During the dark days of lockdown in April, Skylark Galleries portrait artist Stella Tooth‘s attention was drawn to an initiative on instagram that captured her imagination.
I was struggling to find how portrait art could capture the zeitgeist of such extraordinary times. Then I received an email from a fellow artist in the Lots Road Group of portrait artists, which I co-founded, about #portraitsfornhsheroes.
It explained how portrait artists from around the UK, could give back to frontline NHS key workers.
#portraitsfornhsheroes was started by fellow artist Thomas Croft also at a loss as to what to paint during lockdown. On 4 April Tom posted an offer on Instagram to paint a free portrait for the first NHS worker to reply, using a photo provided by the worker for inspiration. He received so many requests that he put 500 NHS workers in touch with professional artists who similarly offered to paint them!
As the project took on a life of its own, Tom produced a green instagram ‘canvas’ that portrait artists could post. It said, “I’m offering a free portrait to the first NHS worker to contact me #portraitsfornhsheroes“. Another said, “Sorry I’ve been matched but please look for another artist offering an NHS key worker a free portrait with a green canvas.“
I did this and was surprised to see a comment on my post from a familiar name – former Sketchout student Geoff Chiverton, who I had taught in a ‘Drawing Faces’ workshop at the National Portrait Gallery before such classes became impossible. He asked his daughter, Helen, an NHS paramedic who responds to 999 calls in an ambulance, whether she had seen the initiative.
Helen contacted me that day and offered to provide me with a selfie of herself in her uniform to work from.
Storytelling has always been at the heart of my portraiture, so I asked Helen to also provide a description of her experience of working on the frontline during lockdown. It was to accompany my completed portrait when it was posted online, and in any future exhibition Tom organised. You can read what she said here.
When lockdown restrictions were lifted sufficiently to allow Helen to visit my home studio in Ealing last week to collect her portrait, it was a nail-nibbling moment. Had I had been able to capture not only her likeness, but her character from the selfie? At the door, her face was obscured behind a massive bunch of flowers. But when she peeped round them, I was relieved to recognise the warm, friendly face of the woman from the selfie.
And when the moment came to reveal the portrait to her, her broad smile told me she liked it. Always fascinating to put yourselves into the shoes of your ‘sitter’, it was interesting to hear from Helen what the most difficult thing to adhere to had been. Turns out it was my instruction to her to smile without teeth showing, which can give it a ‘painted from photos’ feel. After meeting Helen I could understand why!
I’m a commissionable portrait artist and work from life or agreed photos. If you’d like to see my other portraits, a guide to cost (depending on size and medium, & the commissioning process click here. To discuss a commission: firstname.lastname@example.org