Her stunning watercolor creations are reminiscent of the beautiful floral watercolor paintings of one of the greatest botanical painters, Pierre-Joseph Redouté. The attention to detail and the delicate brushwork are just phenomenal. From working in a printing shop to becoming a paralegal, let’s get to know how this May 2022’s ZenARTist of the month, Helen Campbell, finally found her way back to painting.
Early Life In Swansea
On March 2nd, 1964, Helen “Rae” Campbell, was born in Cardiff, South Wales. Though she lived and grew up in Swansea, just 40 miles away, until her late teens. Surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches and picturesque cliffs, she was an only child and didn’t have any siblings to play around with. Helen spent most of her time painting and drawing. Luckily, her aunt was around to ‘teach’ her the how-tos of drawing. From how to take care when drawing, the right techniques, and even watching out for the proper use of negative space! Copying various cartoon characters was a favorite thing of hers to do during these art lessons with her aunt. They would sit together for hours and hours and just draw, paint, and color them all in.
Picturesque Swansea coastline.
Helen went to an all-girls school in South Wales. Going to university to further her studies wasn’t really an option for her back then. The situation called for her having to ‘just have to find a job’ and so she did. After her A levels, she immediately found work in a shop. It’s just something that she just found and fell into. In retrospect, it set a precedent wherein she would move from one job to the next, but without ever really being truly happy in any one of them. Many of us can definitely relate to this. We don’t often get the opportunity nor luxury to explore or pursue our artistic inclinations.
Career and places she settled in
Her first job fresh out of school was in a printing shop. It was one that she actually enjoyed because it carried a lot of stationery — which she was quite fond of collecting. Helen and her friend spent a lot of their money in the said shop buying little bits of this and that “in case they needed it”. I think we can all relate to this, I too spent quite a bit of my pocket money back then on stationeries and other whatnots.
It was no surprise then that after that job in the printing shop, Helen spent quite some time in the retail sector before finally deciding to take a secretarial course. This allowed her to land a position working as a pare-legal for a law firm a few years later. She worked as one until the year 2010 when she chose to leave her career in the legal profession to become a full-time artist.
Captioned with the following words of encouragement:
“Never be afraid to reach for what you want. Many years ago I worked in an office. A job I hated with a passion but it paid the bills. Fast forward a good few years and after teaching myself to paint, I went on to become a professional botanical artist and won a medal from the Royal Horticulture Society for my work. I began to teach adults how to paint and now earn a decent living from that and bring a creator on YouTube. What I learned from that is this: don’t wait. I have wasted years doing something I hated that made me very unhappy. Reach for the stars. You got this.” #followyourdreams #followyourpassion
Helen moved around the UK for quite some time, until one day, she finally settled in the Cotswolds. A place where she loved, continues to love, and has lived in for many years now. Surrounded by the natural flora found in a rural setting, it’s not hard to see why Helen is quite attached to painting botanicals. A few years back, she and her husband bought — and lived in for two years — a house in the rural village of Competa in Spain. It is situated in the hills and located East of Malaga. A town that’s richly diverse in both culture and nationality with many residents hailing from all over Europe, the UK, and beyond. They still kept the house, though they no longer live there.
A quaint row of houses of a typical Cotswold village.
Helen’s studio space in Spain.
The break that led her back to painting
What led her to leave her full-time para-legal job and go for a new life as an artist?
It wasn’t a sudden whirlwind thing of waking up in the morning and just instantly up and quitting. She was on medical leave from work for six weeks due to a serious eye problem — which happily turned out okay, whew! When she was starting to feel better, she decided to go and start painting again.
At first, she explored and played around with different styles. But there’s just something about watercolor botanical art that kept drawing her back in. Helen started by painting apples and pears because she loved how the shapes and the surface of the fruits looked with a sheen of reflected light on them. She always thought that painting those effects looked impressive. And her husband was definitely impressed! Without her knowledge, he submitted her work to a major cider company. With the express reason of asking them if they would like to commission Helen to illustrate for them — and they certainly did!
Sharing her knowledge: from workshops to online classes
Her first foray into teaching art began in 2012 when she was invited to host a workshop at a private school. She enjoyed the experience so much that she wanted to continue teaching. Helen started to host workshops on a regular basis. At the same time, her works have started being published in art magazines.
