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Stamford streets inspire illustrative artist Naomi Willis to new-found success and Blonde Beet exhibition after crippling panic disorder and London burnout





Rediscovering a passion for art while recovering from a debilitating illness has helped transform the life and career of a talented illustrator.

Naomi Willis began drawing Stamford architecture and street scenes as a form of therapy after suffering with severe anxiety.

However, the illustrations proved so popular, they have become an unintended business hit.

Photographer Naomi rekindled a passion for art lost since her school and university days. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
Photographer Naomi rekindled a passion for art lost since her school and university days. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

“My partner said he had never seen me draw as well and said I should sell them,” Naomi said.

“My first drawings I put up would be sold the same day so I thought I might be on to something.

Naomi, 30, will host the first exhibition of her work at the Blonde Beet bistro, in St Paul’s Street, with a launch event on Saturday from 6 to 8pm, featuring live music from pianist Archie Maclennan.

Naomi Willis began drawing Stamford buildings and street scenes while recovering from a panic disorder. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
Naomi Willis began drawing Stamford buildings and street scenes while recovering from a panic disorder. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

“Drawing is something I’m really excited by now,” she added.

“It all sprang from a hard time in my life, but now looking back I’m really happy that it happened.

“The worst thing in my life is the best thing that has happened to me.”

Naomi’s illustration of the King’s Head. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
Naomi’s illustration of the King’s Head. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
The Wine Bar in St Paul’s Street. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
The Wine Bar in St Paul’s Street. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

After leaving university, Naomi worked as a property photographer for seven years in the wealthy London district of Fulham.

“Some of the properties were incredible,” she said.

“It was a great start to my career, and I think it has influenced my interest in illustrating buildings and street views.”

Naomi’s hobby has become a successful business. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
Naomi’s hobby has become a successful business. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

She moved to Stamford two years ago with her partner, who is originally from the town, but her mental health began to decline after starting a new job.

Naomi believes it was also a consequence of burnout from years of working long hours, often covering two jobs, to pay sky-high London rental prices.

“It was a managerial role and all the creativity was sucked out - I hated going to work every day,” she said.

Twelve All Saints wine bar in All Saints Place. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
Twelve All Saints wine bar in All Saints Place. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

“I would leave the house at 7am or 7.30am and get home at 8pm, then probably have to do more work.

“I really missed London as well and I ended up having a bit of a breakdown.”

Naomi was diagnosed with panic disorder and took around six months off work.

The Model Fish Bar in Broad Street. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
The Model Fish Bar in Broad Street. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

Spare time was a novelty which she gradually put to good use.

“I had a lot of recovery and therapy and also fell back into drawing which I hadn’t done properly since school and university,” she recalled.

“It kept me calm and gave me something to focus on. I fell back in love with it.”

A view of St Mary’s Hill. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
A view of St Mary’s Hill. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

In Stamford she found readymade inspiration right on her doorstep, even though just leaving that doorstep was not easy.

“Stamford is so stunning so it’s really not hard to find inspiration and places to draw,” Naomi said.

“I was agoraphobic for about a month and struggled to leave the house so gradually I went out and took pictures of street scenes or buildings and then came home and drew them.

“That would be a project for the day to keep me busy.”

The Tobie Norris pub in St Paul’s Street. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
The Tobie Norris pub in St Paul’s Street. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

Naomi now works at Katie Cardew Illustrations, with hours which leaves enough time to do her own illustrations and work on commissions.

She struggles to name a personal favourite street scene, but has no doubt which is the most popular with buyers – High Street St Martins with the famous George Hotel gallows sign.

In May, Naomi hosted a free drawing workshop for mental health awareness week in May and wants to do more.

Paten and Co bar in All Saints Place. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis
Paten and Co bar in All Saints Place. Picture courtesy of Naomi Willis

“I want to encourage people to do what they love and be kind to themselves. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.”

Visit https://illustrationsbynomes.com and her Instagram page @nomes345 to see more of her work.



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