This is Bente working in one of the studios in Matisse`s “Villa le Reve” in Vence France during my art retreat last spring.
Talking creativity with Bente Helstrøm
This time I am delighted to talk to fashion designer Bente Helstrøm.
I first heard about Bente when I went to art college in Oslo. Bente arranged the coolest Christmas market “Designernes eget julemarked” in Norway. At that time the idea of a Christmas market with professional young designers selling their stuff was totally new. This was a big success and it still is, since then, lots of young designers lineup every year to participate.
In April, Bente came on my Art Retreat to Vence on the French Riviera, which was held in Henry Matisse’s home “Villa Le Reve” a wonderful full week. Bente Hellstrøms had brought her own a handmade sketchbook for the trip and now I am delighted to show you this book as we talk about Bente`s creative journey.
Bentes Hellstrøms stunning travel sketchbook started in Vence.
I love learning about how other creative people stay creative and find it so inspiring when they think in a totally different way. So I wanted to find out more about Bente`s creativity.
Bente, Let`s start by telling me about your background?
Bente: I have always been creative in different ways, and especially in my childhood. I always loved to make things and have projects going on. I remember I just had to make a life-sized paper doll of myself in 4th grade. I also knitted very looong scarves on my mom’s knitting machine. We had Christmas workshops with the family and friends. They lasted over a week at the dining table. I invited my friends from school home to make storyboards long before we knew what that was. Overall, there was a lot of cutting and gluing and I was always allowed to make a mess and have projects lying around when I was a child. When it came to pitching a tent in the garden, one tent was not enough, it needed more, so with cords, blankets and floor mats, I made extended tent camps that we played in for weeks in the summer. I also loved to build with LEGO, in a freestyle manner, usually houses and cities. I remember that I was allowed to paint roads and gardens on the floor in my room before it was to be renovated, it was just WOW. I had a wonderful time. Looking back I see that I come from a creative family, my father was a carpenter and had a workshop where he made handmade kitchen fittings and he was always there working. I remember he made my first wooden skis and different types of furniture; he and my older brothers made a small house for my oldest sister and even a boat. I can still smell the curly wooden shavings that used to lie around in his workshop. My mother, although working in an office, was a keen knitter both by hand and on her knitting machine. She used to knit and sew all my clothes when I was a child. Both my parents were quite easy going when it came to all my creative projects and the mess I made, being the youngest of six children I guess they gave me more slack than my older siblings.
What are your creativity routines?
Bente: I have no routines, apart from trying to draw and paint whenever I have the time, and especially when I feel like it. Sometimes I draw and paint more frequently than other periods. I want it to be my time, where there are no deadlines, pressures or goal, just enjoying the flow by being creative.
When you find yourself with a creative block, how do you get out of it?
Bente: I do different things; I go online to look at Instagram or tutorials on YouTube. On the other hand, I do something very different like going for a walk in the woods. Often when I have a creative block it is because I have so many different things that I want to do and try out, and I can also be too impulsive, starting to draw and then wanting to paint or sew all at the same time, which can be frustrating and keeping me from getting anything done.
How is your inner critic?
Bente: Terrible, as I am quite an impatient and critical person and I want great results as fast as possible. However, I am trying to be more patient and reminding myself that to make one good painting it takes a lot of practice to get a good one, both technically and creatively and not to mention finding your own style of expression. So just doing a lot of quick sketching and painting, doodling away trying out whatever I feel like gives me a bit of slack from my inner critic, it is important for me to acknowledge that not every line I paint on paper will become a great piece. I actually love it when accidents happen and you make something that you did not plan which looks great, or I can reuse materials and make it look good or interesting.
How do you know you are on to new ideas and something good?
Bente: When I am in a creative moment of flow, ideas are coming fast and I feel content that; YES this looks good, and by painting the same thing repeatedly I improve over time or make several paintings that have various qualities that I like and can use as a reference later for new projects.
When I look at your work, the first thing I see is that you have a great confidence in juggling different materials. You mix and match and land on your feet. How do you do that?
Bente: I have collected a lot of different paper over the years, and I love to mix and match them all together, especially layering it on top of each other. Usually, I work in tonal shades of one color or pallet and throw in a different color like black to make a bold contrast. I use white to highlight; white is clean and pure and keeps it fresh. A mix of many colors together quickly gets too murky and messy for me.
What do you do to stay creative?
Bente: I follow many creative people on Instagram and get a daily dose of inspiration in this way; there is so much talent out there. I write to-do lists so I always have projects to do and remember them. The problem is finding the time, so I am dreaming of having my own atelier or creative room where I can pop in and be creative whenever I feel like it or have the time. For now, I have dedicated some kitchen drawers for paint equipment that I have easy access to and is close to my big kitchen table so I can spread out and get messy. In this way, I do not really have any excuse not to get going on a painting or a project.
Drawing using Procreate on Ipad
How did you find your way to the creative side?
Bente: It had to go in a creative direction for me, I was not particularly interested in what we should learn at school, and I was mostly interested in what was fun and social. Drawing and creativity was my thing. I was good at drawing and I had to make drawings for my school friends so they could color in!
Among other things, I loved to draw houses, gardens, and interiors. So for a while, I thought about becoming an architect, but I hated mathematics, so I decided that it would be too difficult for me to pursue. Eventually, like most girls, I was interested in clothes and fashion. As clothes were far more expensive in the early 80`s and with not much of a budget to go shopping, I usually had to make things myself from materials I could find.
I used old bed sheets torn into rags and I knitted a sweater from it. It turned out really heavy and thick. Old curtains became handbags, pants, and skirts. I printed dots in neon colors on pants, this was in the 80’s and neon was hot. I even tried to make a down jacket out of an old duvet. There were feathers everywhere and I looked like a Michelin man. I was quite productive and had a lot of fun.
I became a fashion designer after many years of education. I studied drawing, painting and tailoring and finally a three years BA in fashion/textiles from Ravensbourne College in London.
I have worked as a designer since 1991, with different segments and companies abroad and in Norway, including Oilily, Benetton, Diesel, Marks & Spencer, Lego Kids wear, Eurosko, Kari Traa, Skogstad. Now I have been working at Pierre Robert since 2010. In addition to this, I have created and run “Designernes eget julemarked” a designer`s Christmas market, in Oslo, since 1999. There, I used to sell a lot of stuff that I made, but in recent years, I have focused on organizing the market because I have a family and a full-time job. Unfortunately, time does not stretch to everything you want to do. However, now that my son is older, I’ve started drawing and painting in my spare time, mostly doodling and sketching to get started again.
It is fun and I really enjoy the time I spend doing it. I enjoy making sketchbooks by hand and filling them in with a variety of things, like drawings, cutouts, some writing about my sketching and testing of materials and general experiences of drawing and doodling. Even photos, so it becomes like a scratch book where I assemble different things together instead of having piles of drawings here and there. It is a nice way to keep sketches together, and it is fun to flick through and see what I worked on and remember that period of time.
This photo is taken in the wonderful garden of “Villa Le Reve” where I hold my Art retreats in Vence in France. Henry Matisse once lived and worked here and made some of his most important work.