It wasn’t until the final year of uni — which I decided to take over in Edinburgh — that I started taking it quite seriously, and discovered what my unique style was.

And where does that unique style come from?

The playfulness, colour and focus on character design comes from gaming when I was younger. I’ve been reading a lot of comics and artists books — and probably will be even more with what’s going on! Doing more narrative work and reading in general has just been so helpful to my work (especially in creating this graphic novel).

What’s your favourite creative medium to work with?

I usually work with pencil and pen and then scan in and work it digitally. I’ve also gotten back into using acrylics, which I haven’t done since I was MUCH younger. I had really bad artist’s block when I first moved to London, and I had to jolt myself into making work. I wanted to make some looser work (more energetic and free) without having to think about it so much. Unlike on the computer/iPad, with acrylics, there’s no editing your work, and not being able to change it is refreshing. If it’s on the paper and it’s got an ugly face, it’s got an ugly face. You could discover something really nice, something you wouldn’t have if you had space to change.

What challenges you? How do you overcome creative blocks?

When I’m in a real block, I find the best thing is to take time away from social media by logging out for a while. You’d think socials would help, but when there’s a lot of outside influence it’s really easy to compare your work, which I think can be counterproductive (especially if you’re already doubting yourself). What’s helpful is to take a step back and find inspiration in books, games, and getting outside. I like to get my sketchbook and put ideas down, which will eventually lead back to something.

How do you stay motivated?

What I’ve really been trying to do is being a little kinder to myself. I got into a little funk before when I moved down, and I would get exhausted when I’ve only just started. So I had to cut myself a little bit of slack- sleeping properly, eating properly, taking breaks. This is why structure is so important, so that you can take time off at the weekend and go and find that inspiration outside of your practice. I’m not saying I’m doing it perfectly right now, but that’s where I aim to be and that’s what I’m working towards.

You’re passionate about mental health, can you tell us more about your journey with it?

I think it’s really important to keep the conversation going and talk about MH as much as possible. I’ve had my own negative experiences with mental health in the past. It’s a lot better for me now, personally, but it’s something I have to work on every day and I think it might become even harder for people right now, being isolated and being stuck inside. One thing I’m trying to do is not to look at the news too much — it can definitely be really overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Also limiting my time on social media, getting up and moving when I can, and trying to build a structure at home (and stick with it!).

What are your future goals?

If you’d have asked me a year ago, it would have just been being able to do something I love (which is illustrating) and being able to sustain myself enough to live away from home. I feel like I just got there and I’m so pleased about it, so much so, to a degree, that I haven’t really thought about what my next goal is! I’m just kind of living it and hoping to keep it going. Just being able to do my passion for a living (being my own boss) this is kind of the dream for me. It might not seem very big, but in my head, it’s a big goal to carry this on. Other than that, I did always want to work with a cool shoe company (lol), so that’s been ticked off! I’m working on a graphic novel and a game, so finishing that will be huge too.

Who is one creative we should all be following?

@ailsarr Ailsa Johnson! I’ve known her since foundation year — she’s always, always, always inspired me. Sophisticated colours, textures and compositions; brilliant characters; and the best work ethic I’ve found. A generally good egg).

What’s your advice to other inspiring creatives?

Being mindful of your health — mental and physical. There’s a tendency not to move much when your head is stuck in creating something, so get out, go for a walk and get that brain working! If you can’t get out, there are other little things you can do, like doing some workouts at home, keeping the windows open, sitting in the sun, or just getting up and moving around the room. Keeping a sense of structure really helps

With things being really uncertain right now, if you find yourself in a comfortable position, with perhaps more work than you expected, think about passing it on. It’s a time to share with fellow creatives. If you’re not getting a lot of work at the moment, and need more support, think about making work to sell online. A print to brighten these four walls we seem to be all stuck in, a zine to read with all this spare time. Using your sketchbook as a place to be free with your ideas is a good way to do that.

What does ‘Off The Wall’ mean to you?

It makes me think of being expressive. And authentically pursuing you.

Peep Prince’s inspirations and passions right here and stay tuned for the low down on more creatives or from Vans’ latest campaign. Shop all things Vans, including Hel’s style, over at JD now!

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