Discussions with Artists in Lockdown: Printmaker Tessa Holmes
by Kitty Atherton | 03 February 2021
Tessa Holmes, This Was Once Sea / 30 x 30 cms /collograph ed of 3
Having first discovered her fascination for printmaking while studying at London Metropolitan University, London-based artist Tessa Holmes has an experimental approach to her practice. Perhaps best known for her distinctive prints— which employ a variety of techniques including monotype, collograph, letterpress and relief— her early works were influenced by maps, both in their graphic nature and aerial perspective. More recently she has produced a series entitled ‘Animalgamation’ which combines hand-drawn transfer prints and Photoshop to produce beautifully quirky illustrated animals. This work inspired a series of wire-based sculptural drawings— an abstracted series of animal observations entitled ‘Wiromals’. Tessa enjoys an eclectic approach to her work. She does not like to be boxed into a specific genre or style. Her studio ‘eTCH studio23, is situated in the London Borough of Lewisham - part of a thriving artistic community known as ‘Havelock Walk’.
Currently, Tessa is in isolation in East Sussex surrounded by a vast rural landscape, growing vegetables and immersed in a lifestyle totally at odds with her London home. When we met, she played me a recording of birdsong captured on her daily walks in the woods, revealing the change of environment affecting her.
I spoke with Tessa, wanting to know how lockdown had impacted her as an artist and whether stylistically she had changed her approach to printmaking during this time.
She is confined to work in a small, shared space with limited materials and admits to missing her studio back in London. Being away from her “comfort zone” has been a challenge. Lack of access to a printing press and other essential equipment has forced her to adapt to a new way of working. She has been experimenting with the few materials she has access to and using her limited equipment in a more unconventional manner (such as print rollers used in lieu of paintbrushes). As a result, she has produced some vivid landscape monotypes using paper stencils and rollers. She acknowledges how her prints have, to her surprise, become more painterly. How does she feel about this newfound approach to her artwork? “Lockdown has unlocked a new dimension to my creative process” she exclaims, “one that I never knew existed! Working within the confines of a tighter framework has been an interesting challenge.”
Tessa Holmes, Stone Cliff / mono-type with paper stencils April 2020 30 x 55cms
We spoke about being distanced from the artistic network of “Havelock Walk.” Whilst being away from this environment hadn’t limited her inspiration, she was missing the community of the open studio doors and encouragement of her friends there. Being away from her usual setting had ultimately allowed Tessa to think in alternative ways and she embraced this newfound process.
We went on to discuss whether lockdown had allowed her to consider enhancing her social media presence, to which she replied that she felt under “great pressure to do so.” Despite producing new work, she has struggled frequently with “artist’s block” over the last few months. This has been compounded by seeing a constant stream of creative images on Instagram and Twitter. She added, “People are busy doing their thing out there, but I find scrolling through these images makes me feel pretty inadequate!” There is also a additional added pressure on artists selling work online. She is taking part in the #artistsupportpledge, an exciting initiative set up to support artists during by the pandemic. Artists sell work online for a maximum of £200 per piece. If they raise £1000 in sales, they pledge to buy another artist’s work to the value of £200. “This is a brilliant idea but I find it difficult to make any substantial headway without a large following. I guess it’s quite competitive – one of the negative aspects of social media… More stress!”
I asked Tessa if she would rethink how she uses social media post-lockdown. She replied, “I think there will be a necessity for it as access to galleries and exhibitions will be so limited. But it’s a hard slog to get social media to work for you – especially if you are trying to sell work. It’s another skill, another hat to wear. I am not sure I will wear it that well!”
Lockdown hasn’t changed how Tessa fundamentally feels as an artist. However, she is seeing her landscape from a different perspective and this has undeniably unleashed a new element of her artistic style. She has also started to re-engage with her early interest in mapping— an unexpected outcome. She observes that being in lockdown has contained people: “Being confined to a limited physical (and psychological) space is hard. But it can sometimes bring unexpected results: it forces you to “dig deep” and find new and exciting ways of creative expression”
I am certainly excited to see how her work progresses both during this pandemic and in the future. It was an absolute pleasure to speak with her.
Tessa Holmes, Harbour Entrance / 20 x 18 cms / relief print /varied edition of 5
Tessa Holmes, Ebb and Flow (detail) 15 x 15 cms / unique print / monotype