MEET: Helaina Sharpley

Today we are pleased to meet West Yorkshire based wirework artist, Helaina Sharpley to find out more about her craft and what inspires her.
Helaina Sharpley
image by Michael J Oakes (c)
Please tell us about yourself and how you got started?
I suppose really it all began with a good cup of tea. I studied for a BA (hons)  in Design Crafts at Hereford College of Art and Design, where we had to focus on a particular theme or passion... I like drinking tea, so began obsessively researching what I liked about it. I discovered I enjoyed the ritual and pastime of tea drinking, and in particular the elegance of Victorian and Edwardian ladies taking afternoon tea.  I discovered photographs taken by Francis Frith, and began drawing delicate and intricate buildings using pen and ink.
What made you decide to work within wire? 
My tutor saw these drawings, and gave me the wire 'I think you might find this useful...'  He also threatened to transfer me to the illustration course, unless I started to make something! I just sat at my desk, with the wire and pliers - to begin with, the wirework was very messy and dense, and one thickness, but with practice I became more skilled.
Helaina Sharpley
How difficult is it to come up with an original design, talk us through this process? 
I still draw everything, this is very important.  I own a lot of books, postcards, tea cups, cake stands... that is classed as inspiration in mind, although other people class it as hoarding! I like to look through these things, looking for something that catches my eye. This could be a lovely elegant lamp post, or a pretty floral design on a cup. The rule is: If I can draw it, then I know I can make it in wire.
In terms of originality, I think my degree taught me well: starting with a theme and developing ideas and products from there, has enabled me to know what I like, with the main theme throughout being elegance. This means I can translate and look for elegance in many areas and continue to develop on a continuous path, creating a logical and cohesive range/portfolio.  I truly love all the subjects I depict in wire, and hopefully people can see this.
Helaina Sharpley
When was your first break? 
I exhibited in 2007 at my first big show, The British Craft Trade Fair. It was amazing! And seems like such a long time ago. I had a busy and exhausting few days, where I met many galleries, many of which I still stock today. I also won two awards. I was highly commended in excellence and I won the 'wow' factor - which I have now won three times. I could not have asked for more, this was a great starting point for my business.
What shows would you recommend to artists that are just beginning? 
BCTF, The Contemporary Craft Festival is such a lovely, friendly and busy retail show. A great local fair for me is The Art Market in Holmfirth.
Do you have a secret formula to balancing work and life? 
No. Work definitely has a tendency to take over, which I think if you're driven and on an upwards path, it's easy to excuse... not necessarily healthy, but unfortunately necessary at times.
Clare College, Cambridge
What is your favourite holiday destination? 
Well, I'm going to Australia soon for a month, so I will let you know on my return. I do like Normandy, France.
What was your ambition when you were at school, and what is it now? 
I had a very simple ambition at school - to be happy.  I've generally always been happy, so I don't know why I didn't want more!  I knew what I didn't want to be, and that was a teacher (as my parents' were both teachers!). I'm currently going through a bit of a transition with my work, and want to make larger-scale work - I suppose I want to be seen more as an 'artist.' Although as a trained craftswoman, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this 'artist' label yet!
What are your future plans? 
I am totally fully booked with exhibitions and fairs for the rest of the year, including a solo show at The Serena Hall Gallery, Southwold and Brighton Art Fair and MADE London.
Do you have any news to share? 
Yes. Currently in the making is my new website, launching in September. This will be the start of a new era. I have been invited to take part in a new event, organised by The Art Market team - 'Make It Up North'. It is a three day selling event in York, on October 4th 5th and 6th at The Guildhall. Keep an eye on for more details.
What advice would you give yourself, starting out?
Just keep going, it'll all be worth it in the end :)
What is your greatest achievement? 
Oooh, tricky.... being in business for seven years (with the majority of those being a full time maker) is I think a great achievement. I was just taking every year as it came and they've gone so fast! Oh and David Hockney owns two of my pieces. 
Helaina's website and Twitter contact:

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