Helen Swain studied painting and pottery at Willesden School of Art from 1945-1951. She worked with Harry and May Davis at Crowan Pottery in Cornwall, and after teacher training at Hornsey, went to Royal Doulton and worked with Agnette Hoy as a modeller. She later taught at Hornsey and Goldsmiths'. She made some finely potted work in both stoneware and porcelain from her workshop in East London, and latterly preferred hand-building in earthenware before she eventually retired in the mid 1990s.
Swain had a broad technical training, and while she made some well glazed simple forms, her interests were also sculptural, and latterly she worked on unglazed pieces which had their inspiration in pre-history. She wrote; "Form has always been my prime motivation, with decoration quietly related to it".