During the Covid-19 pandemic, I had the pleasure to join with hundreds or other artists, to offer a free portrait to an NHS worker as part of the Portraits for NHS Heroes movement. Early on in the pandemic, artist Tom Croft came up with the idea, with the aim of finding some meaning in painting, amidst such terrible times, being able to give back to those that are giving so much on the front line.

Putting the call on his Instagram site, Tom offered a free portrait to the first NHS worker to contact him, and from that moment, the idea spread like wildfire with the help of social media, tv news features, newspaper and magazine interviews and more. Croft received so many requests that he eventually put 500 NHS workers in touch with professional artists, who volunteered to paint them and beyond that, he set up a guide for Instagram artists to make their own portrait calls.

Joining the campaign, I had the pleasure of painting staff nurse Alfred Gonzales from BVH Blackpool, who was the first person to contact me from my Instagram shout out. Alfred has been working in a covid-19 ward at BVH and as such shared over our emails some of the sad encounters he was having, but always with an underlying hope and grace.

I have loved painting portraits for as long as I can remember – mostly concentrating on head and shoulders, but this was my first time painting PPE – reflective masks, surgical gloves, disposible aprons. The way the light reacts and bounces off of those materials brought new, and welcome challenges in my painting. Here is the finished oil painting:

‘What an amazing portrait. I am very thankful and will surely be proud to show everybody what an amazing accomplishment we have achieved, for me being a frontliner, and for you as an amazing artist who gives their very best to appreciate us. A whole hearted much appreciation to you and for all your hard work, as we are on these together, fighting for a better future and hopefully we will have our normal lives soon. ‘ Alfred Gonzales

Throughout lockdown, I had also been working from home in my part-time job three days a week, as had my husband, with two children attempting to be home schooled. Time was therefore not abundant but I find that when I’m busy, I get the most done. Working from home, for me, had given me back part of my day and quite some energy, as I’m used to commuting to London at early hours and returning in time for dinner, exhausted.

After finishing my portrait of Alfred, I decided to work on a second – in fact my Instagram call had resulted in 4 responses, even after I posted the ‘I’ve been paired’ notice. The second person to contact me was Jacqueline, an anaesthetist and intensive care doctor, from Glasgow. As had Alfred, Jacqueline sent me a number of photos of herself, some selfies, some family shots, some in PPE, some without. I eventually opted for a family scene, from her photos.

Though there was no challenge of PPE, trying to get three likeness of people you have never met, is not without its difficulties! I sent Jacqueline progress reports and photos of the work as it came along to make sure she’d be happy with the final piece – thankfully she was! Here is the finished portait:

To see more portraits from all artists, search on Instagram for #portraitsfornhsheroes

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