Pathfinders: Diving deep to resurface with Tamzin
A behind-the-scenes interview about the creative process, what it means to be an artist, and following your intuition.
This is a free, BONUS post! The first in a monthly series of interviews, “pathfinders” features artists who are making their own way in the world. I hope these stories inspire and encourage you on your own journey. If you’d like to be featured for an artist interview, please fill out this form.
Tamzin Merivale is an artist and writer from Ireland. I discovered her work through Substack, and was immediately drawn to her raw, honest writing and stunning portraiture of empowered women. I’m thrilled she agreed to let me interview her and share her creative process with you.
Finding one’s purpose or mission in life can be really elusive for some people. How did you discover that you wanted to focus on helping people transform their trauma through art? Was it always a clear calling?
Absolutely not － and I totally understand how frustrating it can be to try to find something fulfilling in life, or in work!
For me, there were two dominant sides of my personality from a young age. The first was that I was very sensitive to how other people felt, which made me intuitive and pretty angry about the state of the world. As much as it’s a cliche, I just wanted to do some good in whatever way I could. That led me to study International Development and to qualify as a massage therapist － two very different ways to try to make a positive difference in people’s lives!
Neither of those careers felt 100% right though, and they neglected my creative side. Art and self-expression were my survival mechanisms and how I made sense of the world; whether it was through dance, visual art, photography, or eventually writing.
I knew by my early twenties that I needed a career where I could combine some kind of healing or “change-making work” with creativity － but I had no idea what that would look like or how to figure it out.
For a while, I was a full-time designer/illustrator, and while that wasn’t entirely fulfilling, it gave me time to develop as an artist and understand what people really came to me for; which turned out to be my writing, guidance, connection and my artwork too.
So really, the idea for Soul Signs just dropped into my lap without even looking for it － I never imagined that I could bring everything together in one offer.
Speaking of Soul Signs, I was immediately drawn to these beautiful portraits of women. They’re unlike anything I’ve seen before. Can you share more about how they came to be?
Soul Signs are an immersive portrait experience that involves a few layers:
The Sessions. Through one-on-one meetings, we connect with each other but I also help you to connect more deeply to yourself, and your life story. Through that, we can uncover any blocks or patterns that may be holding you back – one client described it as opening a window onto parts of herself she didn’t know existed.
The Portrait. After the sessions together, we do a photoshoot (possible from afar too!) so that I can create a portrait of your energy, of your light, of your strength. The portrait shows you the feeling you give other people, as that’s not something you can see in the mirror. When you walk into a room, the energy shifts, so I want your portrait to be a visual representation of that power you hold. You’ll have it as a reminder forever, an image of your true self. It also tells your story as I include a lot of symbols relating to what we uncover in the sessions.
The Story. This part is quite special for me, as it goes so far beyond the client and myself. To accompany the portrait, I write about you and your story, and I can’t express how much it means to me when someone trusts me with this － I have been asked to share some astonishing stories for my clients, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
I believe it’s a very important step, sharing these diverse life stories connects us all to each other on a deeper level again; we are holding space for each other, we are listening to each other, we are learning from each other.
That is healing in and of itself, while it also allows for more compassion and empathy, which in my opinion, are the enemies of judgement, prejudice and discrimination.
I offer the whole experience both in-person or remotely/online. I also offer each part as a stand-alone, as some clients just want a portrait, others just want the story, and some others just come to me for mentoring sessions.
As a special offer to our readers, Tamzin is offering a 15% discount on a Soul Sign portrait, story, or mentoring session now through the end of May. Reach out to her at email@example.com and use the code “Heartbeats.”
As to how they came to be, I think I partly answered this above, but there was another reason, which I explained better in this post:
Essentially, I was surrounded by exceptional women and I wanted to find a way of showing them their amazing energy and presence!
I can really relate to the power of listening to and sharing each other’s stories- it’s one reason I started Heartbeats! This world can feel so isolating and I think it’s easy to believe more in disconnection than our interconnectedness.
That all shifts when we’re vulnerable and authentic with each other- we realize we’re not alone and so many of us share common challenges and life experiences!
I’m curious, you’re originally from Ireland but you’ve traveled extensively and lived abroad. Are there particular environments, landscapes, or moments that looking back, helped shape your art?
Probably all of them! But I’ll try to pick out a few.
