TESSA HENDERSON is an established artist who has been specialising in drawing portraits of houses since the 1980s. The daughter of the architect Bill Henderson, she was given ample opportunity to develop her love of buildings and their intricacies from an early age.

Her mother’s continental roots gave her experience of travel, languages and music and thus she was privileged to receive a strong basis on which to build. She has followed her father’s example of keeping sketchbook diaries of her travels since childhood. She studied Interior Design at Hammersmith – now Chelsea School of Art – and continued her studies at the Royal College of Art under Sir Hugh Casson who, after her father, became her other great mentor.

Having always enjoyed drawing buildings she subsequently found herself concentrating on their exteriors rather than their interiors:

“My first serious portrait was of the house in which I grew up – an extraordinary Victorian Gothic church-like building with Elizabethan chimneys and a turret, in North London. The first house I drew commercially came as a result of an open commission from friends. I sat in a haystack and drew their Suffolk farmhouse, hiding whenever they drove by. I thought if I drew something that belonged to them it would appeal.”

Subterfuge has quite often played a part in Tessa’s work, as wives (more often than husbands) have requested surprise portraits for their spouses: ‘Once when drawing an Elizabethan manor house, I had to hide with all my paraphernalia in the ditch when the husband came home earlier than expected!’

Tessa gradually built up an enviable reputation for her fine line drawings with professionals and clients throughout Britain, with commissions taking her abroad to Austria, France, Italy and further afield to America and Australia. Originally working in pencil( ‘I’m very cheap to run! ’), she also draws in ink with a tonal or water-colour wash if preferred. Tessa draws anything . . . from stables to stately homes, flats to farm-houses, cottages to castles . . . ‘provided it is in front of me and keeps still!’ Major commissions have included portraits of National Trust properties, a modern university complex, documenting aspects of a country estate and a two year comprehensive survey of the architecture of Cyprus for a private client.

While she has worked from photographs she much prefers to work in situ. ‘In spite of the difficulties I think the results are better. The sounds, smells and the way you feel come out in the picture and create atmosphere; you get a wonderful sense of connection with what you are drawing.’ A vital piece of her equipment is a large fishing umbrella against low flying pigeons and the splatter of raindrops which can spell disaster. She can either draw the whole building or make a collection of particular details of favourite corners. She discovers the interesting aspect of any building, and captures its individual character and personality. She admits ‘I’m hooked on detail. Sometimes I have to persuade people that things like drainpipes add to rather than detract from the drawing, but I will leave out burglar alarms and move trees slightly if necessary!’

Her drawings lend themselves well to being reduced and printed on stationery. She can also give advice about framing if needed.

Gothic Revival house

‘I particularly like this artist’s sensitivity to different periods of architecture.’
Mirabel Cecil, Country Life

‘Tessa Henderson’s delicate style gives the houses she draws particular charm. She captures the character of a building, paying attention to detail without being overly technical.’
Homes & Gardens

‘A present is all the more exciting if it involves extensive subterfuge and wicked ruses. Last year for my husband’s birthday on New Year’s Eve, I commissioned a portrait of our house from Tessa Henderson. By sitting in her car on freezing winter days, ducking whenever my husband emerged from the house, she managed to execute a smashing sketch – and in the nick of time, because this year we moved house. Now I’d like a portrait of the new homestead.’
Valerie Grove, London Evening Standard