Helen Imogen

Moody sky with Sidlaw skyline at Macbeths castle with highland cattle
Highland cattle with a field of rape beneath the Dunsinnan hills featuring King’s Seat and Macbeth’s Castle

Helen Imogen
Artist Classical & Digital

Always drawing and painting, sewing, making. Horses were a big favourite and art my favourite subject. My fantasy bird painting in the Headmaster’s office  – Wiltshire in the 70s had art lessons in perspective and disappearing points. Oil painting was what I aspired to, as my Dad wouldn’t let me use his oil paints and they smelled amazing. So oil painting started in New York after starting work as a PhD Biochemist, on a protist causing African sleeping sickness. I started by copying a Degas onto a piece of Whatman 3MM filter paper (it’s like fine blotting paper) and then doing a water colour portrait of two young men, which was selected for the first juried show of the TriMedical centre in New York, and the picture got press attention.

In New York, I worked with some fantastic portraitists at the Art Student’s League. Hananniah Harrari (RIP – may light perpetual shine upon him) loved a picture that told a story. He also gave me my first colour palette (array of colours) and shopping list! Ronn Scherr had a class full of beautiful painters to learn from, and he personally taught me how to sculpt with paint, to work on the point of focus most of all (like Rembrandt) and that a painting should look amazing from across the room (when really small).

The winner of the 1997 SAA Portrait award. Oil painting on the diamond, carefully balanced.

Hillary Holmes argued me into trying Indian red (since he could sell a painting of leaves for 27,000 USD who was I to even think about questioning his choice of palette). He was right – it’s a great colour for shadows on a dark skin and it’s one of my essential palette choices.

Seated nude with crossed arms, legs
Oil painting of a model painted in New York in 1991

And the last group I went to at The League was Oldrich Teply’s – a portrait in 3 hours. His class was very social and we spent our late Friday nights in a diner in New York City – how good friends are made – we talked of composition, and a lot about light. And we started exhibiting.

Returning to the UK as a researcher – London. Exhibiting oil paintings with the Women’s Art Society, Croydon Art Society (who graciously admitted me as a member), and SAA – then the Society of Amateur Artists.  Proud to participate in a three man show at Gloucester Galleries, South Kensington. I made the cover of an SAA magazine with my Transformation (by snow) picture of our street in New York (84th East) – and won their Best Young Painter/Best Portrait in 1997 with the diamond-oriented picture which I called Arab Silks.

At the end of a few years  I was asked to paint sets for Cinderella, got interested in theatre and wrote a couple of child-focused plays for my AmDram group at Holy Trinity Church in Upper Tooting (children’s sermons are the best). (OxHook ws children). We won a Millennium Award to create, present and lecture on African sleeping sickness and created a play and refurbished our theatre at the same time.

Mains castle from the garden wall in its park from Dundee
Mains Castle in Dundee

Then, in the new century, I became a computer programmer, after a year at University College London. iPads came along shortly after and I have been drawing on iPad, almost always with my finger, ever since. We had a late child so I am a geriatric mum (I discovered talking to colleagues from my HNC class – Childhood Practice), then restarted oil painting, exhibiting gently with Open Studios in Cambridge, then Perthshire in the beautiful heart of Scotland (a whole series of work came from there – see the picture at the top). I started liveSketching the buildings of Dundee.

Now I am in Edinburgh and had an out-of-home studio for the first time from September to February. Working in childcare is rewarding and energizing but there is less time for art. Art is a passion that will always stay with me.

Always criticised by drawing teachers about needed to ‘loosen up’, the iPad drawing has helped. First, by use of a finger – you have to trust your brain. Then by using a very broad painting item (ArtSet’s cheap version oil), and finally by using MediBang on my tiny phone touchscreen – finally developed a new style called ‘He-Art.me’ which is focused on Edinburgh. 

iPad liveSketch on iPad Pro, using ArtSet app, by Helen Imogen of King’s Theatre from opposite Tarvitt Street on Leven street

I love making new images, extracting the beauty and heart of a situation. Beauty is not kitch – it is our biological mechanism for recognising something that lifts us, that we need. All of creation is a witness to the greatness of our God – Humanity has the mission of being in charge of the planet now, and I like to celebrate the good things I see.

Still painting portraits, sketching Edinburgh and creating things for theatre…