Wakefield First's Maker of the Month: Helen Thomas: Artist
15 November 2023
Helen Thomas is a Wakefield-based artist, who focuses on nature as her subject. She creates striking paintings and drawing and draws inspiration from her surroundings in the heart of Wakefield.
Wakefield First reached out to Helen to discover more about her beautiful art, her artistic process and her origins in the city.
"I’m a painter, I make drawings and paintings in response to plants and their settings. I’m fascinated by the uncultivated plants in our surroundings, which are often dismissed as weeds. I work from direct observation on-site and from a studio at The Art House in the centre of Wakefield. I also design and deliver arts projects, working with people of all ages in a wide range of settings.
I love being outdoors and noticing nature; meeting and working with people, visiting different places; making things and painting. I’ve loved all these things for as long as I can remember. I remember the careers advisor at school being stumped for what to suggest. I’ve been a self-employed artist for over 20 years, there’s always something to learn, fresh challenges, and new beginnings. I feel incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to build my business around core interests."
"Wakefield is my home town. After studying fine art at Falmouth I lived in Liverpool, North Yorkshire and Buckinghamshire. When I moved back to Wakefield, over 20 years ago, I thought it was for a temporary stay. However, I saw things with a fresh perspective; I was excited at the prospect of The Hepworth Gallery, and the council’s plans for development. My first studio was on the site which is now part of Tileyard North. Faceless Arts were based in the same building and when I was ready to become full-time self-employed I started to work on freelance projects with them. I value being part of Wakefield’s brilliant creative community and I’m very lucky to have a studio at The Art House, in addition to being a great space to work in The Art House has a fantastic and very supportive team.
It’s very special to live in a place that has such an incredible range of exhibitions, and learning opportunities, as we can access at The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Art House.
Wakefield has great public transport connections and the scale of the city allows me to make most of my local journeys on foot or by bicycle.
There are wonderful green and blue spaces across the district. Close to my home I love to visit The Hepworth Garden and Thornes Park, I also love exploring cycle routes and public footpaths across the district."
"There are so many projects that I’ve loved designing, delivering or being part of, so it’s hard to pick out my favourites, so I’ve chosen ones that are recent and current. I’ve just started working on the second in a series of large paintings which are based on tiny patches of plants on path edges. These pieces are 2m by 1.5m, I can just reach the edges of the paintings with my arms outstretched, I love working on this scale, where my field of vision is immersed in the surface of the painting.
In 2021 I had a solo exhibition ‘Dandelions and Double Yellows’ at Wakefield Cathedral as part of the Festival of the Earth. I created 15 new pieces, including a series of paintings which were displayed horizontally on bespoke plinths. As part of the project, which was funded by Arts Council England and Wakefield Council, I invited people to send digital images of pavement plants that they noticed, these images were displayed in an online gallery which can be seen at https://creativewakefield.net/creative-challenge/dandelions/
I’m currently working, with fellow Wakefield artist Tony Wade, on ‘Funkytown - a Westgate windows boogaloo’. We have worked with the local community to co-create a wall of individually illuminated windows with a disco twist! Funkytown will be illuminated for Light Up Wakefield (17-19 November) and can be viewed, from the street, in the window of Nocturno on Westgate. The project, commissioned by Wakefield Council is Support by Historic England as part of the Upper Westgate Heritage Action Zone. https://experiencewakefield.co.uk/event/light-up-wakefield-2/"
"I’ve been invited to be part of an exhibition ‘Planting Ideas’ in the New Forest in the New Year.
I’m working on plans for projects and exhibitions, and hope to work with new partners, and in new settings, in 2024.
In the meantime, it’s always interesting to see how the next painting develops; the large piece that is currently on the studio wall is a wonderfully exciting challenge!"
To find more of Helen's fantastic art, please visit her website and social media channels: