Embroidered realistic pets and couple portraits – Anya Helm interview

anya helm custom cat embroidery portrait

Ok, I have a sweet spot for pet portraits. Especially embroidered ones. Getting a portrait just right is an art in itself, but with the limitations embroidery threads can put on it, I find it even more impressive! When I first saw Anya Helm’s embroidery I immediately fell in love with her sense of dynamic and joy that shines from every piece. The way she incorporates fabrics and other materials to mimic the props on her custom portraits is so creative!

Read and enjoy this interview with her:

anya helm interview

Hi Anya, I’m glad to have you here! Could you give us a short introduction so my readers know who you are?

Hello! Well, I’m Anya, and I have been creating for as long as I can remember. Whether it was drawing, sewing, or building I am constantly using my hands. I graduated about two years ago from Northern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in art where  I tried to learn every medium that I could while I was in school. I took ceramics, mixed media sculpture, printmaking, illustration, life drawing, and a few fibre courses. Currently, I have been moving around the United States (I’m from Illinois then moved to Charleston, SC and now I’m across the country in Bend, OR!) trying to find my groove and where I really fit.

How did you find your way to embroidery? When did it become a passion of yours?

My very first embroidery was a birthday present for a really talented artist I know! I normally worked with pen/ink and watercolor, but he’s much better at illustration than me so I wanted to make something that was in a medium he didn’t use (as silly as that is!) I had no knowledge or concept of how long it takes and just dove right in. Then I didn’t embroidery for probably close to two years.

I developed a pretty severe case of arthritis and couldn’t do the art that I normally gravitate towards. Holding pencils and paintbrushes became unbearable, but giving up art completely was out of the question. I found that embroidery doesn’t aggravate my joints and from that moment on I was hooked.

custom pet portrait embroidery art - Anya Helm interview

You create amazing realistic portraits of humans and also animals. Did you always use needle painting methods or did you grow into this style of embroidery?

Thank you! I have always loved creating art that leans more towards the realistic style and so when I could no longer do that with pens and paints I decided that I could just do it with thread. I approach each portrait like I would a drawing, building layers and layers of colors until it comes to life! My dad actually commissioned my first portrait, which forced me way outside of my comfort zone (I had only really done flowers at that point!). It was completely unknown territory, but it is still one of my favorite portraits to date.

Many embroidery people are struggling with storing their embroidery threads. What’s your system (or non-system), would you share your secret-sauce with us?

My secret is my wonderful partner, Thaddeus, who lovingly winds and sorts all of my thread. It’s been a total lifesaver when I am scrambling to find a specific color. Although, as I work on my projects I keep my threads I’m using in what I like to call organized chaos. It might look like a giant pile of tangled threads, but I know where everything I need is….most of the time.

embroidered couple portraits Anya Helm interview

What is your favorite part of the embroidery process from start to finish and which do you like the least?

I absolutely love laying down those first stitches and figuring out where each one goes as well as adding those last detail stitches. My least favorite is definitely backing my hoops. My brain goes, “Excuse me we finished stitching that hoop” and then there’s this mental block to get it completely finished. Keeping my fingers crossed that maybe one day Thaddeus might add that skill to his repertoire.

Which embroidery project was the most challenging one you have ever done?

One of the hoops I’m working on at this moment! It’s a really sweet cat laying on her back with her fuzzy fur sticking up all over and trying to figure out the best way to translate that into thread has been a challenge! (you can see the finished cat here)

quirky pet portraits - Anya Helm interview

There are so many embroidery techniques and materials out there. What would you love to try out one day that you haven’t done yet?

Stumpwork! It’s always amazing to see people work sculptural elements into embroidery. I have been wanting to try out stumpwork with a portrait of my new pup. My brain is already working out the best way to build up the parts of her face even though I have at least 12 embroideries in the queue.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self who has just started embroidering that you wish you had known back then?

Value yourself! Honestly, I am still struggling with pricing my work fairly, but I am getting much better. When I first set my prices I worried people wouldn’t want my portraits anymore and then I ran myself ragged for basically nothing. Loving the process doesn’t mean you have to practically give your art away.
I would also tell myself that it’s okay to like what you do. I still find myself getting down on myself for having the flexibility to work from six am and then take the afternoon off. I feel like I’m not “working” because I don’t get up and drag my butt to a 9 to 5. It’s okay if I don’t get the dishes done even though I’m home because I *am* working even though I love every second of it.

Thank you for taking the time answering my questions! Where can we find you to see more of your work?

Thank you for having me! I am only on Instagram at the moment.

My embroidery account is @AnyaHelm and there’s a link in my bio there to sign up for a mailing list to be the first to know when I’m having shop updates/special announcements.

AnyaHelm.com is where you can find my FAQ, pricing, examples of finished works, and a contact form.

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custom pet portraits - Anya Helm interview
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