Tessa Lyons - My Year in Art Article

© Tessa Lyons

Sheffield-based artist Tessa Lyons has had a very productive 2016; her work making its way down many avenues of the outdoor industry. We caught up with Tessa to see what she got up to...

Word landscape at Kendal  © Steve Scott
Word landscape at Kendal
© Steve Scott

What were you up to earlier in the year? Tell us about Iceland!

I had always wanted to go to Iceland, because it just looked magic. In the summer I went on a solo wild camping and driving mission around the whole island, which was actually a lot bigger than I had expected. I found the Icelandic people’s relationship to the landscape very interesting.

Iceland is a changing and often hostile environment that is constantly evolving and seemingly alive with earthquakes and eruptions happening on a regular basis. The folk who inhabit this land are very aware that the powerful forces of nature will have its own way, and the people of Iceland seem to embrace this vulnerability, not run from it, like one might expect. When the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull happened in 2010 (the one that was all over the news) apparently the traffic control for the island was trying to stop everyone from going in for a closer look! They seem to embrace this vulnerability as something beautiful, they respect their land and are proud of it but are ultimately at its mercy.

Iceland  © Tessa Lyons
© Tessa Lyons

Landscape Drawing Workshops

I also lead some drawing workshops in the Peak District.

Burbage drawing workshop  © Tessa Lyons
Burbage drawing workshop
© Tessa Lyons


Over the course of this year I have been undertaking a variety of illustration jobs. It’s been good to go full circle and come back to my roots as an illustrator. I’ve really enjoyed creating drawings for a variety of contexts, branching out into editorial illustrations, film posters, tshirt and hoody designs whilst still creating my own work and prints. I feel lucky to have found a niche and I’m grateful to those people that have encouraged my work to extend further.

Mirror Wall poster
© Tessa Lyons

Niall's Rock & Ice illustration  © Tessa Lyons
Niall's Rock & Ice illustration
© Tessa Lyons

Hallucinations of the ultramarathon runner – Trailrunner magazine
© Tessa Lyons

The infamous bear attack...Climb magazine
© Tessa Lyons

We saw you last month at Kendal, tell us about what you were doing?

I was invited to do a live drawing over the course of the weekend as part of the Make Winter Count campaign. The idea was to ask the general public to make one pledge each for the winter, something they wanted to achieve or somewhere they wanted to go. We asked them to write it down and then I collected all the pledges and incorporated them into my massive wintery landscape drawing of Ben Nevis.

Drawing at Kendal
© Finalcrux Films
It was an interesting experience because normally drawing is quite solitary, I wondered if I would be able to switch off from the hoards of people wandering around the festival and get absorbed into the drawing. Luckily I bought a large pair of headphones before I went and I think that they really helped me to focus on the drawing and not the fact that people were watching me draw. I liked the challenge and thought the idea behind the piece had a nice collaborative feel to it, it was interesting to read what people had pledged.

Tell me about the Bothy Project.

The Bothy Project is a short film about three artists going to the mountains to gain space and make stuff. Claire Carter came up with the original concept and the film was directed and produced by Jen Randall, Natasha Brooks and I were invited along to mince about.

Shenavall Bothy, ink and map transfer
© Tessa Lyons

Claire and I have been collaborating for years and some of our best ideas have sprung from walks out in the landscape. And as individuals our work is rooted in the experience of these places so the idea behind the Bothy Project was to make a short film sharing part of that process within different creative disciplines. As a group we are all very inspired by the mountains and find the space very nurturing for creative ideas. Coming from different disciplines, it was interesting to see how the experience of the place fed into each of our work; Claire Carter is a writer, Natasha Brooks is a video artist and Jen Randall makes films. I found the experience very insightful to be able to get glimpses of each other’s creative process, or even just gaining an understanding about how they felt about their work and how that changes with time too. The film will be available to see on BMC TV soon.

Beinn Dearg Mor
© Tessa Lyons

Did the landscape around Shenavall inspire you?

I love being in the mountains, the space seems to allow ideas to roll around and get bigger. Sometimes I find when I haven’t made it outside very much my ideas become small and I don’t feel like making things. So I think for me it’s really important to get out often just to feel balanced.

What's it like being a full-time artist?

I think being a freelancer of any sort has its difficulties, being an artist is no exception. I spend a surprising amount of time doing business related things but essentially drawing is at the heart of everything I do. I tend to work hard to maintain a living that way even if it means juggling things and often a lot of trial and error. I’m still not really sure what I’m doing and it feels risky but for me it’s currently worth the freedom that brings.

Tessa's studio
© Tessa Lyons

With risk comes fear, for a lot of this year I’ve questioned how to live with this. I thought for a while that it was to do with trust, to trust that things will work out…but this isn’t really true because you can’t ever know what shape the future will take. I think now that balancing risk might be to do with appreciation. Climbing is risky but for the moments when you stand at the top (or even half way up) and become flooded with emotion, this is an appreciation of how far you have come, the beauty of the place you’ve chosen to go to and the people you’ve gone there with. It’s this appreciation that makes risk worth taking. You can learn to trust your ability as a climber or an artist, but there is no certainty there.   

Security perhaps is an illusion, the easy way, choosing the known over the unknown. There is a consistency to this that creates the illusion of certainty. Risk is the hard way, and if in the harder times if we take a moment to appreciate where we are, it’s there where we’ll find meaning.

Do you have any current projects that you're particularly excited about?

One of my favourite projects from this year was collaborating with the BMC to design a range of women’s tops.  

Creating designs and patterns with climbing gear
© Tessa Lyons

Design for Hazel's coaching work
© Tessa Lyons
I'm currently working on some illustrations for Hazel Findlay’s coaching. I think I might have mentioned previously that I’m particularly interested in the idea of flow, and how for me, climbing and drawing often create a similar ‘in the zone’ state of mind. So producing illustrations for Hazel’s mental training coaching is very fitting, plus I get to read all her training secrets.

Let the body climb
© Tessa Lyons

I’ve also been designing the logo and coming up with some promotional material for a brand new festival called Rebuild. It’s a post apocalyptic immersive music festival about building a new society after the zombie apocalypse, it’s going to be ace. I’ve also been asked to illustrate an article Claire has been writing for Alpinist magazine. I’ve got loads of space to work with and I love responding to Claire’s writing anyway, so it’s a fine opportunity. I think it will be out early next year sometime.

There's still time to order some of Tessa's prints before Christmas!

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