Meet Helen Gibson – the ‘Perky Painter’ creating happy art in Leeds

“I paint with big arm gestures; my movements are like a dance,” explains Leeds-based artist Helen Gibson, also known by her alias as the Perky Painter. “I’ve always painted and loved creating.”

I’m interviewing Helen on a stormy Friday afternoon, and she is just as buoyant as her work. “My heart feels happy when I paint. I feel very fulfilled,” she says. “It would be selfish to contain it.”

Helen recently took part in the Love Arts Festival, arranged by the organisation Arts and Minds, where for two weeks the emphasis is on mental health and the arts, and her work is still on display at The Arch – a café in Leeds city centre – until the end of October.

The work displayed at the cafe packs a punch, with exaggerated colours and a simplicity that is refreshing. But this is only a slice of Helen’s artistic talent; she also works digitally to create illustrations – or “visual equations and art maths”, she quips with a smile. It’s significant that Helen’s flexibility is recognised alongside her sheer artistic talent. From acrylic paint and ink to gold leaf and glitter, Helen’s mixed-media experimentation captures the theme of “connection” that the Love Arts festival encapsulates.

Helen quit her day job in 2015 and started showing her work at fairs, slowly inching her way into being a full time artist – an experience she doesn’t deny was scary. “It’s hard to push yourself out of the box and to have people look at what you’ve created,” she says, adding, “It’s important to try everything, go to everything. The first steps are the hardest. Don’t just jump off of the bridge, just speak to as many people as possible.” A highlight for Helen is receiving all the free cake at fairs: “A starving artist is not a good thing to aim for.”

Helen says Love Arts festival’s focus on mental health fits in well with her work. She says her art is a creative outlet that helps her deal with the bad days and that she hopes it can ease others’ loneliness. “If my work can help someone or have an impact during a festival like this, it’s important that I do.” This attitude is fundamental to Arch Café, too, which is itself involved in charity work concerning the elderly around Leeds.

Helen believes her work is “like marmite”. “Some people love it and some people… don’t,” she says. Rather than being instinctual, she says her work captures the freedom and the joy of childhood. She says she paints directly from the tube – “so that it’s bright”. She explains: “It’s all very experimental. I like to experiment with colours, layers and textures. I learn what’s best as I go.”

The Perky Painter is not only skilled in her craft but can capture emotion so powerfully in her work. Whether digitally or on a canvas, a Christmas card or a painting, her work is the sort of nuanced brilliance that shines through even the cloudiest day in Leeds.

To find out more, visit the Perky Painter website