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Helene Lund Den Boer

Published:

I grew up in the 1980s on the west coast of Denmark, close to the North Sea. It was a very artistic environment, and I was surrounded by teachers and mentors who were very supportive of the arts. My parents were also very supportive, and I remember them taking me to art shows from a very young age, and I loved it. Visiting artists in their studios was so exciting.

At the age of 9, I started taking art classes from a local artist. She was an extraordinary person, and I often think of her and all the things she taught me. Being allowed into her world was a gift I still carry with me. She taught me so much—not only about art and techniques but about life, history, and culture. Her house was full of stories, of heirlooms, very bohemian, and it was always full of lovely people. She had a rocking chair she claimed had belonged to H.C. Andersen, and perhaps it had! In many ways, it was a fairytale house.

After finishing high school, I spent a few months in a Danish folk art school, and there, I was introduced to a far more contemporary and experimental approach to the arts than the more traditional style I was used to. It was both an interesting and intimidating experience, but essentially, it inspired me to apply to an art school in the UK. I was accepted into the BA course in Fine Art at the Norwich School of Art and Design, and in 2000, I finished my MA in Sequential Design/Illustration at the University of Brighton. I enjoyed both colleges immensely because they let me experiment and push myself in various directions. Looking back, though, the common thread throughout my whole career has always been my interest in a narrative, storytelling, and the female figure.

Hendersonville, NC

My husband and I met in Oxford, UK, in 1993, and over the years, his job in the US Air Force has taken us around the world. My biggest dream from a very young age was to travel and to see the world, a dream we had in common and have been very lucky to live out together.

At first, we moved every three to four years, and every new home gave me a different work space with a fresh view of the world. The differences between the cultures we were thrown into were huge. In some way, it’s as if each new place we’ve lived added another layer to my work. The differences in environments and inspiration in the given place have pushed my work in directions I could never have imagined. My husband has always been extremely supportive of my work, and together, we’ve been able to make some sort of improvised work space everywhere we lived. It was an important base, a home for my creativity. My first “studio” was a dusty utility room in an apartment building in Tacoma, Washington, with a tiny window overlooking Puget Sound. Then, a small bedroom in a condo in New Jersey became my work base. And in Guam, I worked in a tiled (and very hot) room, all windows, overlooking the jungle behind our house. I feel very privileged to have been able to live and create in such vastly different cultures and surroundings. 

After 26 years in the USAF, we landed here in Hendersonville, NC. My studio on the first floor is open and light, with trees outside the window, and there’s room for all of my books, memories, and materials. I feel absolutely at home in this studio.

Hendersonville, NC

Art Work

Creating has always been in my blood. Storytelling has been my main focus and interest as far back as I remember. Drawing and painting were my favorite mediums, and later on, collage was added. More recently, my focus has turned to fabric. This happened soon after we settled here in the mountains. I don’t think there’s necessarily a connection, just simply a new environment and different surroundings, which inspired a new beginning and a new direction.

When I was around the age of 11, I remember playing with my mother’s sewing machine, and I made a few crude textile portraits. I forgot about them until a few years ago, when I found them tucked away in my parents’ house. I took them home with me and hung them in my kitchen, and I look at them daily. I think these may have sparked this newfound interest in fabric. So much has changed in all those years, but it’s an interesting realization that my interest in women’s portraits in some ways has stayed the same.

The beginning of my fabric venture has been by trial and error. I’ve never taken any sewing or embroidery classes, so I was learning by doing. It took a while to get the hang of it, to get a feel for the materials, and to figure out what they could do, as opposed to paint. I am still learning, and hopefully that will continue. In many ways, I am trying to achieve some of the same effects as in painting, such as light and shadow and a sense of 3D. Yet, the process is very different, and the fabric has a simplicity to it, which I love. It feels calm and pure to me. This may be my true medium; I just went on a long journey to realize it. When painting, I could spend days debating if a painting was finished. There was always a shadow, a nose, or a fold that could be better. The fabric has a far more defined way of shutting me out, letting me know when I am done with a piece. I am never in doubt.

