Two years ago I was feeling quite frustrated creatively after working on a lot of commissions that I felt didn’t reflect the way I wanted to work. I ended up planning a trip to Japan with my friend Charlotte Mei, who I share a studio with, where we could travel around and make personal work. It was a sort of self initiated travelling residency. We would explore and sketch in the day, then go back to where we were staying and paint from our photos, memories and sketches.
by Grace Helmer
I don’t usually keep sketchbooks so it was a little daunting at first, but treated it like a scrapbook for the trip, collecting tickets and notes alongside paintings and drawings. Travelling around and not having any preconceived ideas of what I should do was very freeing, and allowed my work to loosen up and to rediscover the fun of painting!
When I came back I continued to work from photos of the trip. I created a zine out of some of this work. One of the paintings in the zine was of the very busy Dotonbori street in Osaka, which is lined with shops and restaurants decorated with huge neon signs. That day I had visited in the rain, which at first was a little disappointing but then, as it got darker, the lights became even more vivid in the reflections in the puddles on the wet streets, and shining through everyone’s umbrellas.
This first painting of the scene was quite small, and though I was reasonably pleased with it, I felt it didn’t capture the colours and atmosphere as fully as I remembered. Then Magma, a shop based in the UK, got in touch and asked if I would like to make a print with them to sell. I was excited to use that as an opportunity to revisit this image and rework it at 4x the size.
Re-painting the same composition might sound boring but it let me discover new things within the image, push the image further, and really capture the atmosphere of that evening.