Art helcanen 10 VersaillesRESIZED

Published on October 4th, 2012 | by Setsu Uzume


From Manga to Metal: The Fantasy Art of Helcanen

Portrait of singer-songwriter Tarja Turunen

Every kid dreams of being part of the rock star world, but not many are able to actually make their dream into a reality. As the promotional designer for the Metal Female Voices Festival, Belgian artist Helcanen is one of the lucky few.

Since childhood, Helcanen has loved to draw. Combining her personal and professional passions — metal and art — she has developed a unique style that is influenced by Japanese pop-art, Renaissance painting and Gothic themes. No matter the medium (and Helcanen uses a variety), her images masterfully capture your eye and make you wonder what will happen next.

Whether working with charcoal or acrylics, her dark, enigmatic characters ooze power and sensuality. Her designs are reminiscent of fantasy art legend Luis Royo, who made his mark by painting intensely sensual warrior women. A personal favorite of hers is Brian Froud, who worked with Jim Henson as a designer for Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

With the ability to incorporate such a wide range of styles, her art has found its way onto metal posters and album covers, as well as t-shirt design and comics.

“I’ve always had lots of admiration for these artists, and I can’t hide that manga has had a lot of influence on my art,” Helcanen said, “but honestly, I try to stay away from big artists’ influence so I can avoid copying their technique. I try to keep my own personality.”

In addition to manga, Helcanen also draws from the Visual Kei music movement for inspiration. Visual Kei fashion popped up in the 80s, combining punk and metal to create something entirely new: flamboyant Venetian costumes and over-the-top hair and makeup that emphasize androgyny.

“I love that [Visual Kei fashion artists] combine metal with other styles,” Helcanen said. “They give me a whole different kind of energy. They always have this particular look that I like — it’s a combination of traditional Japanese art, manga, and the western Renaissance.”

Being able to adapt and fit new demand has been essential in the development of her career. 2Wild4 Productions — a management and production company in Belgium for female-fronted bands — hired Helcanen as their production artist when they saw portraits of the women she had drawn. Before that time, she hadn’t drawn portraits since she was a teenager.

“People reacted very well, so I made more and more of them,” Helcanen said.

She’s sold portraits of popular singers such as Simone Simons of Epica, Tarja Turunen and Liv Kristine of Leaves’ Eyes. Her art has also been incorporated into album jackets and CD designs for bands like Anwynn and Skeptical Minds.

“There are two artists I like to work with the most,” Helcanen said. “For painting and design it’s singer, model and perfumer Aziza Poggi from the USA.  We’ve worked together for many years now even though we’ve never met in person. On each new project, she always contacts me because we have the same artistic view. For photography, I love working with Karolina Pacan from the Belgian band Skeptical Minds. She’s a great model.”

As her contacts and experience increased, Helcanen also took on photography and has demonstrated incredible talent for learning on the fly.

“When you’re shooting a performance, you can’t really prepare anything beforehand,” Helcanen said. “You usually don’t have time. You just set up the camera’s options a few minutes before the show starts.”

Helcanen got in on the ground floor of the Metal Female Voices Fest at only 26 years old, and has seen her work grow and expand since that time. However, like all artists she has to cope with criticism.

“Maybe the critics are jealous people who can’t do what they want in life,” Helcanen said. “I try to not focus on it. These people generally aren’t objective.”

If she had to choose one quality that would help an artist’s career, it would be patience. Even if you’re taking on projects you don’t like, patience will sustain you through the development of your career. Sometimes it even pays off and, at least in Helcanen’s case, you get to meet some rock stars.

“The one band I’ve always wanted to work with is Versailles [a Japanese visual-kei band],” she said. “I finally met them this summer! It was really brief, and I only had a few seconds to give my promotion, but Versailles is probably the band I would like to work with most of all for design or a photo shoot.”

Helcanen is a shining example of living the dream, having found a way into the rock star world without ever picking up an instrument, moving within the peripheral business of promotion and design, photography and social media. She is one of those exceptional people who seems to be doing exactly what she was born to do, no matter what the roadblocks she encounters along the way. The key to her success? Following the same advice she gives to anyone else on this path: “You just have to complete it, step by step.”

Helcanen is this year’s winner of the Eve’s Apple Art Contest. You can follow her on Facebook and on her web site.

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About the Author

Shot from New York like a bat out of hell, Setsu is a writer and collector of stories. She recently graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Chinese Language & Literature. Her coursework included a stint at a monastery in rural China, where she studied swordplay and Daoist philosophy. Setsu is a co-founder of writing groups in Seattle and San Francisco, where new writers can take their first steps toward publication. She has dabbled in many arts, but only martial arts and writing seem to have stuck. Visit her blog at

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