IT began as a fundraising project, wrapped in a personal challenge. Lucy Gordon’s 50 Portraits and Me, in which she set herself the task of painting 52 portraits in one year to sell in aid of a cancer charity, has blossomed into something even the artist did not expect – an engrossing, moving tribute to ordinary women and their extraordinary stories.

“At first, I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it, just in case I couldn’t,” she admits. “I wasn’t any good at portraits really – my husband, who is my sounding board, said the people I painted looked like zombies, which wasn’t a great start.

“But I needed a challenge. I’m used to working in isolation, and I mainly paint animals, so this was an opportunity to come out of my comfort zone.”

Gordon came up with the idea last spring, after two close friends were supported by Maggie’s centres, which provide emotional and practical support for people with cancer and their friends and families.

“I saw what a difference Maggie’s made to them, and I wanted to help,” she says, simply. “I decided to paint women because I wanted a theme, and thought it would be more striking.

“The fact that it coincides with the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave some women the right to vote in the UK, was a nice correlation.”

At first, Gordon painted family and friends, but as word spread, strangers got in touch to ask if they could be part of the project.

As the weeks went by, Gordon posted some of the portraits on social media and, suddenly, women who did not know each other were having conversations, making connections and sharing experiences.

“I’ve had incredible support from my family and my friends, and it has been amazing to understand the reach of the project – I’ve had women from as far afield as Sweden and North Carolina getting in touch,” she explains.

“Many women had connections to Maggie’s, but many did not. It became about much more than cancer, or one particular charity. It is about women and their stories.”

Some of the subjects, including Lucy’s own daughters Matilda, nine, and five-year-old Robyn, sat for the artist; most sent in photographs.

“My only criteria was – no teeth,” she smiles. “It’s really difficult to paint teeth. They can turn out looking a little goofy and you don’t want to be doing that to anyone.

“Some portraits I did in a night – others took me three weeks. It all depended upon my mood and my energy levels.”

Gordon, whose self-portraits mark the beginning and end of the project, mixed size, colours and textures – some are on linen, others on canvas and board. Some are part-face and only one contains two women.

“A woman whose mother is very ill and currently going through treatment for cancer got in touch to ask if I would paint them both together, which was very emotional,” explains Gordon.

“It was really interesting to see how people perceive themselves, and to include people from different cultures and backgrounds, ages and stages of life.”

As she worked on, Gordon admits to feeling a growing responsibility to the women she was painting.

“My main aim was always to raise as much money for Maggie’s as possible,” she explains. “But I feel like this has also become about telling the story of women.

“All of these faces have some kind of adversity going on behind them, and I wanted to capture that, to show their strength.”

Gordon, an art psychotherapist who works with primary school children in Glasgow, and her music producer husband Chris live on the south side of the city, with Matilda, Robyn and son Louis, who is seven.

“He was a little cross his portrait wasn’t going to be included,” smiles Gordon. “But I have done one of him anyway, just for us.”

Gordon grew up in Lancashire and moved to Scotland when she was 19, to study fine art painting at Glasgow School of Art.

“I have loved drawing and painting for as long as I can remember,” she explains. “After art school, I worked as a community artist until I did my MA in Art Psychotherapy, and now I continue painting practice in my little attic studio.

“Once the kids are in bed, I crawl up the ladder and disappear. I can lose hours up there, getting immersed in my work.”

Gordon’s portraits will now be displayed at The Garment Factory as part of Maggie’s Glasgow’s Culture Crawl on September 28, before being sold, with all proceeds going to the charity.

To donate to the project, visit

For more information about the Culture Crawl, visit

Ailsa Mackenzie, 45, arts producer from Darnley, Glasgow. Portrait number 15.

A few months after my partner Robert died of kidney cancer, I was told I had breast cancer. It was horrific, unbelievable. I felt like it was happening to someone else.

I was most worried about my son. Barnaby had just lost his dad and suddenly, I had cancer too.

Robert was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer in April 2015, when it was already stage four and incurable. He died in January 2016.

Discovering I had breast cancer was a bolt out of the blue. I felt fine, but I had noticed a little dimple on my breast. There was no lump, I had no other symptoms, but after everything that had happened to Robert, I thought I should get it checked out.

The tumour was tiny, just seven millimetres wide, but I needed a lot of treatment - a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, more drugs regimes. It was rough on my body. Going to hospital every week for chemotherapy, and then every day for weeks for radiotherapy, and being a mum and trying to work…it was exhausting. Suddenly, I was in a whole new world I had no idea existed before, and it took over my life. And I was still grieving for Robert.

