Artist on File: Tessa Barnes - Applied Artist & Painter

Tessa Barnes

Tessa Barnes creates beautiful designs on silk; painting and fashioning patterns on scarves, umbrellas, jewellery, sarongs and cards. She takes inspiration from nature or uses curving abstract designs. ‘One of the fascinations of working with silk is that the painting is semi-translucent and can move, which means that the colours are seen through other colours and shapes drift and change. Silk painting has many moods.’

Originally from Reading, Tessa trained as an Occupational Therapist at Oxford where she met her Suffolk-born husband. Her course included learning creative therapies, such as weaving, pottery, woodwork, basket making and cord knotting. Tessa also had to take anatomy, physiology, psychology and psychiatry.

Careers then brought the couple to Hertfordshire. Initially living in Radlett with their 4 small children they were soon short on space. In 1968 they fell in love with a house in St Albans and 45 years later are still there. In the 70s they rented out the house for a year, as her husband’s work took them to Sydney, Australia. ‘I loved the experience of living abroad for that year and Australia is a wonderful place.  I was excited to come home though and begin to properly renovate our house, as I relished the idea of decorating and creating a home’.

For many years, Tessa was employed as an occupational therapist at the Napsbury psychiatric hospital in London Colney.  ‘I worked with older psychiatric patients helping them to communicate and improve their circulation through movement. We also had many homemade games to improve logic and memory.’

Tessa’s friends were repeatedly urging her to take up art, but it was only after retiring that she finally found the time to take classes. ‘I have always loved doing things with my hands and had that creative background in a different kind of way.’

Tessa showed me some of her elegantly crafted silver jewellery. In particular I loved the ‘Phoenix rising from the ashes’ necklace, which has the flowing form of the phoenix as the pendant and a pearl droplet attached to the opposite side of the chain to drape down the back of the wearer. As well as silver jewellery making, she also took a course on Enamelling. ‘You have to be incredibly quiet and still to do enamelling and I found that didn’t suit me at all! But to get to that class I had to walk through the area where the Silk course was taking place and decided I would love to try it.’  Tessa found her passion and has never looked back.

There was a resplendent piece of silk work laid out on the workbench of a Dragon with green eyes and gold talons. I found it visually striking.

Tessa explained to me that it is a flag for the ‘Weather or Not’ outdoor textile exhibition at Mill Green Museum near Hatfield.  ‘It’s the 2nd one I’ve made as the previous one was used so much it has worn out!’ 

The exhibition runs from Sunday April 22nd to Sunday June 24th. If you would like further information please visit their website, or contact the curator, Jenny Oxley on 01707 357850.

The soft billowing silk scarves in glorious colours feel luxurious and the rolled silk jewellery ‘beads’ with silken tassels are funky and gorgeous.

The design on the umbrella pictured has a Mediterranean feel, bright and beautiful. Tessa is a devoted practitioner of the craft and says:

 ‘I am a technician, I love working out how to do things. I’ve developed and have samples of more than 100 ways of getting dye and silk together.’

Tessa really is very accomplished in using the myriad of techniques in her work.

‘I admire the work Jane Venables, who was my tutor in 1990 during that silk painting summer school at ....  She is a very good teacher and lit a spark in me, passing on her love of working with silk and colours.’

Professional links
Tessa has been a member of The Guild of Silk Painters for many years and held the positions of Membership Secretary, Vice Chair and then Chair for a tenure of 3 years. She also regularly writes articles for their journal and attends AGMs.  She often hosts meetings of the local branch of the Guild of Silk Painters, SERICUM (from the Latin ‘with silk’) where members can network and exchange ideas.  Tessa is also on the HVA textiles group and participates in our Open Studios on alternate years.

‘In 1998 I was selected to teach a workshop at the First World Congress of Silk Painters in Washington. I have also taught at the national meetings of the Guild of Silk Painters in Cambridge and Durham and run many workshops since then’.
Tessa runs a Silk painting workshop at her home studio for 2 people at a time. She will tailor the content of the course to suit you and provides all equipment and materials, including a wide range of dyes. The charge is £30 for the day (5 hours) and this includes a simple lunch. There is a small additional cost for the silk.  

To see Tessa’s work or to book a silk painting workshop, please contact her on:
Tel: 01727 851987 / Email:
Address: 40 Battlefield Road, St Albans, Herts. AL1 4DD.