Featured artist

Helen Olden


I was born in West London, and my twin brother gained an apprenticeship following completion of our secondary school education. I, however, was destined to become a copy typist at my father’s place of employment, according to him.

I have always enjoyed drawing and when quite small thought it was a skill everybody had. Unbeknown to my father I had secretly collected a portfolio of my art work and obtained a place at art school at the age of just 16. Our older sister by ten years had also attended art school and was by now working in London theatres. Growing up, I had been to Sadler’s Wells Props Department and Covent Garden’s Scene Dock with her, and had developed a keen interest in the theatre.

I completed my two-year Intermediate Certificate in Art and Design course at Chelsea School of Art and wanted to study sculpture - but my father put his foot down, and would only agree to me studying interior design. I became fortunate enough, with my Sister’s contacts, to work at The Old Vic during my vacations, sometimes making armour for Henry V, costume jewellery, gongs, casting actors faces in plaster of Paris in preparation for the making of masks and, of course, props.

On leaving art school as an interior designer I joined The Old Vic Theatre in the props department and worked there for a several years. I also worked with my sister at Sadler’s Wells, Covent Garden and - for two glorious summers - at Glyndebourne Opera in Lewes.

Then, as they say, life happened. I married and had a daughter, and my art work became side-lined. It became further side-lined when I became a single parent. At this time I obtained a post at a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. Here I found an opportunity to develop both education and craft activities within the centre using some of my art skills. I eventually gained both a Montessori Teaching Diploma and Diploma in the Teaching and Training of Adults with Learning Disabilities. During these years, I continued with evening classes in pottery and sculpture. I eventually became manager of training centres in London and in Wolverhampton after re-marriage and the birth of another daughter.

After several years of moving around with my husband and daughter I eventually obtained the CQSW (Social Work qualification) and Diploma in Probation Studies... and became a single parent again. I became a Probation Officer and worked with offenders both in the community and in several prisons. My focus was on Rule 43 / Vulnerable Prisoner Units (sex offenders and dangerous prisoners). I found the ability to draw and encourage offenders to draw their ‘cycle of offending’ in cartoon form was extremely valuable. Many gained insight into their offending and found it a useful way in which to identify where they could have made better choices.

Wherever I lived I would become involved with a local amateur theatre group, designing, scene painting, making ceramic busts, bas relief work and hand-built pottery.

I retired in 2003... and the following year had a stroke!! After five years of hard work I regained the use of the right side of my body. I thought positive, bought myself a small kiln and decided I would start painting as well as making ceramics of one sort or another. In 2010 I joined a local painting group in Moulton and started with watercolour. I entered one or two local shows and was encouraged when I sold my first watercolour: an Iris.

I joined John Black’s Thursday afternoon group, and with his encouragement joined the FPAA and began entering paintings - and more recently, one or two of my ceramic sculptures - in the summer exhibition. I now work in watercolour and acrylics: primarily painting flowers in watercolour; and beloved pets, portraits, people in situations and wild animals in acrylics. I gained first the FPAA Diploma and then the Fellowship award, and I now keep an eye on the finances of the FPAA as Treasurer.

Maybe I should have started painting sooner, but I’m glad I discovered it when I did for the immense pleasure it gives to the painter and the recipient of the work.




20" x 18"

My beloved Autumn



5" x 8"

Young woman with child

Earthenware clay, fired twice
8" x 12"
Modelled after seeing my daughter playing with my eldest grandson

All mine

Pen & wash
5" x 8"
Developed from a sketch made on a beach in Cornwall


White clay, fired
A life-sized bust of my daughter

Lamp base

Coil pot modelled in buff clay, fired and glazed
15" x 12"


10" x 12"
My youngest grandson




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