Helen Craig spent her childhood in a remote part of Essex living in a tiny thatched cottage with no electricity or running water. She loved drawing but never thought of it as a profession and did not attend art school. Instead she was apprenticed at the age of 16 to a firm of commercial photographers and later worked as a portrait photographer in her own studio in London. She lived in Spain for three years and it was there that she began drawing seriously and making ceramic sculpture.
She started illustrating children's books in 1969 - while bringing up her small son alone - and has since then completed over sixty, including sixteen titles about her popular mouse character Angelina Ballerina. Helen usually works in watercolour but she illustrated The Yellow House using etchings and aquatints. Her retelling of Aesop's fable The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse was shortlisted for the 1992 Smarties Book Prize and she enjoyed the characters Charlie and Tyler so much that she wrote Charlie and Tyler at the Seaside.
Helen now lives just outside Cambridge. She collects children's books, new and old, and is in the process of creating new work involving painting from life and sculpture.
"I grew up during the war years in a tiny cottage with no electricity. Water for washing was pumped from a pond, my brother and I had to fetch drinking water from a tap at the end of the lane and light was from candles, paraffin lamps and our nightly log fire. The atmosphere in that flickering light was beautiful, and I sought to recreate it for Angelina. It was the first proper picture book I had the chance to do after giving up a career as a photographer – and I used all my memories of that thatched cottage.
That's possibly why it seemed so natural to turn Angelina from a girl into a mouse. My father's pet name for my mother was Mouse, and she cherished a collection of china mice that she occasionally allowed me to play with. Mice lend themselves particularly well to anthropomorphism: the tail and the whiskers can suggest so much emotion, and they can cross cultural boundaries that human characters, rooted in a particular time and place, might not."
Helen Craig has donated her entire Angelina Ballerina archive to Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books with the exception of just seven illustrations which she has given to her grandchildren. It is these seven illustrations that she has used to produce editions of just 25 prints.
Helen's father was Edward Craig, the writer and designer for theatre and films; her grandfather was Edward Gordon Craig, also a theatrical designer and producer and the son of Dame Ellen Terry.