“Art is a way of survival.” — Yoko Ono

I basically work in two different styles within textile: larger, machine sewn “paintings” that have some simplicity to them. That is essentially how my textile work started. Then, during the pandemic, my daughter and I went to Denmark for six months, and without my sewing machine, I had to work and think a little differently. That became the beginning of my hand-embroidered portraits. These are a mixture of embroidery and appliqué, and I enjoy experimenting with new approaches to the materials and techniques.

Process

1. Each of my pieces starts with a drawing. I keep it quite simple at this stage; details will be added in the sewing process. The drawings are based on photos I take, pictures in old magazines, my life drawings, etc. After finishing the drawing, I have it blown up to the desired size, and then I trace the drawing onto the linen or canvas using my light table. This can be a bit tricky since fabrics aren’t always transparent. So, some guess – work is involved when transferring the sketch.

2. I always add the appliqué fabric first and sew it on. This provides a good overview of the image.

3. Then, I start on the shapes of the face. I usually embroider with sewing thread, but I also use embroidery floss, especially for parts I want to have a certain texture, like hair.

4. The last step, if applicable, is the shadow, and I use tulle for that. Sometimes felt also works, depending on the motive and the effect.

5. Each piece takes a really long time, but I enjoy the process and think of ways to accomplish a certain effect. I always work on a few pieces at a time, in case I get stuck or can’t find a solution for a technicality. That gives me time to consider various options while I continue to work.

Inspiration

When it comes to inspiration, my mind is always alert to anything of visual interest, probably like all artists. Ideas can hit anytime, anywhere. I may see a hummingbird in my garden or come across a vintage poster of a circus performer. Something can suddenly spark the beginning of something.

I am not much of a sketch maker; instead, I tend to use words describing ideas for a piece. I have a document with words of inspiration. I’ve had it for years, and words come and go. Some find their way into a title; others become a visual part of a piece. It’s almost like a puzzle where I’m hunting for the right pieces to put together a story. I enjoy the hunt immensely, and it’s a big moment when idea, motive, and fabric come together as a whole.

I grew up in the 1980s on the west coast of Denmark, close to the North Sea. It was a very artistic environment, and I was surrounded by teachers and mentors who were very supportive of the arts. My parents were also very supportive, and I remember them taking me to art shows from a very young age, and I loved it. Visiting artists in their studios was so exciting.

At the age of 9, I started taking art classes from a local artist. She was an extraordinary person, and I often think of her and all the things she taught me. Being allowed into her world was a gift I still carry with me. She taught me so much—not only about art and techniques but about life, history, and culture. Her house was full of stories, of heirlooms, very bohemian, and it was always full of lovely people. She had a rocking chair she claimed had belonged to H.C. Andersen, and perhaps it had! In many ways, it was a fairytale house.

After finishing high school, I spent a few months in a Danish folk art school, and there, I was introduced to a far more contemporary and experimental approach to the arts than the more traditional style I was used to. It was both an interesting and intimidating experience, but essentially, it inspired me to apply to an art school in the UK. I was accepted into the BA course in Fine Art at the Norwich School of Art and Design, and in 2000, I finished my MA in Sequential Design/Illustration at the University of Brighton. I enjoyed both colleges immensely because they let me experiment and push myself in various directions. Looking back, though, the common thread throughout my whole career has always been my interest in a narrative, storytelling, and the female figure.

Hendersonville, NC

My husband and I met in Oxford, UK, in 1993, and over the years, his job in the US Air Force has taken us around the world. My biggest dream from a very young age was to travel and to see the world, a dream we had in common and have been very lucky to live out together.

At first, we moved every three to four years, and every new home gave me a different work space with a fresh view of the world. The differences between the cultures we were thrown into were huge. In some way, it’s as if each new place we’ve lived added another layer to my work. The differences in environments and inspiration in the given place have pushed my work in directions I could never have imagined. My husband has always been extremely supportive of my work, and together, we’ve been able to make some sort of improvised work space everywhere we lived. It was an important base, a home for my creativity. My first “studio” was a dusty utility room in an apartment building in Tacoma, Washington, with a tiny window overlooking Puget Sound. Then, a small bedroom in a condo in New Jersey became my work base. And in Guam, I worked in a tiled (and very hot) room, all windows, overlooking the jungle behind our house. I feel very privileged to have been able to live and create in such vastly different cultures and surroundings. 

