Meet the AOI Team: Helen Ridley, Awards Coordinator

An illustrator once described the AOI as “a little organisation with a big voice”. This is a very true statement, and our big voice is not only possible thanks to all the illustrators and members who contribute to it, but also to the dedication of our passionate staff team.

Some of you might have met us in previous events, but for those of you who haven’t yet, we thought it’d be good to gradually introduce ourselves in a new series of interviews.

Having previously worked as our World Illustration Awards Awards Assistant (psst, we’re hiring!), Helen Ridley officially joined us this March as our new WIA Awards Coordinator. She also works as a freelance Illustrator, working quickly with a range of materials including watercolour and gouache.

Continue reading to meet Helen…

Hi Helen! Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at the AOI.

Hello, I’m Helen, the Awards Coordinator in the Awards team. Alongside our Awards Manager Sabine, I produce many aspects of the World Illustration Awards (WIA), from managing new entries to marketing, event management and website updates. I also create the WIA Shortlist Showcase on the website, along with blog posts and event updates. To help build a community I host webinars and online events for entrants and manage the WIA awards night at the end of the awards cycle.

You also work as an illustrator. Can you tell us a bit more about your practice? How has this experience fed into your role? 

I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for the last couple of years. I have a background in Fashion Design and Product Development and I now work as a Live Fashion Portrait Illustrator at weddings and events, as well as teaching watercolour workshops and working on bespoke commissions.

Working at live events led me to my role at the AOI, as I have a passion for sharing illustration with a wider audience. I also find it hugely inspiring to see the incredible range of projects submitted to the awards each year, and this inspires me in my own illustration practice.

What does your working week look like?

I work as the Awards Coordinator at the AOI 2 days a week, and alongside this I usually teach a couple of watercolour painting workshops each week, as well as working on freelance commissions. Depending on the time of year and the rest of my schedule, I will be booked to do live portraits at a range of events a few times a month.

I have a studio at an arts centre in Reading where I’m based, which is a great space for collaborations with other local creative businesses. I don’t always work a normal 9-5 week as I often work weekends and evenings for events, so I will make sure I take time out during the week. I often go to exhibitions or films to get some inspiration for my next project.

What’s your favourite thing about your role? And what’s the most challenging?

I love the variety of the role – there will always be something new to work on week by week, depending on where we are in the awards cycle. This is also the way I worked when I was in the retail industry, as my work load was dependant on what stage you are at for each season launch.  

The most challenging aspect of the role is also the variety! It involves a lot of forward planning and thinking about what the next stage of the competition will be, to make sure that we have everything we need to keep all the entrants and WIA audience informed.

What’s been your favourite experience at the AOI to date?

I loved hosting the WIA2022 awards night in November last year. Although it was an online event, there was a such a buzz and energy to that evening, and it was wonderful to celebrate all the winning and highly commended illustrators.  

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

To relax I love to go for walks or cycle rides in nature, particularly along the rivers in Reading. It’s magical in the summertime, and really peaceful. I also love to swim outdoors and at local lidos. 

I also like to keep my sketchbook with me when I’m out and about, to practice drawing quickly. I’m a massive foodie and love cooking for friends and family, particularly to try out new recipes.

What 3 things would you recommend to watch or listen to?

Music: Get Up Sequence: Part 2 by The Go! Team.
I went to see them live recently, and they were incredible! So much energy and joy.

Book: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.
This is a beautiful biography about Michelle processing the death of her Korean mother, and re-connecting with her memories by cooking her favourite dishes, and writing songs with her band Japanese Breakfast.

Exhibition: Hilma Af Klint and Mondrian at Tate Modern
This exhibition opens in April and I am so excited to see it. Hilma Af Klint was one of the earliest abstract artists, but she has only recently become more well known. This is the largest retrospective of her work to date in the UK.

Thanks to Helen for taking the time to answer all questions!

Learn more about the World Illustration Awards, and see more of Helen’s own illustration work on her website and instagram.

Continue meeting the rest of the AOI Team: 
– Tsveta Todorova, Finance Manager

20th March 2023

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