The Empress of All I Survey – Part 1 by Kitty Parsons

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 :

Art Tutorials Now Available on YouTube

Throughout the Lockdown period of the Corona Virus Pandemic I produced a number of Live Watch Party Art Workshops on Facebook.

I am now in the process of editing them and uploading them to YouTube to make them more accessible to anyone who is interested in watching them.

Please bear in mind that these videos were recorded live on my phone and were made with the intention that people could work with the limited materials they may have lying around at home during the Lockdown.

I will add links as I get them uploaded to YouTube, earliest is at the bottom, most recent at the top of the list:


Lockdown Art Sessions

As so many people are now on lockdown during the Coronavirus panic, I decided to share some art sessions with everyone if they are bored and looking for something to fill their time.

For me this is just what I would call ‘Downtime’, a period between commissioned work, when I fill my time at home by doing what amuses me…..painting!

So I have created a Facebook group where I can share Live Watch Parties which anyone can see, by clicking this link and joining

These sessions will be kept at quite a basic level to suit all ages and abilities, there will be no specialist materials, just use what you have to hand! If you have always wanted to have a go at drawing/painting but were too embarrassed to go to a class, now you can do it in the comfort of your own home!

Equally, if you have kids at home who are bored, this may be a great way to entertain them!

My first session will be held on Monday 23rd March at 11:00 GMT, but will be available to watch any time after if this time is not convenient for you. We will be painting/drawing sunflowers.

(I was painting at home on my own anyway and just felt it would be good to share!)

The Story Behind my Dog Murals

When I first started painting murals, I always tried to include a black cat as my signature symbol, it was quick and easy to do and quite simple to include in to most mural scenes.

But fate took over and the cat got chased off by a huge pack of dogs!

In 2001 I moved to Poole and one of the first murals I was asked to paint was that of a dog looking out of a window in Gilbert Road, Swanage.

The owners of this house kindly allowed me to put my website and contact details onto the lower wall of the cottage, and this led to lots of new work opportunities.

In Autumn 2003 I started my Fine Art degree at The Arts Institute, Bournemouth and for one of my units I came up with an idea of using dogs in public spaces in response to street art that I was researching at the time, in particular Banksy and his rats. I aimed to do a legal version of this kind of art and wanted to make mine fit in with my ‘trompe l’oeil’ style.

It occurred to me that you rarely see stray dogs in the UK these days and if you were to walk along a street and see a lone dog wandering around, it would really catch your attention and the likelihood is that it had been abandoned or lost. This thought then triggered a memory of an organisation I had heard of some years ago, called DogLost and I wondered if I could use actual dogs that were lost or stolen to depict in my murals and maybe this would raise awareness of their absence and help their owners to locate them.

Before I started, I produced a sample version to show my idea. This was on the back door of The Studio Art Shop in the High Street, Poole, and the dog was Chaos, belonging to the owner of the art shop.


I then contacted DogLost and told them about my idea and they were extremely keen to help me and sent me a list of dogs that had gone missing in the local area, with contact numbers of their owners.

I had my list of dogs, and several owners who were keen to have their missing dogs depicted in mural versions, next I needed public spaces to put them.

I approached owners of local businesses, who had walls that would work for my purpose and the first to agree was the Director of Lush, who had a blank wall on the side of their building. This was where the first Lost Dog mural came into existence:


I continued to work with Dog Lost for the following few months and produced several more lost dog murals in various streets around Poole and Bournemouth.

Eventually I got to a point in the list of missing dogs where the owners no longer wanted to find their missing dogs, as they had been gone for a year or more and they had replaced the dog with a new one, and no longer had space for the missing dog if it was found.

I’d had great feedback on the dog murals and wanted to continue with the theme, so I had to find a new angle. This time I approached a dog rescue organisation called DAWG (Dorset Animal Welfare Group) and explained what I wanted to do and asked if they would be interested in working with me on a new project. I ended up doing an artist’s residency within the dog rescue premises and used the new series of murals to try and raise awareness of the plight of some of the dogs who had ended up in the rescue home. Each mural had a painting of the actual dog and a small write up nearby explaining how the dog had ended up in the rescue home.


After this project came to an end, I started to get commissioned to do more dog murals by people who had seen them and lost count of how many dog murals I had produced in the Poole and Bournemouth area. Many of these are shown on my website.

Since moving to Wales, I began by painting a Corgi on the front of the VC Gallery in Haverfordwest, as this was the mascot for the gallery. I painted another one on the new premises when they opened a 2nd branch in Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock.

When the neighbouring shop owners saw the Corgi, I was asked if I would be able to paint their dogs onto their shops too, I agreed as I thought it would be a fun way to brighten up the area and raise the profile for the gallery.

This became the start of the ‘Dimond Dogs’ project.

Gracie the Pug

Mollie the Jack Russell

Lightning the Staffie/Collie cross

Leo the Whippet

Max the Staffie

Pixie the Chinese Crested

Pagan the Staffie/Rottie Cross

Sampson the Greyhound and Champ the Cockapoo

There are now 10 of my dog paintings in the Dimond Street area of Pembroke Dock, but I am getting requests to put more further afield.