My Portrait for NHS Heroes Project created by artist, Tom Croft

My Portrait for NHS Heroes Project created by artist, Tom Croft

*originally posted 1st January 2021


My NHS portrait of Assam.

In March 2020 the Uk was instructed to go into lockdown because of a new pandemic that hit the world.
Covid changed the world as we knew it, we all know what happened, we were there, it was and still is strange, frightening, confusing, and has affected us all in ways we couldn't have expected.

For me, for the first few months, not much changed in a day to day working manner, other than the kids were at home. Working from home means you're used to working in isolation much of the time and I threw myself into work, I had lots of things I was working on so it was easy to bury myself in things. I found it strange that so many people were struggling to be creative because I was overflowing with ideas & energy.

That didn't last though, I came to a point where I couldn't really hide away from the goings on in the outside world, support networks of friends and family weren't there and things got hard. I found myself making things for people I loved to show them I loved them.

Tom with my embroidered portrait of him.

Meanwhile in Oxford….

Tom Croft, a classically trained artist (who you may recognise from Sky’s Portraits Artist of the Year) and an artist who I personally find incredibly inspiring for his lush brush strokes and delicious use of colours and light; was at a loss as to what to paint during lockdown, so in April he put out an offer on Instagram, saying he would like to paint a free portrait for an NHS worker. 

Tom had decided to create a portrait of an NHS worker, Harriet an A&E nurse from Manchester, and asked for fellow artists to join him. He would pair us with an NHS hero that would like a portrait.  

At first I wasn’t sure it was for me, not because I didn’t want to do it but because I wasn’t known as a painter, I was a known for stitching portraits. Tom very quickly reassured me that everyone was very welcome to be involved. In fact there have been beautiful portraits made in mosaics, printmaking and even marquetry, so many different mediums, incredibly interesting to see so many types.

I do recommend you go to Tom’s website there is so much information about the many things he achieved with Portraits for NHS Heroes, the online exhibition he created with both the Net Gallery and Goggle, his appearance in Piccadilly Circus, in magazines, on TV.  

You can find his website here:

You can even take a tour of his studio which is so interesting!

Tom in Piccadilly Circus, London, with his achievement on the billboards.

A portrait is a permanent physical record of someones existence. It also immortalises people. So who should be immortalised today? Who should line the walls of galleries and have future generations look back on as the people who really made a difference and stepped up, in our latest darkest hour. The people who put self interest and self preservation to one side and literally risked their lives knowingly on a daily basis for our well being. The NHS workers.
— Tom Croft

Tom’s painting of Harriet

Enter Aisha……

Tom paired me with Aisha who I quickly got in touch with and she explained to me that the portrait was actually for her husband Asam, who was a nursing assistant on a covid ward. The portrait was going to be a surprise for him, something to show him how proud she was of him & what he was doing and how much she loved him.

Aisha sent me a photo of Asam which I did a drawing from to show her, so she had an idea of the form and my style. Aisha decided on the work to be in stitch rather than paint, and it was to show Asam in his PPE in a corridor at work.

My Process…

I always start my work with a drawing some times in a sketchbook sometimes on my iPad which ever I have to hand or what I fancy playing with. I will then print out or copy the drawing I have done from the photogragh. This makes it easier for me to line and transfer to my fabric.

The fabric I prefer is a plain white cotton or cotton linen mix. I don’t really stitch onto patterned fabrics. Because I am trained as a painter and think in terms of paint rather than thread I automatically just think of white backgrounds, canvases and sketchbooks are my norm rather than a highly decorated backing . I have recently started using darker plain fabrics as bases but I still avoid the patterns. Just my personal taste.

Once my outline is on the fabric I can begin. My aim is create a painterly loose portrait, I’m not looking for super realism, I don’t want to go down the route of the traditional silk thread blending that textile artists over the ages have mastered. I stitch how I paint. I see the thread as just another painting medium, like oil or gouache. 

You can read more about how I stitch my portraits on the Google Arts & Culture exhibition .  

When I create work with thread I approach the piece exactly how I would if it were paint. I think about the layers, tones, values. I enjoy the mark making and textures that the thread brings and want those to mimic the brush strokes and paint textures I would usually build using oil paint.  My aim is to be more painterly with my strokes rather than photorealistic, to create a tactile surface.

When contemplating my palette I chose the thread based on the exact shade I need, you need to buy or dye every colour you may need. I can’t add a bit of ochre to neutralise a shade, it has to already exist in my box of tricks. I also need to think about how I would use large or small brush strokes to create a form as I don’t have the same flexibility with the thickness of thread.

I mix thread types like silk, wool, linen and cotton to help create depth and mood. I consider thickness of threads to create weight, detail. The technical side of things is not the medium of embroidery & how to create clever stitches with thread  but of how to lay down colour and to create form with personally and movement, this is where art school helped and where the lines between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ start to blur.


Bloomsbury Publishing made a beautiful book with many of the portraits inside, including mine! Which was a huge honour and quite the thrill.

I’m so proud to have been included in the book and definitely think you should go and treat yourself to a copy. It’s a really beautifully produced book celebrating some really wonderful people and most importantly all royalties from the book go to NHS Charities Together.


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