Cambridgeshire landscape artist now painting NHS workers

Burwell-based artist Di Cope specializes in painting landscapes but has now turned to portraiture and captured NHS staff – including her daughter – who are on the forefront of the pandemic.

Sunset, Burwell Fen.  Painted by Di CopeSunset, Burwell Fen. Painted by Di Cope

The mother of three took painting seriously in 2016 when her youngest child started school. Their children are now 18, 13 and 9 years old.

Di is a scientist by profession and now works on her art in a studio above her garage in the summer and in the house in the colder months – although her nine-year-old son’s home schooling has limited her activities.

Di mostly paints in oil – although she has branched out into pencil, charcoal and colored pencil – mostly works from photographs and likes to paint landscapes in Burwell, especially those with “big” skies and summer flowers.

She says she could paint more in the fall when her kids were in school. “Of course everything came to a standstill in December!” She says.

Di, who also attends Cambridge Open Studios, continues: “I did two NHS portraits in March, April and May and did a third in the past few weeks.”

She believes attitudes toward portraits have changed and demand has increased. In the past, commissioned portraits may have been more associated with the rich and famous, but a social media movement that began last year has turned this on its head.

Burwell Lode North.  Painted by Di CopeBurwell Lode North. Painted by Di Cope

The national movement called Portraits for NHS Heroes was launched on Instagram by the well-known portrait painter Thomas Croft, who also published a book of the same name.

“In the end there were hundreds,” says Di, “so that’s hundreds of ordinary people … well, they are not” ordinary “- and that’s why they are painted. They are people who would otherwise not have painted their portraits.”

Stephanie Ramsey, intensive care nurse at St. George's Hospital in London.  Painted by Di CopeStephanie Ramsey, intensive care nurse at St. George’s Hospital in London. Painted by Di Cope

On the initiative of Thomas Croft, artists invited people who wanted to paint their portraits and waited for answers.

“He’s a portrait artist who lives in Oxford and he made the decision, given all of these amazing people working for the NHS, that as an artist he wanted to do something to help.

“So he called on Instagram and said, ‘I’m going to paint a portrait of an NHS hero for free,’ and he had hundreds of applications. He painted the first and other artists resolutely: “Well, there are all these people who want their portrait painted, I’ll do one.”

“A lot of artists decided to do this and I went along with it.”

Penny McDougall, former matron and nurse at Evalina Children's Hospital in St. Thomas.  Painted by Di CopePenny McDougall, former matron and nurse at Evalina Children’s Hospital in St. Thomas. Painted by Di Cope

In the meantime, Di has painted her first two portraits – both of people from London. Her daughter Alice, who lives in Harlow, became a nursing apprentice at the age of 18. Di is now working on her daughter’s portrait.

Di Cope from Burwell with the portrait of her daughter, an NHS worker.  Image: Keith HeppellDi Cope from Burwell with the portrait of her daughter, an NHS worker. Image: Keith Heppell

Di believes there is something special about a painting that a photo cannot convey. Similarly, her landscapes offer a different point of view than landscape photography.

“If it weren’t for a job for a very special place, I would paint from a series of photos and take the best parts from each, which you can’t do from a photo,” she says. “I can take the parts I like and I miss things when I don’t like them – like having an ugly factory in the middle of the country like we did in Burwell.

Sunset, sweet peas.  Painted by Di Cope (44255709)Sunset, sweet peas. Painted by Di Cope (44255709)

“It doesn’t have to be in the picture, although it can be seen in the photo, but it can still be a recognizable part of the landscape.”

A Cambridgeshire artist, Di is used to bringing the famous flat moors to life. “I had someone who came into my studio once and said, ‘Can you paint mountains? ‘and I said,’ Well, I could probably paint mountains, but I paint local scenes.

“I think painting flat landscapes is a challenge in its own way. It’s what we have and it’s beautiful – I love the East Anglian sky.

“Sometimes when you go for a walk on the moor you notice more in the sky than in the landscape, because it can be so beautiful.”

For more information on Di Cope, visit

For more information on Thomas Croft and his portraits for NHS heroes, visit

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