size? series: Grace Helmer

The next artist we’re featuring as part of our size? series is Grace Helmer, an award-winning illustrator based in Camberwell, London. Grace, originally from Brighton, studied Illustration at university before joining Day Job Studio as a full-time member of the team. Helmer’s style of illustration utilises oil paints to produce a delicate, traditional art form. Grace’s work has been given the stamp of approval by champions of all things creative ‘It’s Nice That’, winning their coveted graduate award in 2012. In 2013, she won V&A’s student illustrator of the year. Grace has also had her work curated and exhibited at renowned venues such as the Barbican, Somerset House and the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Grace’s unique style started by a happy accident, using oil paints she received as presents. She used these to add colour to university projects, as she couldn’t afford to buy other materials and developed her style from this foundation. Now instantly recognisable, Grace’s use of this medium give her illustrations a pop of colour and adds rich textures to scenes; particularly evident in her animated pieces. Grace is constantly inspired by all things around her. Working alongside other colleagues as member of the Day Job Studio team inspires her creative process. Helmer boasts a notable client list, creating illustrations for premier list of media and communication companies that include Vogue, Apple, Google, Surface Magazine, Square Peg and Universal Island Records, to name a few.

For her interpretation of our icon Grace has taken inspiration from her daily bus journey and the people watching and interesting happenings she witnesses along her route. In her signature style – using oil paints – Grace has created a bright and colourful smudgy piece, full of texture with our icon in bright white at the centre of the illustration.

We caught up with Grace to find out a little bit more about the piece she’s presented for size? series:

Hi Grace, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your beginnings as an illustrator?

Sure! I grew up in Brighton and then moved to London to study Illustration at Camberwell, then never left!

You use oil paints in your works for a classic style of illustration. How did you develop this style?

I started using oil paints for projects at uni where I wanted to use colour. My family always seemed to give me oil paints for Christmas so I started using those as I couldn’t afford to buy more art materials. So I sort of started by accident. I can be a bit of a perfectionist so using a medium where I have less control forces me to be more free. I’m still learning how to use them really.

Are there any artists/creatives inspire you?

Too many to name. I’m lucky to share a studio with lots of illustrators and artists so get really inspired chatting about work with them and seeing what they’re up to.

Your work has been commissioned by a host of high-profile clients. Could you talk us through your creative process after receiving a brief?

It depends on the brief really! But in general I will have a read-through of anything they’ve sent over, picking out key ideas and the general mood/feelings in it, then do a lot of little scribbly thumbnail sketches. I’ll develop a few of the better ideas and send some roughs over to the client, and usually that’ll spark a few ideas for them to add to it. Then I’ll draw up the final illustration and paint it, with a bit of editing on the computer afterwards.

Does this change from client to client?

Some clients like to be more involved and there’s a lot more back and forth. And some trust me to just do what I want, which can be scary!

What inspired the illustration you’ve presented for our size? series? Could you talk us through the piece?

I stopped cycling in London and so’ve been getting the bus a lot more, and was thinking about all the people and stories you pass whilst staring out the window.

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