Artists take their inspiration from all manner of influences, but I haven't come across one before who gets hers from "going to lots of tea shops, drinking gallons of tea and eating tonnes of cake!"
So when I sat down to take a metaphorical cup of Earl Grey with Helaina Sharpley, I knew it was going to be an interesting conversation.
Of course, I have to ask why she finds tea so inspirational.
She tells me that Victorian and Edwardian tea drinking represents to her an elegance that we no longer have, like "... steam trains, seaside piers, promenades, lamp-posts, and basically anything that was built and used in that time," says Helaina. It's something that inspires her art.
"I like to highlight the detail and the elegance that's all around us. We are surrounded by beautiful buildings, but we don't see them because of all the signage. No one looks up anymore and appreciates the beauty of those buildings."
Since graduating in 2006 with a BA in Design Crafts from Hereford College of Art and Design, she's been drawing with wire - carefully folding and wrapping and fixing it in place with cutters and pliers to create both flat and 3D pieces of art - a labour intensive process that means each unique piece could take 80 hours or more to finish.
Thanks to the success of her degree show, at which she sold 9 out of the 14 pieces on display, Helaina was able to go into business immediately after college. By Christmas of that same year she was already selling her work through galleries. That was followed by trade fairs, more work in galleries, and the taking on of commissions, like the wire drawing of Brighton Bandstand made for a man who proposed there to his girlfriend. She said yes.
Though her degree equipped her in many ways for business, Helaina still finds selling online challenging. 'I don't like the whole emailing people, keeping up-to-date with social media, websites and things like that,' she freely admits. Perhaps it's not surprising, given her love of all things Victorian and Edwardian, that technology should feel somewhat alien to her.
However she does understand how important networking is for her business, so she exhibits at several shows each year, to meet existing and potential new customers, sell her work and take commissions for bespoke pieces. Clearly Helaina prefers the human touch.
So what lessons can we learn from this artist with a passion for the past?
1. Basically, "Say yes to anything, then worry about the consequences later" is very much Helaina's motto. "I don't think you should have regrets," she says, and I really applaud her positive attitude about diving into life. She doesn't hesitate, she just goes for it.
When something new comes your way in your career or business, what's your first reaction? To welcome the challenge or find an excuse to walk away and stick with what you know?
2. The more you do, the more confident you become. Once you're on your way, keep going has been Helaina's approach, and it's worked for her. And with her passion for what she does, it would be very hard to imagine her doing anything else.
What are the areas in your work and life in which you feel confident and which need improving? How can you become better at these and reap the benefits of doing so?
3. Value and appreciate your surroundings. Helaina thinks that because we live such a fast lifestyle, people don't notice things around them and so we miss out.
Are you a big picture or small detail kind of person? What do you notice and what do you ignore?Suggest a correction