The Empress of All I Survey – Part 1

Artist Nina Camplin

Have you ever thought of commissioning your portrait from an artist?

I have. It started as an idea for my 60th birthday. I thought I would like to make a collage myself, of myself, surrounded by each of my friends. There was one stipulation: I wanted everyone to give me their image as they would like to be remembered, showing something of their personalities.

My friends were horrified!

I didn’t realise for some years why no one came up with the goods. It was while doing a photography course that I discovered how difficult it is to find people who are happy with the sight of themselves.

Using myself as a model

Eventually, on that course, I decided to use myself as a model and it was a truly liberating experience. I made the absolute most of studio time and eventually took hundreds of photos of myself, many nude and very few flattering.

It’s interesting that so many of us, both men and women, have an idealised sense of how we should look, and very few are content or even objective about how we look right now.

Another self-portrait

When have you come across an image of yourself that you thought was hideous at the time it was taken but now… well, it looks better than any recent images? And what about other people’s perception of your picture?

My dad loved some publicity photographs I had done by a professional photographer in my early twenties for a theatre company I was working with. I still have them and they still freak me out.

Some of those publicity photos… EEEEK!

I was lovely, as all twentysomethings are, with glowing skin and large, dark eyes, but only I know that the look on my face in all of those images is fear and dread. I could never tell my lovely dad that the photographer spent the whole session trying to get me to take my clothes off, and although I didn’t, I was too afraid to leave until he got fed up with pestering me and closed the session.

There were a lot of experiences like that in my life… being afraid to speak up, being afraid to stand up for myself, until I was so angry or upset that I just came across as desperate or mad. Poor mental health, anxiety and depression swallowed huge chunks of my wellbeing, alienated me from others and taught me huge, painful lessons about the world and my place in it.

Before I became really unwell

Over many years I developed other more physical health issues, some from injuries acquired in my acting days and some auto-immune. They affected my muscles and joints and made me exhausted until, by my late fifties, I was struggling to walk and manage the job I loved.

I developed strategies and philosophies that helped me keep going, and when I finally had to leave my job, I had already decided that wherever I am, whatever I look like, whatever I can do or not do was how it is!   

When I had weeks when I couldn’t walk, I told myself it would come back or it wouldn’t, and I would learn to live with it. When I saw in my reflection a bloated, old person with hollow eyes and no discernible chin, I told myself: you will get some vaguely human shape back again or you won’t. It is how it is!

I adopted the attitude that I had earned the title of Empress. I might not be much but, sitting up in bed, exhausted and in pain, I could look around my room and tell myself I was Empress of All I Surveyed.

So, at 66, no longer glowing with health and beauty, and grieving for my dear friend who had just died of cancer days before her 61st birthday, I looked at my bank account and thought: I want to be painted by someone who will see me exactly as I am right now and help me celebrate it, because – who knows? – something has to get us sooner or later, and none of us is immune to death.

I was pointed in the direction of the lovely Nina Camplin mural artist. And, well… if you are interested, I will tell you the rest of the story soon…

Nina working at Pier Head, Swanage

Nina Camplin is a mural artist living in South Wales She specialises in trompe l’oeil, which is a painting or design intended to create a visual illusion.

 She loves to challenge perceptions of space, creating scenes of faked realities, such as windows, doors and broken walls that open up the flat surface of the wall to create an optical illusion of an additional dimension beyond. To see more of NIna’s work or to commission a painting, go to her website :

Kitty Parsons

Kitty has forgotten how long she has been here now but she loves Pembrokeshire for its beauty and it's people. She spends her time searching out stories for, swimming in the sea , drawing and painting as Snorkelfish and eating cake. She says " has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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1 Response

  1. Nina Camplin says:

    So good to read about the back story to this portrait coming into being!

    I really enjoyed producing this portrait for Kitty, it was so different from anything I had ever produced before. I hope it expresses everything she wanted it to, I know we could have added so much more!