Grace Helmer is a Brighton-born, London-based illustrator and artist. Her playful and colourful compositions capture the feeling of discovery when you visit somewhere for the first time, and celebrate the beauty in the everyday. Magma commissioned Grace’s imaginative watercolour illustrations to sit with each card of advice in Ways of Travelling. We asked both Grace and Magma to share their thoughts on the project.
Hi Grace, welcome to the blog! We could have never imagined this year to turn out the way it has, and this gift is the perfect way to tap in to new areas of travel. Did you draw inspiration on the cards from your own travels?
During the process of making the cards, I would discuss with Magma and Laurence King what each card was meant to convey and any ideas they had. Sometimes they were very specific about what they wanted, and sometimes it would be more open. For the more open briefs, it was really nice to go through my own photos from trips and pick out elements I thought may be relevant. Some of my favourites were the illustration of a Super Tamade supermarket in Osaka, Japan for the prompt ‘Make a point of visiting local corner shops and supermarkets’, a postcard from Brighton (where I’m from) for ’Send yourself a postcard every day’, and a scene from an amazing dumpling place in Hualien, Taiwan for ‘Follow your nose’.
It was also nice to share memories with each other from trips and learn about their experiences!
Which of the 50 cards was your favourite to paint and why?
I really enjoyed painting a lot of the busy scenes, like the tram in Lisbon, the Hachiko statue in Tokyo, the purikura photo booths in Japan… it was fun to research these scenes, remember my own experiences of being overwhelmed when first visiting these places, and try to capture that feeling of wonder in all the little details.
What is your best tip on how to travel within the UK?
Sometimes I find it hard to appreciate places in the UK as much as I would when travelling abroad, because it all feels too familiar. So my tip is to try and turn that part of your brain off, and look at things with fresh eyes and curiosity. You’ll often discover something you’d never questioned before, if you just look a bit closer.
Can you reveal any of your own hidden gems within the UK?
One of my favourite places is somewhere we used to go on holiday every year in Devon. There was a walk we would do that we called ’the river walk’, which led through fields and woods and along a river. It felt secret and hidden because we’d rarely see someone else along the walk. That quiet feels quite hard to find sometimes, especially on a nice day, everyone seems to go to the same places. I liked that this river walk wasn’t a well-known or popular walk, but one we formed ourselves and made into our own holiday tradition. So I won’t say where it was…
And over to Magma! What do you think people can take away from the product, given the current climate?
I think it’s about recapturing the sense of wonder when you move around, whether you’re going on holiday or just going about your everyday life, wherever you happen to be. The idea with the cards is that you can have just as rewarding and enriching an experience in your own town as in some exotic destination. The prompts are about getting you to take unusual routes and go about things in different ways from what you’re used to, so that you can get excited about discovering and rediscovering what may have previously gone unnoticed, whether it’s the tapas bar next door or the amazing architecture of buildings you pass every day. I often realise that when I go between the two Magma shops in London and pay attention to my surroundings I end up noticing all sorts of new things, like Wow, check out that balcony suspended in mid-air! I’d never noticed that before! You don’t need to cross the world to experience that sense of wonder and discovery, and you can potentially take a lot from staying put this summer and trying to look at your own neighbourhood with fresh eyes.
What advice can Ways of Travelling give for people who find themselves travelling in the UK this summer, as opposed to abroad?
The main piece of advice right now is to stay safe! Don’t do anything that makes you or those around you feel uncomfortable. And so if that means staying where you are, these cards can help you discover new aspects to familiar places. We tend to dismiss what feels familiar and are always excited about the exotic, but you can take a lot from rediscovering what is around you, in the same way that you can truly enjoy a well-observed film with realist undertones and familiar situations and locations and connect more to it than you would connect to a sci-fi movie with exotic faraway planets.