How a personal project can define your career

How a personal project can define your career

April 22, 2020

While I don’t consider myself a botanical photographer, I have been mentioned in this role in magazines before. I do photograph interiors and people as much as botanicals but I guess it is fair to say that flowers and I have a love story.

What grew as a side project quickly became a passion and a signature style creatively too.

It all started after the birth of my daughter, when I was craving both a connection to nature and a creative outlet. Postpartum months were breeding anxiety so I started spending time outdoors with my daughter, showing her the beautiful flowers growing in New Zealand. As I was doing so, I quickly became fascinated by the daily changes of the flora. One day a flower would be closed, the next, it would be in full bloom. The constant change of the surrounding nature as well as the intricacy of the details of botanicals became a very natural photographic project to me.

It became a focus that brought peace to my mind again. Botanicals brought me a sense of calm, clarity but also challenged my artistic views of the world.
Suddenly, I was not looking at a staged set or a person to tell a story.
It was working with something organic and unpredictable. From both a creative and technical perspective, I learnt a lot through this new way of telling a visual story.

 

 

Looking back, I guess it was always something I was drawn to.
I grew up around nature in a family for whom gardening was more than a hobby. My grandparents had market gardens, and once they retired, I would find them busy sowing and growing flowers as well as basically everything they needed to eat. My family is originally from the Netherlands and I was influenced culturally by the Dutch Golden Age and Renaissance painters.
I feel very close to this aesthetic naturally and my artistic work draws a lot from this influence.
You can feel my passion for Dutch Masters such as Willem van Aelst, in my work. Particularly in the way I use light and textures.

It is while studying both textures techniques of the Dutch Masters and the rich textures of botanicals that I became interested in printing on supports I had never used before. I wanted to know how the story could be told visually when we added texture in the support by using materials such as velvet or linen.
It was a challenge that opened my eyes on the importance of your vision as an artist.
I could have easily printed images over endless supports like many retailers or brands do.
But what truly interested me was to tell the same story, just from a different perspective, from a different emotion. Each support would convey a different emotion or state of mind but the movement and story would remain the same.
Technically speaking, it was a challenge as it is not, as many people believe, just a matter of just printing the same artwork on different supports.
For every visual story, I spent hours reworking my artwork until I get the movement and emotions I love. I test constantly until I am satisfied, whether it is printing a notebook or scuffs.
I take pride in that work because it is the difference between being a visual artist and being a manufacturer with a great design.

 

 

It hasn’t been easy, partially because I had to learn a lot on the way and because I was adamant about producing in a sustainable, local way.
Supporting makers who have similar work ethics, who produce sustainably and locally but who also have a respect for my artistic ideas is essential to me.
I need to know the people I work with and trust their integrity because this value is a priority for me as both a person and artist.

It took me a few years to get to a point where I am confident in what I am doing and who I am partnering with. This is something all entrepreneurs go through. I just never thought of myself as an entrepreneur because I will always be an artist first.
Emotionally, it has been a rollercoaster. As a new entrepreneur, it is easy be deceived or let down by people. I put 100% of myself in what I do and offer my trust to people easily. I have learnt a lot throughout this process. Not just as an artist, but also as a person and as a small business owner.


I think it is important for artists who decide to commercialise their work to understand the fine line between your passion as an artist and where you stand as a business owner.

It took me a few falls to seize that concept. I stumbled a few times, mainly because I trust people and some people see this as naivety. Between people using my work commercially without asking and bigger business owners aggressively pushing me over because they feel threatened by a smaller business, I had to learn that the best partners are the ones respecting your work and opening a door to you.

 

The people I work with are genuinely good artisans but also wonderful humans.

I respect their craft and artistry as much as they respect mine. They work locally and I can drop by their workshops at any time of the manufacturing process for quality checks and a cup of tea.

It feels good to work in this safe, productive space and this is how artists need to feel when they work commercially.

My passion for flowers was embraced and recognised by my commercial clients too. This is for this specialty that I was also booked for exciting projects such as a floral wall installation at Britomart for H&M x Erdem with the floral stylist Sue Cameron.
While I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a visual artist, I am confident that this side project help to define my career. I would not have worked with materials and produced objects that my customers love without this passion for botanicals.

 

My advice to anyone creative is to always let room to be surprised as you don’t know where it may lead you both creatively and professionally.

I was invited to talk about my work with flowers a few times, which I would never have dreamt of doing before. My passion has connected me to a lot of talented creatives but also to people, who liked me find joy, peace and clarity in the botanical world. It is an incredibly rewarding feeling.

When I meet people, they often ask me what the perfect shot is for me. It’s the tipping point of a flower, the moment when it’s at its glory just before it starts falling.

This fleeting moment in time has become a signature photographic style over the years.

I am also asked what my favourite flowers are and that’s an easy answer.
All of them, as long as they’ve reached that crowning moment.
Which means it is a never-ending project and the reason why I am ending here too.
I am off to the garden to check on the autumnal blooms, the light is perfect, so my camera is calling.

Helen x

The beautiful portrait and interiors pictures of my work were originally taken by Todd Eyre for Your Home and Garden. You can find Todd's wonderful photographic work at toddeyre.com and @toddeyre

Thank you Todd for capturing me in my botanical artistic duties. 



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About

 

Auckland-based artist Helen Bankers has always been attracted to the natural world. Her work has taken her around the world for a myriad of publications and brands, but when she’s not on assignment Helen loves exploring the creative side of photography.

“Throughout my career I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of leading a balanced life,” says Helen. “I realised that I have an overwhelming desire to produce a more artistic and illustrative side of work.”

Outside of her magazine and commercial projects, Helen can be found in her home studio creating work that celebrates the natural world. She has a sharp eye for detail and particularly likes working with flora and fauna.

“I’m inspired by the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, and Australian florists such as Saskia Havekes at Grandiflora. I enjoy looking at the fine form and intricacy of flowers and plants,” says Helen, who lives with her engineer husband Dan and daughter Isla, in the eastern suburbs. 

“From that passion grew a series with a focus on botanical studies.”

The abstract images, which often combine close-up detail, colour and texture, form the basis of Helen’s Limited Edition Fine Art Prints collection. 

As well as having a passion for photographing nature, Helen has a talent for interiors and portrait photography. “I have a love for people and interiors,” she says. “I love telling the story of someone’s life journey through their homes and how their homes reflect the lifestyle they lead,” she says.

*From my experience shooting interiors, I’ve been inspired to create a range of botanical images that people can enjoy in and around the home.”

Helen’s Limited Edition Fine Art Prints are available on this site.

For art work leasing, please contact www.artassociates.co.nz

Available for private commissions – please enquire helen@helenbankers.com

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