Artist and climber, Tessa Lyons expresses her experience of landscape and motherhood by putting ink and acrylic to paper.

Tessa Lyons seeks “total immersion in the landscape”, whether she’s camping, hiking or climbing – her first love. She started climbing indoors when she was about eight years old but “can vividly remember” venturing out into the open on the Peak District gritstone and the coastal cliffs at Swanage. “These experiences gave me a taste for experiencing the movement of climbing out in beautiful landscapes, a combination which later became a really important part of my life,” Tessa, now 35 and living in North Wales, told The Great Outdoors. Her love of the outdoors and her art practice used to run parallel. Now, they are intertwined. In this Q&A, Tessa tells us about the “clicking moment”.

Main image: Tessa climbing in her element. | Credit: Tessa Lyons

Could you describe your ideal adventures and what the outdoors means to you?

I started climbing when I was young, maybe eight years old or so. At first I mostly climbed indoors but I can vividly remember the times when I started to climb outdoors – these included trips to the Peak District and climbing on the coastal cliffs at Swanage. I think that these experiences gave me a taste for experiencing the movement of climbing out in these beautiful landscapes, a combination which later became a really important part of my life.

Ben NevisInk and acrylic on vintage OS map

Ben Nevis. Ink and acrylic on vintage OS map.
Credit: Tessa Lyons

Some of my favourite adventures are those of total immersion in the landscape, staying out in a van or camping, hiking to do a climb and then making a round trip back to base. But of late I feel as though I’ve developed a much more intimate relationship to particular spots within the landscape, there’s a closeness about this kind of time outdoors which perhaps can be missed when pursuing more involved adventures. So, to me, being outdoors has provided different things at different times, but throughout it has always provided headspace and connection to the environment.

They do say that art reflects life (and vice versa)! I wonder what inspired you to combine your creative practice with your time outdoors. Did one inform the other or did they develop organically together?

My art practice and time spent outdoors were running parallel for some time until my final year of University when the two passions began to collide and I felt a real ‘clicking’ moment, where things made sense briefly and I felt as though I could express some of my experience of the landscape through my art.

Tessa Lyons drawing

Tessa in her studio.
Credit: Tessa Lyons.

This continues to be the case, as my experience has changed so has my art, lately I have begun to make my own inks from plants that I’ve gathered which I feel is reflective of this slower, more intimate connection that has occurred in my life recently with spending time outdoors with my toddler.

Would you say you’re a cartophile? Can you describe what it is in particular about working with maps that appeals to you as an artist and climber?

I do love a good map, I have an obsession with collecting old maps. I think this might have something to do with the history that the artefact might hold, the journeys of all the previous people who held this map in their hands.

Clogwyn Du'r ArdduInk and acrylic on vintage OS map

Clogwyn Du’r Arddu. Ink and acrylic on vintage OS map.
Credit: Tessa Lyons.

I’ve found that drawing on top of old maps enables a layering of experiences, it could be that the map represents the initial planning of an adventure, the anticipation of what’s to come, followed by the drawing of the location on top, which in a way is a reflection or memory of an experience having been to the place.

Your work seems to be heavily textural and really leans into the light and shade of landscape forms. Can you briefly describe that process of creation?

A lot of my Peak District drawings were drawn out in the landscape, living in Sheffield at the time I made the most of being in close proximity to the crags for both drawing and climbing. For the larger landscape drawings I always work from a photo due to the cumbersome nature of the scale!

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