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​From paparazzi to poster girl

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By Torsten de Riese

In 2009 Helen Edwards started the East End Art Club after stints as a cruise ship photographer, paparazzi and Head of Research at an art publisher. That was the start of the unlikely and wonderful story of East End Prints, a quirky independent print publisher based in London's buzzing Shoreditch art and design scene. For the first time the company is exhibiting at Top Drawer, where they will launch their first greeting card range this autumn. We caught up with Helen before the show to find out more about East End Prints.

Helen (left) enjoying an ice cream break with her East End Prints team.

What did you do before East End Prints?

I trained as a photographer up to MA level. Then I went off to the Caribbean to work as a cruise ship photographer. When I came to my senses, I came back to London and started working as a paparazzi photographer. After a while I had enough of the late nights staking out B list celebrities, so I decided to enter the world of photo libraries and image rights. Times were different pre-digital - everything had to be printed and filed - an exhausting process! I happened upon a position at the poster and card publisher The Art Group and only then did I get to really explore my passion - art and design. As Head of Research, I met a lot of artists and Estates and I built up a visual aesthetic of the work that I wanted to represent.

The new greeting card range is ready to be boxed up for September's Top Drawer show.

What made you set up the business?

The Art Group eventually went into liquidation. I think one of their biggest problems was embracing and working with new technologies alongside old. Digital printing has allowed for democracy with thousands of artists selling their own prints and needing only to ever print one off at a time. After The Art Group, I went into secondary teaching for a bit but found inner city schools too grim and the life of a teacher a bit lonely.

I remember sitting there one day thinking if I start this business there is no going back. So I started very slowly having group exhibitions and having lots of fun with it! I loved digital printing and had many friends who were artists in London. So in 2009, the East End Arts Club was born, and about a year later we became East End Prints. I wanted to support artists and showcase what I felt the East End of London had at the time, which was many artists from around the world coming here, working in their studios and selling their stuff!

We try and get out to all the student shows and open studios. The artists are being pushed more and more East, so it's great to bring them back to the new E8 shop and down to Spitalfields each week. For five years now we have had the shop selling the prints, which acts as a showroom for our trade clients.

Why do you think cards and posters are still relevant in the digital age?

The UK is still recognised as the biggest card buyer in the world, which I find astonishing, but you only have to visit a Paperchase shop and see the range of high quality and design out there. It's a brilliant place to be right now! You can easily get a download of a print or a personalised card, but I still love the look and feel of real objects. I don't think I am alone?

East End Prints has been working with emerging artists from East London for the last six years. It all started off with digital poster prints and limited editions, but now the company has branched out to greeting cards with the launch of their first range at autumn/winter Top Drawer.

What are your plans for the future?

We are launching the new greetings card range at Top Drawer - and we have recently been deciding if it's time for promote our brand more widely! I am not a fan of 'MacDonalisation' or, effectively, growing chains of East End Prints, but I would love our artists to be really successful and on the walls of homes throughout the UK and beyond!

Tell us a secret!

I am a mum of a 4-year-old so I can often be found answering the business phone from a local park - pretending I am at my desk! 

For the full article as featured on the TOP DRAWER blog click here


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