Helen Sveinbjornsson was born in Edinburgh to an Icelandic father and Scottish mother. Sveinbjornsson studied at the College of Fine Art in Edinburgh and received a diploma in design. Following graduation she taught art in both private and public schools across Scotland. In 1919 she moved with her parents and brother to Winnipeg, Canada where she continued to teach art in high schools. Although she remained in Canada, a trip to her father's native Iceland had a profound affect on Sveinbjornsson, and Icelandic literature remained an influence on her work. She painted and created woodcut prints mainly of subjects of nature, and later became best known for her poetry. Various volumes of poetry were published under the name Helen Swinburne.