In 2014, she entered the botanical art competition for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Malvern Spring Festival. Her entry was a 6-piece series of paintings titled, “Fading into Beauty”, a very unique and brave take on featuring flowers that are past their prime. Helen won the Silver Gilt Medal for it.
Her intricate creations are a marvel to look at. You can literally spend hours just looking through each one, drinking them all in. I know I did! Helen’s evolving works are just breathtaking.
“My work is evolving - moving toward a stronger, more dynamic approach to each piece. My aim is to enhance my subject using a critical eye, depicting its intricate beauty using both vibrant colours and muted tones, to ensure full tonal contrast is achieved.”
A little break and back again
No matter how much we love what we are doing, there does come a point in time where we feel burnt out or just uninspired. And sadly, in 2018, Helen felt and decided that her career as an artist was at an end. She no longer enjoyed it and the advent of online tutorials made her feel that the workshops — which she so loved to do — now all seemed somewhat pointless in comparison. She decided and again ‘downed tools’, truly thinking at the time that it would be for good this time around.
But then, the pandemic happened. The whole world was trying to cope in so many ways whether medically, psychologically, or mentally.
Helen wanted to do something. Seeing so many people giving something, anything to other people inspired her to do the same. She began to create weekly videos showing step-by-step her painting process and shared them on her Facebook page. By that time, she already had 3K followers. Members of the group would print out the pages she shared weekly and paint along.
How Helen matches her colors.
This in turn led her to wanting to set up a Patreon site to provide even more in-depth classes to those who wanted them. But there was a prerequisite of first having a YouTube channel, for the purposes of using it as a host. She really had no plans of becoming a YouTuber at all. But it turned out to be a good thing after all because it made her realize that she actually very, very much enjoyed doing it. By January 2021, she poured even more effort into it and started to take it seriously. And by June 2021, her efforts were duly rewarded when she was finally able to monetize her channel and became a certified full-time YouTuber.
YouTube, Patreon, and The Wonders of Watercolour
Helen is an absolutely wonderful teacher. The way she breaks down painting highly challenging botanical subjects into an easy-to-follow, step-by-step painting process is truly inspiring and encouraging. I highly encourage you to join her Facebook group - The Wonders of Watercolour, where you’ll find so many wonderful video tutorials on a multitude of botanical subjects. Helen even shares sketches based on the reference photos. You’ll find that the videos are all from her YouTube channel - Helen Campbell. The group is a wonderful community for sharing the works that the members have created based on the tutorials.
Here’s an example of one below:
If you’re looking for an even more comprehensive dive into botanical painting, you should check out what she is offering over on Patreon. There are several tiers to choose from depending on the level of instruction you’re looking for.
Helen and ZenART Supplies
Helen is part of ZenART's Luminaries, an international community of artists we love. She is a fan of our Black Tulip set and most especially the Fine Line detail brush set which she has used a number of times in her tutorials. An essential set to have if you’re looking to paint extra fine details and textures.
A Select Few of Helen’s Works
Here are Helen’s gorgeous watercolor paintings from the award-winning “Fading into Beauty” series. No petal, leaf, or curl is too small or insignificant for the intricate painting and detailing that marks her distinct style. Each one is a feast for the eyes!
Eustoma Cessna Rose
Wilted Rose Darcey
Why not say hello to Helen, you’ll find her on her official website Helen Campbell Art and on Instagram @thewondersofwatercolor. Follow her so you can get regular updates on her current and upcoming tutorials, plus some behind-the-scenes posts as well.
Did Helen’s story inspire you to start painting watercolor botanical art? Have you tried painting botanical subjects in high detail before? What did you din the most challenging? Let us know your thoughts and share them in the comments below. We’d love to hear them!
Join our friendly art community Painting Inspiration Daily on Facebook. You can share your art and ideas, watch LIVE tutorials, and be inspired to paint! Looking to try out your hand with watercolors, you can start with our watercolor for beginners tutorial for an overview of the basics of watercolor painting!
- MEET THE AUTHOR -
Kathleen is the Wordsmith at ZenART, resident artist and art editor. When God sent a shower of talents, Kathleen made sure she got a basketful of them! She's a visual artist with practical knowledge on various fields from painting and sculpture, to costume and set design which comes in very handy when writing about various art techniques and theories. She also shares her passion for the arts through teaching. She runs her own brand of handmade wirework jewelry designs.