After 26 years in the USAF, we landed here in Hendersonville, NC. My studio on the first floor is open and light, with trees outside the window, and there’s room for all of my books, memories, and materials. I feel absolutely at home in this studio.

Hendersonville, NC

Art Work

Creating has always been in my blood. Storytelling has been my main focus and interest as far back as I remember. Drawing and painting were my favorite mediums, and later on, collage was added. More recently, my focus has turned to fabric. This happened soon after we settled here in the mountains. I don’t think there’s necessarily a connection, just simply a new environment and different surroundings, which inspired a new beginning and a new direction.

When I was around the age of 11, I remember playing with my mother’s sewing machine, and I made a few crude textile portraits. I forgot about them until a few years ago, when I found them tucked away in my parents’ house. I took them home with me and hung them in my kitchen, and I look at them daily. I think these may have sparked this newfound interest in fabric. So much has changed in all those years, but it’s an interesting realization that my interest in women’s portraits in some ways has stayed the same.

The beginning of my fabric venture has been by trial and error. I’ve never taken any sewing or embroidery classes, so I was learning by doing. It took a while to get the hang of it, to get a feel for the materials, and to figure out what they could do, as opposed to paint. I am still learning, and hopefully that will continue. In many ways, I am trying to achieve some of the same effects as in painting, such as light and shadow and a sense of 3D. Yet, the process is very different, and the fabric has a simplicity to it, which I love. It feels calm and pure to me. This may be my true medium; I just went on a long journey to realize it. When painting, I could spend days debating if a painting was finished. There was always a shadow, a nose, or a fold that could be better. The fabric has a far more defined way of shutting me out, letting me know when I am done with a piece. I am never in doubt.

“Art is a way of survival.” — Yoko Ono

I basically work in two different styles within textile: larger, machine sewn “paintings” that have some simplicity to them. That is essentially how my textile work started. Then, during the pandemic, my daughter and I went to Denmark for six months, and without my sewing machine, I had to work and think a little differently. That became the beginning of my hand-embroidered portraits. These are a mixture of embroidery and appliqué, and I enjoy experimenting with new approaches to the materials and techniques.

Process

1. Each of my pieces starts with a drawing. I keep it quite simple at this stage; details will be added in the sewing process. The drawings are based on photos I take, pictures in old magazines, my life drawings, etc. After finishing the drawing, I have it blown up to the desired size, and then I trace the drawing onto the linen or canvas using my light table. This can be a bit tricky since fabrics aren’t always transparent. So, some guess – work is involved when transferring the sketch.

2. I always add the appliqué fabric first and sew it on. This provides a good overview of the image.

3. Then, I start on the shapes of the face. I usually embroider with sewing thread, but I also use embroidery floss, especially for parts I want to have a certain texture, like hair.

4. The last step, if applicable, is the shadow, and I use tulle for that. Sometimes felt also works, depending on the motive and the effect.

5. Each piece takes a really long time, but I enjoy the process and think of ways to accomplish a certain effect. I always work on a few pieces at a time, in case I get stuck or can’t find a solution for a technicality. That gives me time to consider various options while I continue to work.

Inspiration

When it comes to inspiration, my mind is always alert to anything of visual interest, probably like all artists. Ideas can hit anytime, anywhere. I may see a hummingbird in my garden or come across a vintage poster of a circus performer. Something can suddenly spark the beginning of something.

I am not much of a sketch maker; instead, I tend to use words describing ideas for a piece. I have a document with words of inspiration. I’ve had it for years, and words come and go. Some find their way into a title; others become a visual part of a piece. It’s almost like a puzzle where I’m hunting for the right pieces to put together a story. I enjoy the hunt immensely, and it’s a big moment when idea, motive, and fabric come together as a whole.

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