AN AMATEUR artist has been praised for turning the windows of her home into a miniature art gallery to pay tribute to passing bus drivers.

Heather Eastwood, who lives on one of Darlington’s main bus routes, has painted more than 40 works of art on the windows of her Darlington flat since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Heather said: “I started with a rainbow and the ‘Stay Safe’ message at the same time everyone was putting that up in March, and I had fun doing it because I hadn’t painted in a while.

“After that, I wanted to something for bus drivers. Before all this, I used to use the bus nearly every day and I know all the drivers, and right now, their job is dangerous.

“They’re spending every day in a small box full of people, and while they and Arriva are taking precautions, they’re risking their health so that other essential people can get to work, and I thought that was very inspiring.

“I painted Otto the bus driver from The Simpsons with a well-known line from the show: ‘Hail to the Bus Driver’. It makes me smile when they see it and beep or wave.”

Nick Knox, Area Managing Director for Arriva North East, said “We are absolutely delighted that this unique form of recognition for our key worker bus drivers is happening in Darlington. It is acts of kindness and appreciation such as this which continue to make a difference for our staff as they work to support our local communities by keeping our services running.”

Heather’s chalk and acrylic pictures have become so popular among local families taking their daily exercise that she has been inundated with requests on social media.

Her pieces have also included a special VE Day mural, cartoon characters, inspirational quotes and phrases, and shout-outs to other vital key workers like NHS staff and postal workers.

While she cleans her artwork off and paints something new every few days, she has left Otto up as a thank you to Arriva bus drivers passing her home.

Heather, who studied graphics at university, said: “I’ve also done Dr Nick – again from the Simpsons – to say thanks to NHS staff, and Postman Pat for our postal workers, and lots of requests for friends and family, like Sonic the Hedgehog for my nephew’s birthday.”

The window gallery idea followed a discussion between Heather and her sister Vicki about how people could use their talents to contribute to rebuilding society after lockdown.

“I suggested Vicki could use her knitting and cooking skills, as well as grow her own vegetables, but I wasn’t sure what I could do,” said Heather. “She said I should do art because it makes people happy and she was right.”

Even after weeks of lockdown, Heather is still at it. Though she doesn’t feel obligated to paint a new mural every single day, she is still on the lookout for ideas, and enjoys connecting with people through her art while isolated.

Lewis Dixon, who had a request granted for a window tribute to the US sitcom Friends, said: “It’s great to see Heather’s art. She’s incredibly talented, and it cheers many people up. Your eyes definitely get drawn to her house, it’s just so colourful and positive!”

Heather added: “If locals see me in the window painting, we always wave to each other – I’ve met neighbours I never knew existed by doing this!”