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Talks with 7-year-old Tessa

7 snippets of creative inspiration from my inner child Although I did go to see Barbie last week, it was a couple of other things that got me closer in touch with 7-year-old Tessa.

I’ve always been very much in agreement with the philosophy that our greatest creativity comes from unleashing our inner child. That confident dynamo that believes every picture she draws, or painted-cereal-box model she makes, is the greatest work of art of all time! Thanks for reading Tessa’s Substack! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.


Little Tessa in her Stamford High School red beret…unstoppable.

I remember when I was 7 (ish) I designed a theme park and drew a sort of map/ plan/ birds-eye view of said park. I thought it was such a genius design that I was convinced I could sell it to some theme-park builders for at LEAST £100.

I was unstoppable. And exceedingly creatively fulfilled. Just imagine what I could create so free of self-doubt and with such clarity of vision…

..so my mission has become, how to have more time with 7-year-old Tessa?

A couple of big forces are really helping me on my mission this summer. Firstly, for the final(!) project in my MA Children’s Book Illustration at ARU, the tutors have sent me out into the big wide world to find out what I like to draw. I’ve dutifully taken their advice and have been exploring what lights me up with lots of drawing from life in my sketchbook.


Surfers in Portugal And secondly, reading Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ has been reminding me how (of course) an attitude of play and unselfconscious making time helps me to find what it is that I truly want to create. I’m writing about it in my morning pages most days, and I’m starting to have some really interesting conversations with myself. Turns out you’re a lot nicer to yourself when you have that conversation on paper instead of inside your head.

I’m also loving The Artist Date! This is a time once a week where I should take myself out for a self indulgent activity to feed my creative soul. This week I took myself out for pizza and ice-cream (I highly recommend ‘Jacks Gelato’ in Cambridge), and other weeks I’ve let myself be drawn towards summer holiday activities that light up my inner 7-year-old.

And this is what I have found that my inner child likes so far…

1. Cereal box models


I’ve just put ‘Variety Pack’ on my cereal shopping list

No piece of art has ever moved me so much as these painted cereal boxes found on a trip to the MAAT in Lisbon. I was immediately transported to my kitchen table 28 years ago where 7-year-old Tessa was creating her next sculptural masterpiece, perhaps a city scape made of variety pack rice crispy boxes. Maybe a simple TV screen. Maybe a cheese factory.

The MAAT exhibition celebrated Hervé Di Rosa and his collection of “Modest Arts” which included weird African action movie posters, fimo fish models, rubbish beaded purses, and lots of illustrated maps. Basically, all the random sh** I used to love making at my kitchen as a kid to spice up quiet village life.

It’s all housed in a building that’s shaped like a Star Trek space station with a curved roof that you can walk on that’s a skateboarder’s paradise. So playful and fun…7-year-old Tessa is impressed.


Me and the architect on the roof of the MAAT in Lisbon


2. Maps


Big map of types of art, including the ‘naf’ ones

As a former Geography teacher and self-confessed map nerd I loved these huge map art pieces in the MAAT.

I also lost it a bit when I found Pato Logico’s collection of city guides in a Lisbon bookshop.


Concertina book and map by Catarina Sobral for Pato Logico

This innovative independent children’s publisher blew my mind so much that I went on a little trip to their home at Casa Do Pato to visit the studio and buy some beautiful books.


At Casa Do Pato in Lisbon

3. Public Transport (in Porto)


I’m learning that I’m a huge public transport nerd. Perhaps I’m indulging 7 year-old Tessa, with her once a week timetabled bus through the village.

This fascination with trams, buses, trains, boats, and bikes was spiked when walking by the river in Porto and I could see about 7 different types of public transport all intersecting over the bridge at the same time…including a cable car! (A real double rainbow moment). So many ways to get from one place to another. I was so inspired I drew a picture and made a monoprint of it when I got home.

Monoprint across the river in Porto

Maybe I’ll make a public transport book? Watch this space…

4. Holiday scrapbooks


My Mum has decided to move house, out of my childhood home and in the process of packing she has unearthed a pile of my old holiday scrapbooks.

I’ve yet to see the evidence (I’m very excited), but memories of sticking ski maps, postcards, and leaflets into A5 spiro notepads are resurfacing. I remember writing little guides with interesting information about the place and its history. I love how this extended the enjoyment of a trip for weeks after, and kept me entertained for long school holidays.

SouthBank Centre drawing, May 2023

Although I haven’t made scrapbooks this summer, I have enjoyed drawing the places I’ve visited, and making them into prints. I particularly enjoyed the Southbank Centre in London.


SouthBank Centre print, August 2023, just need to add some skaters

I don’t think I even expected anyone to read my scrapbooks. They were just fun to make. Maybe 7-year-old me knew that 35-year-old me would love to look at them?


Coimbra, Catarina Sobral

Maybe I could use my old holiday scrapbooks to make a concertina city guide, like this one from Catarina Sobral and Pato Logico?

4. Summer holiday school projects


Thinking about holiday scrapbooks got me thinking about my other school projects I’d be beavering away at to fill the holidays. I wasn’t the kind of kid that left it to the last week. I was that kid that spent ALL summer making the most creative project I could imagine.

I’d draw diagrams and carefully annotate them. Make maps. Think up recipes. Write letters. Anything to convey information in a creative way with words and pictures.

Again, I’m hoping some evidence of these mega-projects will unearth itself in the house move. In the meantime I’m off to WH Smith to buy some ringbinders, plastic wallets, and encyclopedias about Birds, the Egyptians, and Jacqueline Wilson books.

5. Botanical garden greenhouses

Monoprint in progress

This summer I set out to start my MA project about the jungle. The jungle holds a very special place in my heart as most years I travel to the Amazon in Peru where some great friends run a happiness research centre. The surrounding jungle provides a warm, buzzing and lively energy I’ve never felt anywhere else…the jungle never sleeps!


My crazy jungle family

BUT I’m not going to the jungle this summer, so to draw it from life I’ve indulged myself in visiting many botanical gardens. First stop, Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam! It was so great I actually went twice.


Drawing Hortus Botanicus

What really captured my imagination were the tree-top walkways. Seeing the opportunity to get up into the trees woke up 7-year-old Tessa and reminded me of many a weekend spent running around National Trust gardens. 7-year-old Tessa loved pretending to run away from Mum and Dad. I would imagine getting up to all sorts of mischief, and do pretend naughty things, all whilst they were blissfully ignorant that I was gone.

I drew a few different views from life, and made them into risograph prints and monoprints.


Riso of Hortus Botanicus


Riso of Hortus Botanicus

Anyway, that’s enough writing about my inner child for now, I’m going outside to play.

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