By Erica Nielsen
From an engineering student at BYU to the illustrator of Daniel Handler?s hit book series, ?Lemony Snicket?s A Series of Unfortunate Events,? Brett Helquist forged his own path to success in the art industry.
The popular book series tells the story of the recently orphaned Violet, Klaus and Sunny Bauldelaire, whose parents perished in a fire. The collection?s dark flavor has captured the interest of young readers across the nation.
Despite Helquist?s success with the book series, national acclaim as an illustrator was not always his goal.
Helquist?s mother Colleen said her son actually did very little with art during junior high and high school. He studied drafting and drew caricatures of his teachers as his creative outlets, essentially allowing art to take a backseat to fitting in to the high school social scene.
?I was probably just too busy trying to be cool,? Helquist said.
After graduating from Mountain View High School in Orem and serving an LDS mission to Korea, Helquist began studying engineering at BYU.
He became frustrated with his studies and decided to take a year off to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He took a job in Taiwan, where he had the opportunity to illustrate a textbook. The experience pushed him toward switching from engineering to visual arts when he returned to BYU.
Robert Barrett, professor of illustration in the Department of Visual Arts, said when Helquist was a student, Helquist came to his office after taking a shortcut through a building and discovering a traveling display put on by the Society of Illustrators.
Barrett said Helquist was transformed by the show and brought a collection of drawings to Barrett?s office. Barrett said the series, drawn on rice paper and inspired by the art he saw on his mission in Korea, was ?OK, not fabulous.?
Even though illustration is a closed program at BYU, Barrett said he decided to give Helquist a chance by accepting him on the spot because his desire spoke louder than his portfolio.
As soon as Helquist left his office, Barrett wondered if he had made a mistake. However, Helquist?s work in the program quickly confirmed Barrett?s instincts about this aspiring artist.
?I think he also had this drive, this compulsion, to do more unique work that would set him apart,? Barrett said regarding Helquist?s ability to work in any style.
After graduating with a BFA in illustration in 1993, Helquist produced work for The New York Times, Harper Collins, Farrar Straus and Giroux. He also published his own picture book, ?Roger, the Jolly Pirate.?
As an illustrator, Helquist?s work with ?Lemony Snicket?s A Series of Unfortunate Events? did not carry over into the movie creation.
?If I think about it, I?m a little disappointed,? Helquist said. ?But it could have been a lot of undue stress.?
Paramount Pictures made the book collection into a major motion picture starring Jim Carry and Meryl Streep. Released Dec 17, which has grossed over $105 million.
Twelve years after Helquist?s graduation from BYU, Barrett said he admired Helquist?s decision to take a leap of faith and work toward something he loved.
Explaining his success, Helquist said, ?Everything takes a lot of work. You ought to be able to enjoy what you?re working on. Work hard ? there?s not much more to it.?
Helquist and his wife Mary Jane now live in Brooklyn, where he is working on his second picture book.