I recently watched The Harbour, a four-part television series following some of the extraordinary people who have made Tenby their home and who work on its busy waterside. These include the local harbourmaster, cafe owners, volunteers at the RNLI lifeboat station and award winning artist Naomi Tydeman.
Tenby (Dinbych-y-pysgod in Welsh, meaning fortlet of the fish) holds a special place in my heart, as my dad is from the nearby town of Narberth, and my aunt and uncle also live a short distance from there. As a family we have visited Tenby many times, and recently my husband and I spent some time down in Pembrokeshire, visiting Tenby and also catching the boat from there across to the beautiful Caldey Island.
Whilst watching The Harbour, I was so inspired by the work of Naomi Tydeman. Naomi is a self-taught watercolour artist, and winner of the Debra Manifold Memorial Award, Winsor and Newton Prize, John Blockley and Frank Herring Award. She was also awarded the Turner Watercolour Prize in 2013, which has been described as the Oscars of the art world, and is a member of the prestigious RI (Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour).
Naomi has also won the watercolour prize at the Welsh Artist of the Year competition, has been selected for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition and represented the RI at the Pure Gold Exhibition.
Naomi runs her gallery in Tenby, which is the main showcase for her original paintings and limited edition prints.
Her work is exquisite, I’m in awe of how she captures scenes so beautifully and with such detail, particularly when she is self-taught and not professionally trained (many hours spent over many years at her kitchen table, which now sits in her gallery, drawing and painting). I recently interviewed Naomi about her life as an artist and am really pleased to be able to share this with you in this blog post.
You live in the beautiful Pembrokeshire town of Tenby, what brought you here?
When I was about twenty three years old, and when everything I owned fitted into a suitcase, I came on holiday to Pembrokeshire – and stayed. I think there was the odd attempt to leave every now and again, but somehow fate conspired to keep me here and I ended up creating a life for myself.
I understand that you are a self-taught artist, please can you tell me a bit about that and how you built up your skill and experience to produce the work we see today.
I was not an artist when I came here – I always say that Pembrokeshire made me an artist. I actually failed my Art ‘A’ level and since no college would take me I ended up teaching myself. In some ways this is a long and lonely journey – I missed that experience of being part of a group where everyone is going in the same direction and it’s supportive and fun and you learn from each other. But I am also glad that I taught myself, because I think you develop an independence, an individuality, a different approach.
I opened my little studio-gallery in Tenby 20 years ago – a bit of a risk, but worth a try. Selling paintings is possibly one of the most stupid ways to make a living – absolutely no guaranteed income, no sick pay, no holiday pay, no pension…but, on the other hand, the first line of the Gospel of Thomas is ‘Do what you love.’
Could you tell me more about your creative process and what inspires your work.
There is no doubt that I love where I live and it inspires me continuously. Having to take my dog out two or three times a day in all weathers means that I see Pembrokeshire in all its moods and lights, its greys and blues, low clouds and filtered sun. I have become obsessed with depicting rain obscuring part of a headland, or light dancing on water on a grey day, or how to make that new beech leaf green in the spring.
I paint pretty much every day (it is my job!) and very often it is my early morning walk that gives me something; some idea, some challenge, some need to record something.
Travel too. The lavender fields of Provence. Evening light on the Himalayas. Coloured saris wrapped around the female form. Rain falling in South Island (I live in Wales – I thought I knew what rain was!) The deserts of Afghanistan. Slanted light on a Venetian door. Dawn from the summit of Mount Sinai. All stunning, all inspiring – but actually, the best reason to travel is to come home, to see the familiar in a different light, to see it with fresh eyes.
Do you have any advice for getting more creative in life?
Yes, I do, but not many people want to hear it. It’s the principle of ten thousand hours, the getting up at four in the morning and practising before you go to work, of clearing away the dishes and turning your kitchen table into your studio, of being so totally one pointed and disciplined that people think you’re unsociable and boring.
What do you think nature can teach us?
Everything. Intelligence surrounds us. All we have to do is watch and listen. Though actually, I have to confess that every year I plan to follow Nature’s supreme advice, that brilliant concept of hibernation, that slowing down, that taking stock, that calmer, darker rest period… and every year I fail. Must try harder!
Do you have a favourite season? If so, why?
Yes, Spring is my favourite season. Surging sap, rising sun, baby blackbirds and evenings working in the garden.
What would you say your favourite ‘little piece of wonder’ is in life?
The first bluebell. That first faint hint of pale blue set against burgeoning green. I have travelled the world over, and there is nothing more stunning than a deciduous woodland in spring.
Thank you Naomi for sharing this with us. I highly recommend watching The Harbour (available on ITV player), it’s such a wonderful insight into a Welsh harbour community, and Pembrokeshire’s ‘jewel in the crown’ (as Tenby is often described).
Please do visit Naomi’s website here, where you can view her available paintings and prints. Even better, pop in, say hello and have a browse in her gallery if you’re ever in Tenby. We certainly shall be next time we’re there!