In The Artist’s Studio with Tessa Houghton
We talk to the latest artist to join Curator, Tessa Houghton, about her amazing original painted works, her career history, and perspective as an artist.
You can see all of Tessa’s work that is currently available to buy direct from Curator, over on the Tessa Houghton profile page.
What or who first motivated you to start creating art?
I couldn’t really say what triggered it but I have been drawing for as far back as I can remember and my parents encouraged me to do so. My dad used to bring back printer paper from his office when I was little, so that I could sketch on the back of it. I was obsessed with horses when I was young and that was what I used to like to draw.
Do you feel that you were born with a certain artistic talent that you nurtured over time, or do you believe that most people can turn their hand to art in one way or another, given enough training and practice?
I think that you can teach someone to be a draftsman and how colour works but you can’t teach the desire to create and the drive that goes with that. I had lots of encouragement as a child and I suppose because I loved drawing so much I was practicing all the time and learning skills.
Did you receive a formal education in art, and if so to what level?
Yes. I completed a Foundation art course at Blackburn college then did a degree in Fine Art at Liverpool John Moores University.
Can you tell us a little bit about what your early ideas and work were like back at school and at degree level? Do you look back at this time with fondness or foolishness?
Well at university my work was based around microbiology and cell structures in the human body!
It seems a million miles away from what I do now but in some ways when I look back I can see how one progressed to the other I still painted primarily large abstract canvases and there were similar underlying themes about identity and place that run through both. I think I look back fondly and foolishly to be honest!
Was there a specific point in time in which you realised that you had developed a distinctive style that you could call your own? How much hard work did that take to achieve? And how do you now define your style of work?
I think moving to Barcelona and living within such close proximity to the sea had a profound effect on my work and I really started focussing on natural landscapes. It wasn’t something that I set out to do but it happened quite naturally and as I started working towards exhibitions I had the time to develop ideas in more depth and experiment with different mediums and techniques.
Although the work is recognisably landscape based it doesn’t necessarily depict specific places, but rather it attempts to convey mood and atmosphere. I don’t always like to pin my own meanings to the work as it can inhibit what someone else’s interpretation may be. It’s definitely an intuitive and emotional process of mark making and building up of layers and textures. Sometimes the process involves taking away and covering up what has been already done, almost sculptural in some cases.
I suppose ultimately I would define my work as semi abstract and gestural.
How important is diversity of style to you? Is it important to maintain constant progression and agility as an artist? What happens if you stay still for long?
Yes I think you instinctively know when the progression of an idea has reached a conclusion and your work can feel stagnant if you continue to thrash away at it.
Personally I seem to have developed a pattern of working on a body of paintings quite intensely for a few months at a time then having a refresher period where my brain needs to rest for a while and generate new ideas and energy!
What artists have you looked to for inspiration, either historically or current? How much have their ideas and styles influenced your work?
I’ve always been drawn to the abstract expressionists work from the 1950s, like Rothko and Diebenkorn, and that really spontaneous gestural approach. I think I definitely carry that over into my own work.
Can you tell us a little about your studio and working environment? Do you have a specific place in which you work, a home studio, a dedicated external studio, a managed studio, something extravagent… ?
I have a small home studio which I love. It is in my attic flat in Barcelona and has lot’s of natural light and looks out over Calle Aragon and Calle Rocafort in the centre of the city. There isn’t masses of space but I am quite organised and I love being able to work whenever I want.
How important is a structured workflow to you? Do you create spontaneously, or is it a more methodical process than that?
I tend to work quite methodically. I will go into the studio at 10 in the morning and work all day until around 6 or 7. It depends on whether I have something specific to work towards like a show or commission. I don’t tend to get up in the middle of the night to paint.
Are there any particular techniques that you use to maintain focus and high productivity?
Not especially although I do tend to work on 2 or 3 canvases at once, particularly in the beginning stages when I am working out compositions and underpainting .
How successful an artist do you see yourself? Does it give you pride to know that you are successful in creating artwork professionally and living off the proceeds?
I feel very lucky to be able to make money from something that I am so passionate about. However the real buzz comes from knowing that someone out there has connected with something that I’ve created, so strongly that they have wanted to take it home with them. It’s a good feeling.
How do you know when a piece is finished? Do you ever find yourself overworking something? Is finishing something you find easy or difficult? Do you ever procrastinate from finishing?
It really varies from piece to piece and some paintings have driven me crazy. Sometimes you instinctively know when a piece is finished but sometimes they can be very hard to resolve. You know that something is missing but dread ruining what you have already done. Usually I step away from it for a while then come back later and look with fresh eyes.
Where do you look to for inspiration outside of the art world?
I live in a great, vibrant city so there is a lot of inspiration right there on the doorstep. I also love music, reading and travel to name but a few.
Do you actively seek feedback from your friends, family, or viewers of your work? If so, is it important to take that feedback on board and use it to develop or change direction?
I do put images out there for people to see and find it fascinating to hear people responses to it, but I wouldn’t say I actively seek feedback. When feedback appears unsolicited it is much more rewarding.
When you’re struggling with a piece, stuck for an idea, or disappointed with how something is progressing – how do you motivate yourself to do better, to get going again, or just to get out of bed?
That can be tough but if the ideas aren’t flowing naturally I would probably go out and do something completely unrelated to painting, like a big hike through the countryside or a wander through the city. Sometimes you have to just switch off for a while and recharge.
Away from the studio, can you tell us a little about Tessa Houghton? Who is the artist behind the brush, what do you do to relax, and what things are important in your life beside painting?
I tend to divide my time between two very different places. I come from a small rural village in Lancashire where I still have family and friends I’ve known all my life. I come back regularly to visit and love it. There is some really beautiful countryside close by and my parents still live in the house where I grew up, next door to the Leeds Liverpool canal. Life in Barcelona is very different and definitely more hectic. I like to watch live music and even started learning to play bass last year. I ski quite regularly and learned to scuba dive a couple of years ago.