Sandy van Helden Hutspot

Sandy van Helden: ‘I believe that inclusivity should be the norm’


Amsterdam based illustrator Sandy van Helden creates bold and striking illustrations that evoke emotion. She recently completed her empowering mural at Hutspot Magna Plaza accompanied with a series of prints and t-shirts. We visited Sandy in her home to talk about her aesthetic, way of working and the mural she designed for Hutspot. How did you became the illustrator you are today?
I was always drawing when I was younger. My parents thought I was quite an easy child, because I would always entertain myself with a pencil and paper. Studying illustration at Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam helped me develop my skill. However, starting out as a freelance illustrator came with many doubts of whether I would be able to find an industry to design for. I experimented working in advertising and discovered that I love the challenge of creating according to a design brief and specific goal. Today, I work for many commercial clients while also developing my own style autonomously.

Sandy van Helden Hutspot

Sandy van Helden Hutspot What is your style? Are there elements that we can recognize?
My work is feminine, but not in a conservative way. I’m always looking for the right balance; for instance between elegance and boldness, or between simplicity and detail. By using clear lines and bold colors, I try to strengthen the powerful characters that I portray. Diversity is also very important to me, especially when I am working for big commercial projects that show a variety of people.

Sohāgpur Where do you draw inspiration from?
Fashion photography is a huge inspiration for me. I think fashion is a fascinating phenomenon because of how it enables people to give power to their identity. Next to this, I draw inspiration from artists like David Hockney, Henri Matisse and Ellsworth Kelly because of their use of color. I recently started reading a book about how flowers have designed themselves to become attractive to animals for reproduction. This is similar to how humans handle concepts like beauty and image. Ideas like this also inspire my work. What do you want people to notice when they see your work?
People often view my work as feminist because of who I portray or how I portray them. However, I don’t identify as an activist illustrator. I believe that concepts such as inclusivity and female empowerment should be the norm. By making it the standard in my work, I make it the standard for my clients as well.

Sandy van Helden Hutspot

Sandy van Helden Hutspot

Could you describe the steps in your design process?
The briefing I receive from commercial clients usually paints a mood in my mind. However, I am not the type of designer to start drawing from scratch. I have developed a large visual database of inspiration + numerous sketchbooks filled with drawings of poses and characters. Body posture and facial expression are extremely important in my work, because it enables people to relate to the bodies I draw. After assembling an idea, I start sketching on the Ipad. Finally, I experiment with using different color combinations.

Let’s talk about the mural you created for Hutspot Magna Plaza. What is the inspiration behind the design?
I felt inspired by the work ‘Blue curves on white canvasses’ by Elsworth Kelly. What I found most inspiring was the character these abstract shapes seemed to have and how they are placed on the canvas. It looks like they lean against the edges of the canvas. I wanted to re-create this dynamic in Hutspot Magna Plaza because we were working with a white ‘canvas’ and many small nooks and corners that the design could interact with. I combined this with my fascination for fashion and feminine characters.

Sandy van Helden Hutspot

The design is translated into prints and a t-shirt. How do you translate a specific design for different purposes?
Prints for interior require a different approach than illustration for online or campaigns. I believe that art in your home should support the atmosphere of a room because a clear statement can easily dominate the space. This is why I used the mural as a base for a new series of prints that feel more delicate and neutral. 4 prints and a boxy t-shirt are now available at Hutspot Magna Plaza.

Do you see certain trends within the world of illustration? Where do we currently stand?
Illustration went from taking a backseat to becoming extremely popular because it is a great tool to give character to advertising and digital platforms. It is amazing to see illustrators getting hired to create for brands full-time. Personally, I love how I can illustrate for different purposes. A couple of years ago, I created a sticker app that enabled you to use my illustrations in online conversations and for social media.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently experimenting with different materials, such as oil pastel and paint. I mostly do digital illustration, but I sometimes miss the happy little accidents that you experience while working with materials. So now I am working on a series of artworks to could be placed within your home. They are a bit more undefined and dreamy than my work for clients. I also enjoy making murals and would love to continue exploring scaling my work.

Check out more of Sandy van Helden her work here.
Visit Hutspot Magna Plaza to see the mural and shop a selection of prints / t-shirt.

Mural painted with sustainable paint by fairf.
Atelier photography by Anne-Claire Martens.