V&A Illustration Awards: In Conversation with Helen Musslewhite (Winner 2014 and Student Judge 2015)

National Art Library
October 28, 2019

Helen Musslewhite’s intrinsically crafted paper illustrations impressed the judges of the V&A Illustration Awards in 2014 with their skillful execution and brilliant use of colour.

The Joy of Creativity and The Demons of Creativity (pictured below) accompanied an article by author and artist Audrey Niffeneger on the myths surrounding the creative process. Both illustrations are constructed from hand-cut paper of varying weights and types which has been built up in layers. The skulls represent the extremes of “that light bulb moment when you know you’ve nailed it versus the crushing feeling of despair and insecurity when the creative juices aren’t flowing and you feel you’re on the edge”.

Joy of Creativity from Ten Myths of Creativity


Demons of Creativity from Ten Myths of Creativity


Following her success at the 2014 Awards, Helen returned to the V&A in 2015 to judge the Student category and you can hear from winner Daphne Christoforou here.

Since 2015, Helen has been working on an assortment of commissions from advertising campaigns to window displays and postage stamps. Keen to hear more, I contacted Helen with a few questions:

What made you want to become an Illustrator?

Not sure I can pinpoint exactly why or when I decided I wanted to be an Illustrator. One of my first memories of drawing is from primary school and one teacher (Mrs Hamilton) really encouraging me so perhaps it started then….

Art was the only subject I enjoyed or was any good at throughout school so it was a no brainer that I should go to Art School and it was probably there that I realised that Illustration was for me. It took me another 20 years before I could legitimately call myself an Illustrator.

A Walk Through the Woods

How did it feel to win the V&A Illustration Awards?

Amazing and such an honour. I only found out about the awards by chance (via social media I think) and it was pure luck that I had a work that I could enter immediately so within a couple of hours of discovering it, I’d entered! It was a joy to find out it’s free to enter, making it inclusive and that’s a rare thing in the illustration world.


I got a phone call to tell me that I’d won, it was so exciting I sat in disbelieve afterwards and then ran around the house shouting with my dog excitedly following me!

Seriously though it made me believe in myself and my work and that what I was making wasn’t in vain. That belief comes and goes but I have my award in my studio to remind and encourage me.


Snow White for Signet Look Book

What projects and commissions have you been working on since winning your award?

I’ve had 2 children’s books published and worked on projects including  book covers, window displays, Royal Mail stamps, advertising campaigns and I’ve recently collaborated with long-time photographer of my work Jonathan Beer on some stop frame animations.


Regents Street Window Display


Royal Mail Christmas Stamp 2016


Why do you think published and student illustrators should enter the V&A Illustration Awards?

In short it’s free and therefore inclusive so illustrators at any stage of  their career or education have an equal chance to win a prestigious and established award. It comes from an establishment that is steeped in artistic and design history that inspires and encourages the  contemporary.


Little Houses, published by Laurence King, 2015


Chester Zoo Wild Worlds Advertising Campaign


Discover more of Helen’s work on her website at  https://helenmusselwhite.com or visit her Instagram feed @helenmusselwhite


The V&A Illustration Awards are open to entries until Monday 16 December at 14:00. Published and student illustrators can enter for free at https://vam.awardsplatform.com  

A short history of the V&A Illustration Awards and a complete list of past winners can be found on our website at https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/va-illustration-awards 

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