It’s never felt like anything special, so it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I realised it was something different. I was at college and we were told to bring a pencil so we could draw the sounds of the vowels – I was at drama school. The rest of the class were horrified, but to me it was easy. I didn’t realise that others don’t see shapes in sounds.
About six months later I heard a programme on Radio 4 about synaesthesia, which gave it a name for me.
Generally it’s just there. It’s part of how things work. But sometimes a sense will grab my attention. Sometimes there’ll be a sense that I don’t understand and I stop to examine it. It’s almost like a filter that could be lifted up and down.
Sometimes I use it to get to sleep. I’ll listen to the sounds around me and create a visual landscape in my mind. Before I’m finished, I’m usually asleep.
The appearance of my surroundings doesn’t have an impact, it’s more about the sounds. In fact, I often close my eyes to better access my senses. So the sea in Jamaica definitely influenced me. It’s such a different sound to the sea in the UK, in Brighton.
Being calm and relaxed helps unlock my senses, and the environment at the resort was very relaxing. If there’s too much going on around me, I can’t paint what I want to paint.
There was another sound that summed up my time in Jamaica. I thought it was birds, but it turned out to be crickets. When I arrived it was about 11pm, and I could hear this weird chirping noise, which became synonymous with being there.
The strongest was probably the smell of the barbeque smoke. It was completely different to how barbeque smells at home. I’d never smelled that before, it wasn’t in my library. On the way back to the airport, I was amazed by the massive green vegetation. And there were some people chopping it back and burning the wood – it was the same smell. I’d now know that smell anywhere.
The smell of that smoke is represented in one of my paintings. It was a moment where all the senses were in play – a combination of the smoke, the sounds of the sea, the flavours of the jerk sauce.
At home my favourite place to paint is in the garden – I can be free and it doesn’t matter if the paint drips on the grass. I have a small studio, because the weather isn’t always kind, but even then I’ll have the doors wide open. I love being outside.
Painting on the beach in Jamaica was so liberating. I could get paint all over me. I spent a lot of my time under a tree on the beach, and I was able to be very physical and experiment.
Being relaxed. If I’m relaxed, I can experience my senses much more than being over stimulated. I remember as a child being in the car and we drove past a field of beans in flower. My mum told us to turn down the music so we could really smell the beans.
One experience that brings my senses to life is having a meal out in a restaurant. You’ve got the smell and taste of the food, the pleasant noise of the background. It’s finding the abstract in the mundane. I think of it as the ‘inner abstract’ – some people have better access to it than others, but I think everyone has the opportunity to look deeper.
I wasn’t reproducing exactly what was around me – there’s a placement of the sounds within a landscape. A big part was the sounds of the sea. The square shapes represent the crashing of the waves. And the detailed shapes within that are the constant lapping of the water against the shore. I didn’t want the squares to be harsh, the sea wasn’t like the louder, more aggressive sea in Brighton. I wanted the beautiful softness. And the centre of the painting is the repetition of those sounds.
One of the other paintings has a sense of the spicy jerk sauce. The taste is all around the edges of the canvas – it’s a rich, all-consuming taste and it’s round the edge because it’s constant. The blue in that painting was me playing with the placement of the sea – that’s a little more abstract than being synaesthesia. The barbeque smell pervades the painting.
The last painting was based on the scent of the oil in the spa. I love citrusy smells, they’re uplifting but calming at the same time. That painting doesn’t have anything else in it, just the scents of the oils.
Blue. But I don’t mean one specific shade of blue. I mean all the shades of blue all at once, like I’ve picked up every paint card with every possible option. It’s like having a whole octave of blue.
Take our TUI Sensorialists quiz and find out what unusual connections you have between your senses. Or take a look at our TUI SENSATORI resorts and choose where you’ll bring your own senses to life. We’ve got a brand new resort opening in May, too. Take a look at where it is.
Author: Natalie Howells
Positioned on Negril's famous Seven Mile Beach, puts white sands and the Caribbean Sea in the palm of your hand.
With an award-winning gourmet restaurant, an adults-only mojito lounge and four pools on its roster, the beachfront TUI SENSATORI Riviera Cancun offers up a taste of the finer things in life.
TUI SENSATORI Barut Sorgun offers candlelight yoga, a Turkish bath, swim-up rooms and 24 different types of massage.
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