Drawn to the Mountain

I started painting and drawing mountains during the first lockdown of 2020. At the time, I had just moved away from Scotland back to where I grew up in Cheshire and was sorely missing the landscapes I’d left behind. 

One morning I was pouring over Glencoe: Monarch of Glens by Colin Baxter and Jim Crumley, a book my Dad had given me, when I had an inclination to draw one of the striking images of Buachaille Etive Mòr in winter, using some charcoal pencils. Although I had been to art school in Edinburgh to study Graphic Design, now I was a sporadic ‘artist’ at best, occasionally doing life drawing classes but never really making time for drawing in my life.

Lockdown gave me the opportunity to find that time, but it also gave me something else. Housebound and missing the outdoors so desperately, immersing myself in detailed ink, charcoal and eventually watercolour allowed me to get as close to the mountains as possible. I threw myself into making in a way I hadn’t done since I was younger.

Since then, I’ve continued exploring that creative expression, though perhaps this is because I found my muse – Scotland’s landscapes. 

Homage to the Herdsman
A4 Charcoal drawing

Black Sands
A5 Ink painting

Ben Nevis from CMD Arête
A3 Watercolour painting

I’m constantly amazed by the diversity of landscapes that exist here: dramatic coastlines east and west, rugged mountains in the northwest and the rolling plateaux of the Cairngorms. Not to mention the waterfalls, woodlands, vast open lochs and moorland, there’s just so much! And everything shifts again when the weather rolls in or the seasons change, so it feels as though you are never visiting the same place twice. 

In a way, the ever changing nature of the landscapes encourages me to apply this same approach in my own creative practice; continuing to experiment across charcoal, watercolour, monoprint, lithography, ink, colour, black and white. Each medium allows for a different aspect of the terrain to come forward.

For example, expressive mark-making in monoprinting allows me to capture a more emotive and abstract sense of the layers of landscape. They draw on the familiar sense of what makes a place, but aren’t anywhere in particular. For these pieces I’m often creating in a fluid, spontaneous style – drawing more on a subconscious intuition and understanding of what I presume comes purely from the familiarity of time spent in these environments.

A4 Monoprint

Buachaille Etive Mòr
A4 Monoprint

Printing in process

On the other hand, with my charcoal and ink drawings, I strive to bring out the intricate and infinite details of every rock, crag and shadow within those vistas. The process of drawing itself mirrors the experience of immersing myself in the landscape.

I like the paradoxical idea of meticulously studying and knowing a mountain in intricate detail while also acknowledging that you can never fully ‘know’ a landscape in that sense. Now, when I’m walking in the mountains, I catch myself considering how I might try to capture that particular sweep of scree, or a buttress jutting out across the horizon.

Charcoal drawing of Bidean nam Bian, Glencoe, Scotland

A2 Charcoal drawing

Charcoal drawing
35cm x 76cm

Pinnacle Ridge (Sgurr nan Gillean)
A4 Pen & ink drawing

The Scottish landscapes offer a tangible sense of timelessness; it may be from the wildness or isolation in certain areas, or perhaps the echoes of folklore, history and tall tales unmistakably linked with these wild places. 

As cliché as it sounds, I never tire of the view entering into Rannoch Moor and up to Glencoe. That place was my first real taste of the mountains beyond Arrochar and Loch Lomond, when I walked the West Highland Way in 2017 and later had my first outdoors climbing experience on the Buachaille. The glen always brings a sense of excitement for the start of whatever adventure I’m on when passing through, but there is also a hint of nostalgia here, as my Dad often recounted stories about his own adventures and ‘epics’ that took place within the Coe’s corries and crags, accompanied by pals and his father.

In my work, I try to convey the essence of these landscapes and the emotions they evoke. As much as I’m trying to reproduce how a scene appears, I’m also attempting to capture the intangible qualities that make these places so special – a sense of vastness and timelessness. I want viewers to have that same understanding. It’s about celebrating the beauty and mystery of the natural world and our place within it.

Sketchbook in-situ

Creator’s biography

Tessa is an artist and designer, drawn to spending as much time as possible outdoors. Mountains are her speciality, both on and off the sketchbook page. Tessa grew up with a love of nature and first started climbing hills during the nine years that she has lived in Scotland.

Since she began drawing mountains in 2020, she’s explored watercolour, charcoal and monoprinting as different approaches to capturing the evocative mountain landscapes that inspire her. Through her work she explores the idea of immersive experiences within the mountains and how our creativity is linked to our time outdoors.

Instagram: @drawn.to.the.mountain