Tess Newall is a decorative artist bringing art into the home with her unique paintwork, hand-painted furniture and exquisite murals. Arriving down a little country lane in Sussex we came upon the most picturesque quaint cottage, beautifully restored and with charming details and character. As we walked through we were then captivated by the beaming garden, full of wildflowers in every colour, which led us down to Tess’s sunny Studio. Perfectly situated, bursting with creativity and energy whilst looking out onto the tranquil rolling hills and fields. It was a delight to be surrounded by Tess’s beautiful artwork, it is a true hive of creativity.
My career began in fashion set design, assisting a designer called Clementine Keith-Roach who created a lot of Tim Walker’s sets. The prop making and scenic painting was very theatrical, like making a giant clam shell to sit on a lake - I learnt a lot of different skills! I went on to design and paint sets for films, as an art director. My husband Alfred Newall is a furniture maker, and his interior design clients began asking me to paint for them. I instantly preferred it to film because the pieces are used and loved in a real home.
It feels as though it has sort of happened backwards or without me realising! I was lucky that the decorative painting work became busy as soon as I started. I began the children's chairs (www.pierrotchairs.com) when my first child was 6 months old, originally painting an antique chair for him as a maternity leave project during his nap times. Their success helped me take the leap to renting a large studio with assistants, and meant I had the space to decorate large furniture pieces for clients.
I find inspiration from so many different sources - antique Ukrainian fabrics, Italian frescoes, Swedish cabins.. there's a lot! I have built up a large reference library, and the V&A archive is an endless source of inspiration. I used to do traditional portraiture, and detail is something I'm always looking at. William Morris and the principles of the Arts & Crafts movement is a huge inspiration. Natalia Goncharova, the costume and set designer for the Ballets Russes, is another artist whose work I love.
The challenge has been managing my time and keeping up with demand, which is a good problem to have, but it’s been a lot on my own. I am currently building up a great studio team which feels like an exciting step, and the proper start of the ‘business’ really. It's lovely to work as a team with other people.
My mum is an artist and my dad is a building conservationist, so my brother and I grew up surrounded by paints and plans laid out on the kitchen table. I was always "redecorating" the dolls house my dad had built for me, and making nests from moss which I thought woodland creatures could live in.. we had a very imaginative upbringing!
I think the feeling that you can do and be whatever you want is something that I carry from my childhood, and not to worry too much about what people might think of you. I like the saying that a mother is also born, that we learn a lot of lessons from our children.
Honestly, it is a juggle, and I often feel as though I burn the candle at both ends. I feel incredibly lucky to have children, and they are my number one priority. I love being a mum. But I also love my work and it is an important part of myself too. On weekdays, we have a wonderful nanny who the children adore. We make sure we are home for bath-time and stories (which can take a good few hours!) and weekends are a sacred family time. An early morning hill climb, often with a baby on my back - or a sea swim with a friend - is a real head clearer. Women supporting women can get through most things I think.
‘Conversations with Friends', based on Sally Rooney's novel.
Scruffy period drama?! 'The Railway Children' meets 'Far from the Madding Crowd' maybe.. billowing dresses with muddy work boots. I read a lot of romantic novels when I was younger and that probably had an influence!
My raspberry beret, which I bought from a second hand shop in Edinburgh called Armstrong’s when I was 15. I love the Prince song ‘Raspberry Beret’ and that was why I bought it. It is oversized and I wear it on the middle of my head, pushed back so it peaks up - not quite as chic as the French!
Follow Tess on Instagram: @tessnewallstudio