Interview with Helena Nilsson

We sat down to chat with surface pattern designer Helena Nilsson to learn about how she became an artist, what inspires her and how she stays creative…

What’s your background and how did you become an artist?

I studied art for three years in the Swedish equivalent to secondary school and kind of had enough of it after that. So, I got a degree in literature / writing and became a journalist instead. After a few years I started to feel the urge to draw again and began learning about pattern design. I slowly began building my portfolio while freelancing as a journalist, writing a lot about interior design and design history by day, and learning about art licensing and vectors at night. I’m so proud to now have licensed my work for use on a wide range of products, such as apparel, gift wrap, quilt fabric – and electronic greeting cards!

How would you describe your own work?

Harmonious, colourful, fresh and with a slight retro touch.

Who are your biggest influences?

I could name many, but when I first started to learn how to make patterns my biggest inspirations were the beautiful work of Elizabeth Olwen, who I still admire, as well as the Swedish designer Marianne Westman.

Where do you seek inspiration?

Pretty much everywhere! In everyday life, memories,nature, Scandinavian design, vintage English textiles, favourite books, and music. I love Swedish surface design from the 50s-70s and collect tea towels from a manufacturer called Almedahls.

What keeps you creative?

Doodling! Doodling and mark making is a way to keep creative and to find new ideas, and I like to take a blank sheet of paper and just fill it without thinking too much. Sometimes I just end up with useless weird shapes, sometimes I get an idea for a new favourite pattern. I think the important thing is to take the time to draw or create things without any expectations that it must end up perfect or beautiful.

What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a creative rut?

Read, listen to music, tidy, bake – just anything that keeps me from thinking about it for a while. When in a creative rut I also try to keep away from social media as much as possible as it’s so easy to start comparing yourself to others.

Talk us through your creative process

Though my finished patterns are all vector-based, they always begin as a simple ink pen drawing. The motifs are then brought into Adobe Illustrator and lovingly assembled into repeat patterns with a harmonious flow. My favourite part of the design process is to play around with the motifs and try out different layouts, it’s like putting together a puzzle.

What memorable responses have you had about your work?

It’s such an amazing feeling to see your designs come to life on products, and I’m equally happy every single time someone chooses to buy or use something that has my designs on it.

What’s the one piece of equipment in your kit you couldn’t live without?

Ink pens.

If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self – what would it be?

Just take it easy! And don’t compare your path with anybody else’s.

Explore Moments from Helena Nilsson by downloading the Momentful app today on iOS and Android.