California Artist Helen Steele came into my life for a reason.
Sometimes people come into our lives for reasons unknown at the time. I met California artist, Helen Steele just a few short weeks ago during our artist residency at Chateau Orquevaux. Although I knew her for only a brief moment in time, Helen impacted me in powerful ways.
My original plan was to wait until later in my journey through France to share the artists' stories of which I wrote and photographed. But as we all know, life doesn't always go as planned. Earlier this week, I heard the heartbreaking news of Helen's passing. Immediately, I began thinking about her family and friends she left behind and I felt called to share her story sooner rather than later.
Meet Helen Steele...
Helen Steele was born Helena Fleschhut in 1961 and raised in Immenstadt im Allgäu, Germany. Helen grew up in a lovely corner home built by her great-great-grandfather two centuries ago. This custom-built property also housed the family business Fleschhut Haus & Garten, which is still operating today.
Helen was born a creative. The multi-generational home which she grew up housed many artists under the same roof. Her father's influence and encouraging words guided her decisions which eventually led her to becoming an artist. He said, "You can do what you want. You can make something and go for it!"
Helen Steele moved to California in 1987.
Helen worked in advertising for 15 years prior to becoming a full-time California Artist. First working as an illustrator then learning every position they needed her to do within the company. She worked as a graphic design, production manager, art director and finishing in human resources. Learning to advertise before social media was a huge advantage for Helen.
After having children, Helen decided to stay home and raise them until they went to school. Afterward, she taught art at a local elementary school. She absolutely loved this and discovered a new passion as a kindergarten teacher. The children loved to learn about art and the best part for Helen was coming up with lessons plans. It was Helen Steele who created the whole art curriculum for the entire school.
Years later, Helen began using her curriculum in a whole new way. She noticed how her experience with teaching soon spilled over into new techniques in her art. Slowly, Helen began working on her own art in her home studio. Next, she would hang her art in countless restaurants. Helen made sure she had enough money and created a plan before venturing out as a full-time artist.
Helen admits that being a full-time artist is a lot of hard work and not everything is grand. She began by spending half her time advertising her art and the other half painting. Helen explains, "Even painting is hard and can be a struggle. If you have just one painting that rocks your boat, it’s all worth it. What kind of careers offer this proud feeling? Being proud of a painting is priceless, the high, the love, the endorphins."
Helen gets her ideas by observing people.
Helen Steele explores the negative space, composition, color and folds. She's most interested in observing figures, all the while creating a personal image for composition. Sometimes she’ll see figures sitting and she’ll begin to define them more and more through her creative process. On occasion the figures get lost then she must start over.
As a California artist, Helen thinks about her subject's story while observing them. Their body language gives hints to their story. She explains, "When the picture comes to a conclusion, my story may be different than any other’s story. Viewers can put their own history and experience into the painting."
Helen Steele developed her figurative style over time.
She thinks of these figures as trees in a landscape, rarely showing their faces. They're mainly figurative, but occasionally abstract. She works on multiple pieces simultaneously while moving from canvas to canvas. First using the color she currently has on her brush then transitioning to a new color. Oftentimes, Helen considers herself a mixed media artist who uses oils, acrylic, graphite, pastels and ink. Graphic elements are prevalent in her paintings.
Helen signs her art on the back even though it may be controversial.
Nobody wants to give away all their secrets.
But, Helen is happy to share to a certain degree. She often gets approached to teach and do private lessons to people who want to paint exactly like her. Individual and artistic style is something you can't teach. It needs time to develop and only through trial and error does an artist find their way.
Helen's advice to artists, "Only sell work you love because it will come back someday."
Thank you Helen for sharing your story with me.
I'm forever grateful you opened your art studio doors along with your heart. These are just a few brief words and more will follow in the future. I'm beyond blessed because our paths crossed, until we meet again...
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