The feeling of being alone, in the unknown, with only yourself to rely on. I started travelling alone at quite a young age and I really recommend solo-travel. That feeling of being in an unfamiliar environment or somewhere you don’t speak the language is unsettling, but inspiring as it fills your brain with new information, re-ignites the senses and forces you to grow. Every time I’ve moved to a new country it’s the same － at first nothing makes sense, but slowly you put the pieces together, and learning a new language or culture is hugely satisfying!
Sana’a will always be very special to me. It is visually breathtaking, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Every building is decorated by hand and has colourful stain-glass windows (traditionally carved out of transparent marble) which make the streets glow at night. I was so lucky to spend a few months there right before the war began, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
I once stood on the shoreline in Mauritania, which I’ll never forget. I felt overwhelmingly small, like a pinprick on the map. On one side, I had the Atlantic Ocean stretching all the way to Central America －roughly 5,200kms of water. On the other side, I had the Sahara stretching all the way to Sudan and the Red Sea － roughly 5,500kms of sand and emptiness. This line where two utter extremes meet; crashing waves one side, dry desert on the other, and very little inhabitation or human life on either side, I found it extraordinary.
I can’t leave out Florence, where I lived for three years. Everything in that city is stunning, and it’s where I first started to pursue a creative career, so Italy formed me in more ways than one.
Thank you for sharing! As a solo female traveler myself, I can really relate to how vital that experience has been for me and the ways it’s shaped who I’ve become.
On a different note, you mention that a health crisis in 2021 led you back to your true passion for connection and empowerment. You also began to write during your hospitalization. One of my favorite lines of poetry from Mary Oliver is “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
Do you feel that challenge was a necessary part of your transformation? Are there other instances in your life, that in hindsight, provided growth through difficulty?
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Countless studies have shown that when trauma victims are asked if they would go back and undo their experience if they could, even in truly horrific cases, the answer is very rarely ‘yes’, because they don’t want to lose what they learned or who they met as a result of that traumatic experience.
I find this very uplifting, however, I think it’s too easy to say, oh yay, a horrible thing happened to me! I will grow from this! That really doesn’t help when you’re in the thick of it, and it takes a lot of time, maybe years, to get to that point.
I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do today if it wasn’t for what I’ve been through over the years － it all gave me more perspective and understanding － but there’s no way of knowing who I would be if that hadn’t been the case. No matter what, life has ups and downs. Sometimes it seems very unfair, or that it’s worse for some than others － I can’t compare my problems, for example, to someone who doesn’t have their basic needs met.
Most of us will go through tough times of one form or another, so all we can do is our best. Embrace it where possible, learn from it, use it to propel you forward (or to rest, if that’s what’s needed!). I write in my newsletter about ‘sinking’ in order to resurface; ‘sinking’ referring to anything that feels like being stuck down in the dark; illness/grief/change/confusion/etc. I believe that it’s just part of life, and that you will eventually float up to the surface, and we can do so much to help ourselves in the meantime.
I couldn’t agree more. I think always looking for the silver lining can sort of teach us to numb certain experiences or feelings instead of being fully present to our suffering and the suffering of others. One of my strengths is gratitude so it’s easy for me to see the brighter side of life but I’m learning not to avoid the darkness, too.
One thing I’ve noticed as part of a creative community is that a lot of us struggle with the term “artist,” especially in reference to ourselves. I’m curious, what’s your definition of an artist? When did you first start calling yourself one?
My definition of artist is that there is no definition － if you want to be one, go ahead.
I was also uncomfortable with the title for a long time, it made me think of a floaty skirt, painting on a big canvas, and no income. I don’t paint, and while my work is creative, it’s also entrepreneurial, which demands many other skills. I’m happy to describe myself now as an artist and a writer, even though that doesn’t encompass all that I do － so I just do my best to describe it and carry on!
External validation is something I think all of us are striving for, even when we know we have inherent worth and value. I’m curious, how do you handle moments of rejection or disappointment in your career?
I had to accept that unless I hide everything I make under the couch, rejection is part of the process, so I chose to focus on how brave it was to publish my work, to pitch myself, to make art my career – as for many, the fear of rejection prevents them from even doing that.
I also don’t find rejection or disappointment as hard as I once did, because I try not to take it personally. Ever since I started doing something that I really believe in, that I can see is a game-changer for my clients, I received many more opportunities than I did beforehand. If you really are in alignment and are proud of what you do, then when those rejections come, it’s so much easier not to focus on them.