I got a lot of support from Maggie’s. You can be yourself there, and that’s massive.

Being part of this project was incredible. I know Lucy through our children, who went to nursery together. I’ve loved being part of this – Lucy has done something really special, she has created a community and that’s wonderful.

I am well now, and some days are hard, and other days are better. The treatments are not nice, but they are effective, so that is what I am focussing upon. And I have Barnaby. He’s the most important thing in all of this.

Ria Din, 59, addiction counsellor and writer from Pollokshields, Glasgow. Portrait number 47.

I’m pretty vain, so I was quite flattered to be asked to do this. We are neighbours, Lucy and I, and when she told me what she was doing I was impressed.

I’m very interested in the history and biography of women and appreciate anything which aims to bring women’s experience to the fore. Also, when you’re closing in on 60, you start to reflect and review your life.

I’m mixed race - my dad was from Pakistan and came to Glasgow in 1954, where he met my mum, who ran a dairy in the Gorbals – and I am a working class person.

I like art, but I remember at school being told I was not artistic, that I wouldn’t ever be artistic – almost as if I wasn’t entitled to utilise art.

I went to Maggie’s in Glasgow for the first time, recently, because my brother has been diagnosed with cancer. I went in because I thought it might lift my spirits and it did. It has a powerful ethos.

Elaine van den Akker, 46, from Giffnock. Portrait number 19.

I was touched to be asked to help Lucy, to help Maggie’s. I have fundraised for the charity in the past, because they helped me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy between July 2015 and February 2016.

Maggie Keswick Jencks, who founded the centres, said people should not “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying” and that stayed with me, through the early days when I could not sleep or eat or think of anything but not seeing my children grow up, until now, when I am well.

At Maggie’s you can lose your coping face. Your family needs to see that face, but at Maggie’s, you can share your fears. It is hard to voice your darkest fears to those close to you, because they're often struggling with same ones.

Cancer has changed much of my perspective on the world. I am not sure I could have negotiated that massive shift without Maggie's.

But all of this sounds very po-faced and worthy and doesn't tell the whole story of Maggie's. Round the kitchen table and in the groups, folk chat, often laugh, wind each other up and sometimes eat too many biscuits. Or is that just me?

When you leave, you nearly always feel lighter than you did when you walked in.

My daughters were three and five when I was diagnosed and I remember telling the cancer support specialist at Maggie’s that I had tiny kids, that I was afraid of dying. She said: “Well, you might, but you probably won’t.” It was a revelation – to have someone really hear my feelings, without their own clouding their response.

Being part of this project has been a revelation too. Lucy has given us all a voice, allowed us to share our experiences.

I’m quite self conscious about the way I look – I always filter my Facebook photos. I was nervous about doing this – I can’t filter a painting – but once my portrait had been revealed on social media, someone commented Lucy had caught my ‘lovely, kind eyes’.

Who cares, really, what you look like, if that’s what people see in you?

Suzi Nicol, 49, art and gift shop owner, from Pollokshaws, Glasgow. Portrait number 14.

I worked as a project manager in the civil service for 21 years. After my mum died from bowel cancer and, six months later, my dad was diagnosed with it too, I gave up the job I was miserable in and followed my dream to open a Scottish art and gift shop.

I was so pleased that Lucy asked me to be part of her amazing portrait project, it is such an honour to be involved. The care and facilities that Maggie's offers touch on a subject close to my heart. They fulfil a vital role in the community. When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, you are suddenly in a bubble full of hospices and hospitals and treatments. Having something like Maggie’s to help you cope is fantastic.

Thankfully, my dad is doing well and I've just celebrated my shop's third birthday.

Daphne Ndlovu, 63 from Giffnock. Portrait number 32.

I was an ordinary woman, enjoying being a gran and looking forward to retiring so that I could help my daughter with childcare while she furthered her nursing career.

On September 23, 2015, my world turned upside down. Lebu, my beautiful daughter, then 31, died suddenly in her sleep at home, her four-year-old son by her side.

There was never any thought in my mind, nor in my husband’s mind, but to bring up our grandson ourselves. Jayden is seven now. It has not been easy being an older mum/gran but it has been a blessing and a privilege.

I miss my daughter terribly every day, but having her son with us soothes the pain a little. I see her in him.

I was happy to be part of what Lucy was doing. It is wonderful to see someone use their God-given talent so selflessly to benefit others.

In my grief, I experienced much human kindness, so I was very happy to be able to contribute to my community through Lucy’s project.

Everyone has been through a lot in their lives but we are survivors, we are strong.

I look at these paintings and I see the strength of women.