A painting class for non-art majors convinced Brett Helquist (BFA ’93) to switch majors from engineering to illustration. Though he had neither formal art training nor apparent skill, he had a passion for pictures. He had taken a summer job teaching English in Taiwan and stumbled on to his first illustration job there, a series of 12 English-text books.
Once accepted in BYU’s BFA program Helquist took every figure drawing class available and spent hours drawing. He credits his instructors for patiently teaching him necessary skills. For those itching to try their hand at illustration, Helquist advises: “Just put something down on paper. . . . It’s probably bad . . . but then you’ve got something, you’ve put something down, you’ve passed that anxiety.”
With an art career spanning 20 years, some of his illustrative works include A Series of Unfortunate Events, Odd and the Frost Giants, Chasing Vermeer, The Wright Three, The Calder Game, Milly and the Macy’s Parade.
Although he says writing is difficult (comparing it to reading Chinese), he forged ahead and has written and illustrated three picture books: Grumpy Goat, Roger, the Jolly Pirate, and Bedtime for Bear. Despite the difficulty, Helquist says, “Every day, [I did] a little something to push my career forward. . . . It was no big magical moment or big thing that I did; it was just literally chipping away at it over a few years.”
Helquist has been recognized with the E.B. White Read Aloud Honor Award, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for children’s literature, Midwest Booksellers Choice Award Honor Book for children’s literature, and Book Sense Book of the Year Award for children’s literature. Over the years he has influenced many illustration interns and has served as a thesis advisor for BFA and MFA students.