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I desperately wanted to be an artist, but my mum and dad told me I needed to get a “proper job” so nursing it was. I don’t regret a thing about it – the people I’ve met along the way and the children I’ve looked after.

It’s a real honour to do what I’ve done and I’ve loved it, but after 39 years in paediatric nursing I felt I was ready to stop. 

I started scribbling and just kept on scribbling

While I’ve always drawn pictures, it was COVID that led me to start drawing my world at work as a paediatric nurse. Before that it was things from my personal life.Karen Reep Me in 2020 (self portrait)

'Self Portrait' 

Near the start of the pandemic, I recall thinking how surreal everything was. There has never been anything like this before, I thought. I remember sitting in a COVID debrief meeting about one of our first children to get very sick – it was such an uncertain time.

It was very emotional but we obviously weren’t allowed to touch or hug. I had this scrap of paper on me and everyone thought I was taking notes but what I was actually doing was drawing everyone in the meeting. ‘The Debrief’ is one of my first NHS pictures. 

 Debrief 2020

'The Debrief'

Not long after that I got COVID myself and I found it very distressing. We were all getting this horrid virus and seeing people die from it and I thought: this is the moment in time I need to draw what I’m seeing. I started scribbling and just kept on scribbling.



I see everything in pictures rather than words. Most people like to write things down but not me; I always want to do a picture. I’ve always liked doodling, if I’m stressed, I draw. 

A little humour 
'A Little Humour Always Helps When We Are Scared During Covid' 

Because I didn’t go to art college or have any formal training, I didn’t consider myself an artist and I didn’t really put any value on it, but when I started sharing my drawings, I was overwhelmed by the positive response I’ve had from people.

Girl power

'Girl Power'

I would say to people: "I hope you don’t mind but I’ve done a picture of you" and they were so glad I’d done it. I’ve never included a patient, but the staff are very much real.

I didn't want it to be anything glamorous, I just wanted it to be what it was

Karen Reep Distraction 630px


For me it was important to include all the people working hard in the background who weren’t always shown during COVID – the postal workers, cleaners, pharmacy staff, lab staff – not just doctors and nursing staff in A&E.

Going into our first

'Going into our First Covid Patient' 

One of the pictures is of the emergency team running through the corridor, and I have included the cleaning staff by the side. I didn’t want it be anything pretty or glamourous – there aren’t any big eyelashes in my pictures – I just wanted it to be what it was.

The unseen hero

'The Unseen Hero' 

I didn’t want people to forget what the NHS went through, what I saw, and the terror of feeling frightened to go home in case you passed the virus on to your relatives.  

 I see everything in pictures  



The NHS drawings are very much my own style – they aren’t accurate, they are scribbled and very fast – usually in ink and watercolour because I wanted to capture a moment in time. That part is very instinctive.



Now I’m a full-time artist, I do miss nursing but I volunteer with the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust take heART team, so that keeps my toe in. It’s a group of like-minded staff passionate about increasing the availability of the arts in hospitals for patients, visitors and staff so it’s not just bleak corridors.

Happy staff

'Happy Staff, Happy Hospital, Happy Patients' 

I’m a firm believer in the need for more art in hospitals. Art can do wonders for how a person feels. Bare walls don’t do anything for anyone.

Art can do wonders for how a person feels

When I worked as a nurse at Addenbrookes, it was full of art and I remember the difference it made. Bedfordshire Hospitals take heART team have recently displayed some of my pictures on the hospital walls at Luton and Dunstable which is the best accolade I could have received in my career as a nurse and wannabe artist.

Find out more about Karen and her work.

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