Tess Newall is a decorative artist, working with paints and botanicals. She has recently started making paints and dyes from plants. She lives on the edge of the South Downs in Sussex, UK, and she is happiest in nature - swimming in a cold clear stretch of water, surrounded by green.
How does a graduate in anthropology end up as a decorative artist? Painting and making is something that I have always done, but I have a curiosity about what it means to be human so I wanted to study it. My Oxford thesis charted the evolution of a sense of self, through the earliest evidence of art and toolmaking. Objects becoming decorative - beyond the functional - marks a key cognitive development in human evolution. I also spent time in Borneo studying orangutans, with the Iban tribe. They live alongside nature in the purest sense. Life is dictated by the nutritional and medicinal properties of the rainforest. I frequently refer back to my experiences in my work, so the two feel linked to me.
How would you describe your style? Painterly, textural, delicate and playful.
What is the most satisfying thing about your work? To create, to make something that wasn't there before. Transforming a blank space with a mural - with just a few colours, I can mix up a thousand different shades and create a new world for someone to live in - I love that.
You live quite close to nature, and botanicals are essential for your practice.
What have you learnt from nature? It has taught me to look, to notice patterns - the shape of a leaf, the markings on a pebble, the architecture of a cobweb. I have been brought up to respect nature, and to teach my own children to.
Being a mother and at the same time running your own business is sometimes quite challenging, let us know a bit about your experience. I have such huge respect for both fulltime mothers and working mothers. My work is my passion so it's important that I make time for it, and we are lucky to have a brilliant Montessori Nursery and Forest School near us. I try to be totally present in the day, whether it is a working day or a family day, so that I never resent that I'm not doing the other thing.
Could you tell us which woman has been your biggest inspiration? The anthropologist Jane Goodall. She studied chimpanzees in Africa as a young woman in the 1960s, and revolutionised a male-dominated field. She is an environmental campaigner, UN Messenger of Peace, and a wonderful woman who I am lucky enough to have met.
What is your concept of beauty? Beauty is an inner wisdom, kindness and grace. My grandmother is 91-years-old and she becomes more beautiful with each crease on her skin - they tell her tales, both the happy and the sad.
Tell us about your beauty routine, how do you take care of your skin? I use rose water as a toner, and plant oils as moisturiser. I also make a facemask with yogurt, honey and turmeric which an elderly lady taught me in India. You must use a few drops of lemon juice on cotton wool to remove it though, or you will be yellow!
Now that you’ve tried some of ROWSE’s beauty essentials, is there anything you like particularly? I am in love with the ROWSE Rose Water. It is so pure, your skin smells like an English rose garden.
To end this interview, could you share some tips with us to make the best of pressed flowers? Here you go:
- Delicate wildflowers press beautifully, like poppies, forget-me-nots and primulas. Leaves and grasses also press well, and herbs from your window box too.
- Avoid excess moisture on your flowers by picking them when it is dry, and when there is no early morning dew on them.
- Keep flowers in water if you are unable to press them straight away, so the stalks stay well hydrated.
- If you would like to enjoy them fresh in a vase first, press them before they show any signs of wilting or turning brown.
- Lay flowers between two sheets of absorbent paper - blotting paper or kitchen paper - sandwiched between two sheets of thick cardboard.
- Flowers with flat faces can be laid face down with the stem cut short. If laying the flower on its side, make sure the petals don't overlap too much.
- If using a traditional flower press, tighten the wingnuts in each corner evenly. If using a heavy book, tie a band or string around and lay more books on top.
- Leave for 3 weeks! Use tweezers to move particularly delicate dried flowers.
Pictures and words by Tess Newall
Discover ROWSE's Botanical Press Kit