Jan Irvine tells us about her lockdown Portraits For NHS Heroes project


Hi Jan – We’ve been in lockdown for eight weeks now, would you like to tell us about how your feelings and emotions have changed over this period?

It feels like a very long time ago since the lockdown began, and life has taken on a distinctly surreal quality…waking each day to find that, yes… this IS real!
Initially I was scared; I live and work on my own and have always been happy and content to do so, but becoming ill was… and still is, a very real threat, which has changed that somewhat.

I have gradually become less fearful; partly because I choose to avoid watching too much news and frightening myself silly and partly because I am just getting on with things now. I can see how, in the bigger picture, this can have a positive effect…on the planet and ourselves if we embrace it.
I may have low days but I am so very lucky compared to so many and very fortunate to have my own place and small garden for which I thank my lucky stars every day!

 And how has this has affected the work you are producing?

Initially, my creativity seemed to disappear overnight. Even though I felt I ‘should’ be building up a collection for future exhibitions, I do not respond very well to being told what to do…even by myself!  I found that the best way was to coax myself gently by having everything ready for me to play…or when inspiration struck! I’m such a child…
By deciding to just have fun and only doing what I felt like, things began to flow again, but after a while it didn’t feel sustaining; didn’t sit easily when I thought of all those people working so hard and in such dangerous situations. (I had thought of making ‘scrubs’ as my closest friend is doing; I did some dressmaking and tailoring as part of the fashion course I did…but my sewing machine broke. Thwarted.)
Then I chanced upon a project on Instagram…

Can you tell us a bit about the Portraits For NHS Heroes project?

A Sussex artist named Tom Croft, thought of a way he could do SOMETHING as a thank you to NHS workers who are all putting themselves on the line for us. On Instagram he set up #portraitsfornhsheroes and put instructions, including what he calls a green ‘canvas’ which states ‘A free portrait to the 1st NHS worker who contacts me’. When someone contacts you, you place a red ’canvas’ which says ‘Sorry, I have been matched but please look for another artist offering a free portrait with a green canvas!’.
In both cases you hashtag #portraitsfornhsheroes. I was fortunate, I have had many requests, and several who wanted to wait for me… so in all I have done 11 portraits, with 4 waiting and 2 commissions that have come from it.

How has working on this project been of benefit for you personally and for others?

Every day for a month, bar a day off here and there, I have had a purpose when I wake up, and I have loved every minute of it! Although it is not a crucial thing I am doing, it IS the feeling I am giving SOMETHING however small, which has been a positive during this stressful time.
Creatively for me, there is variety also, as I give people a choice of medium and ‘style’, so the approach to each one is fresh. The feedback has been wonderful, from not only the subject, and their family and friends, but colleagues too.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

This project is a joy to be a part of, and has helped me emotionally and creatively, although I don’t know how long it will continue, and in reality, I have to think how I am going to create an income! I have always been a working artist; more recently with the help of being an Airbnb host.
However, as with millions…finances have taken a severe knock, so shall be looking into other ways I can use my skills to pay some bills!

Find out more about Jan and her work here