As an artist, how do you balance creating what you want and finding an audience or market for your creations?
I actually found far more success when I stopped worrying about finding the right audience or market for my work, when I stopped looking at the trends or at what other artists were offering and wondering if I had to do my version of the same thing. Basically, trying to fit into a mold really didn’t work for me! Now I follow my intuition, I follow what I really want to do, which also has a positive impact on others. So far, so good!
Are there rituals or practices that nourish your creativity?
When you’re stuck, go and do something else! Clean the house, cook something, go outside. Desperately trying to be creative when it just isn’t flowing will only scare the muse away!
On the other hand, if you’ve been procrastinating too much, make yourself sit down and do the work! Sometimes I haven’t been particularly excited by a commission or brief, which is perfectly normal, but if you wait for inspiration to strike, it probably won’t. However, when you make yourself get started anyway, it clicks into place.
I write a weekly newsletter and I never want to send one that I don’t believe could really add value to the reader, so does that mean that I have a genius idea every week before I begin? Of course not. But usually, if I just sit down and write, I’ll come up with something really worth exploring, that I wouldn’t even have imagined two hours beforehand.
Above all, I recommend some alone time and some silence in your day to hear your intuition whisper.
Is there a piece of wisdom you’d offer your younger self? Your future self?
To my younger self: Have patience and trust, you can’t jump to the end and one day you’ll be glad of the twists, turns, and knock-backs.
To my future self: What wisdom do you have for ME?
What do the next few months look like for you? Are there any projects or ways we can support you?
I’m happy to say that I’m working away on Soul Signs with my clients (I have a waiting list for anyone interested, just get in touch), and on some interesting article commissions for blogs and magazines.
I love writing my newsletter and seeing that community grow, so signing up or sharing it is a great way to support me. I plan to host some workshops and meet-ups in that space over the next few months.
Soon I will be appearing on some more podcasts which is one of my favourite ways to connect and find more like-minded souls, so I also hope to also start speaking at live events sometime in the future! So if you know of any podcasts or events that might be a good fit, do let me know!
Perhaps most exciting of all, I was just awarded a Fellowship for female entrepreneurs, which involves a 4-week retreat in a remote village in Spain, so I’m really excited for that.
Congratulations! Those all sound like exciting projects that will keep you busy for a while! I can’t wait to see more of your work and follow along.
One of the goals of Heartbeats is to build a collaborative, creative community. Are there any resources or skills you’d like to offer? Is there anything you need, in return?
What’s mine is yours! That’s to say, if you’d like me to run a specific workshop/visualisation/meditation, just let me know. Also I’m very happy for anyone to get in touch if they have a request of (nearly) any kind. (Don’t forget to take advantage of Tamzin’s generous offer of 15% off a session with her, now through May)!
All that I need is that if you know someone who you think could benefit from reading my work, from hearing me speak, or from working with me one-on-one, please do let them know. I’ve found that surviving as an artist really does come down to word-of-mouth!
Thank you, Tamzin for sharing your work and your heart. I’m grateful for your time and energy! Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
For anyone who is struggling to find their purpose, I recommend really paying attention to what nourishes them － it can be the most unlikely of things. For me, I felt most energized after very deep conversations with people in which we unlocked or unblocked something for them.
‘Connecting with people’ isn’t exactly a job description though, is it?! And I didn’t want to be a therapist. But I found a way, and now connection is central to my work.
So begin to notice the signs; what makes you feel good, what do others love about you, etc, even if you don’t know (yet) how that could become part of your career or purpose in life. It might not make sense now, but one day it will.
Do you have a question for Tamzin or want to connect? Please support her by leaving a comment, signing up for her newsletter, following her on Instagram, and visiting her website. Let’s build a thriving, collaborative community, together!
P.S. If you found value in this interview, please consider upgrading to a paid membership. Your gift of reciprocity means the world. Thank you.
P.P.S. Our FIRST virtual new moon gathering is happening this Sunday, April 23 at 11:00 CST. This special hour together will include a guided meditation, time to reflect on the new moon in Aries creative prompts (you can find them here in the free Creative Contemplation journal), and space to re-fill our creative well, together. This is an offering for paid subscribers but please reach out to me if you’d like to attend! I want this offering to be accessible for everyone <3. I hope to see you there!
Thank so much Mariah for this interview, it was such a pleasure to dive into your questions. Looking forward to seeing the next interviews 🥰