When it comes to dreaming up the bold, characterful figures that make up her illustrations, Sandy van Helden finds herself inspired by the style and aesthetics of people she comes across in the "real world”. "Every person has their own beautiful features and peculiar details,” she tells Wrap. "As an illustrator, I can zoom in on these characteristics to capture their appeal.”
Inspired by these features of individuality, Sandy creates characters unique in pose, expression, and style. Her minimalist designs favour stark lines and vivid colours—burnt oranges, lilacs, and electric greens feature regularly. However, despite the real-life inspiration, there's something of the dreamworld about Sandy’s designs, heightened by the boldly-coloured squiggles that curl and wind around many of the characters, adding a sense of playful energy to the carefully poised figures.
This semi-dreamscape is an interesting part of Sandy’s work. "I think my characters live in between my imagination and reality. You get the feeling that you could know this person, but you don't,” she explains. "I like it when art leaves room for the viewer's imagination. This space between reality and imagination is interesting, and it's something I try to explore.”
Sandy founded her Amsterdam design studio in 2015 after graduating from Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam in 2013, and quickly began to attract an impressive range of clients, including projects for brands including Nike, Spotify, and Benefit Cosmetics and editorial work for magazines such as NYLON. Her large-scale painted wall murals can be found in various spots around her home city, including for Dutch fashion brand Hutspot—bringing her vivid minimalist designs to a wider audience.
Sandy enjoys collaborating with clients and brands, relishing the challenge of working to a brief. However, she believes that having the time to work on personal projects is crucial for artistic exploration and development. "Clients often want me to do what I've done before, which is understandable, but I don’t want to remain static,” she explains. "Personal projects are important for developing my style, which I always want to be refining and re-examining. These projects give me freedom to explore, so I always make time for them!”
In both her collaborative and personal projects, Sandy speaks of the importance of representation, and the responsibility that designers and image-makers have to make this a consideration. "My job comes with the responsibility to show society as diverse as it is. Diversity or inclusivity shouldn't be a ‘trend’; it should be the norm,” she urges. "We all have our blind spots; I do too, but I try to stay open, learn, and see how I can translate this into my work.”
Recently, she has been enjoying exploring new forms of creative expression, experimenting with other mediums such as chalks and oil pastels. "These materials have so much character, and surprise me with every line! It also pushes me to be less of a perfectionist, leading to interesting new places," Sandy tells Wrap. She’s also looking forward to the new freedoms and opportunities for exploration that 2021, and [hopefully] the end of the pandemic will bring! "I’m thinking about House + Studio swapping with people from around Europe,” she says. "After being home for so long, I'm eager to see new places and get fresh impulses from my surroundings.”