Helen McKie attended Lambeth School of Art from 1910 to 1912. She worked as a staff artist for The Bystander between 1914 and 1929 as well as its sister paper, The Graphic, and various other titles such as Pearson’s, The London Magazine, The Royal magazine and The Queen. Well travelled, she spent time in France and Poland during the First World War, and produced characterful pictures of soldiers behind the lines.
Most of her pictures for the ILN magazines feature vignettes and sketches of people (in a style described in The Times in 1943 as “grinning and jaunty human types”) brought together in a themed whole, such as drawings for The Bystander depicting armaments manufacture or the various nationalities of soldier frequenting London during the war.
A Francophile, she spoke fluent French and delighted in drawing military uniforms, especially of French soldiers (she would provide the illustrations for a 1927 edition of P.C. Wren’s Beau Geste). Her cosmopolitanism continued after the war when she pictured scenes of London’s nightlife or sent pictures back from the South of France for The Bystander’s annual Riviera number.
She undertook commercial work for a number of railway companies, in particular the Southern Railway for whom she designed posters, uniforms and even upholstery as well as written and illustrated publicity material. Associated with glamorous European travel, she decorated two new coaches for Southern Railway’s Continental boat train in 1939, painted scenes inside the cross-channel ferry Brittany and carried out mural designs for the Ritz in London as well as for Butlin’s Holiday Camps.
McKie’s work was exhibited at the Paris Salon, the Society of Women Artists, the Royal Hibernian Academy and at several London galleries.