Portraits On Skid Row

After years of contemplation, planning, and over-planning, I finally decided to just grab some basic materials, get in my car, and go. I’ve been trying to figure out how I could possibly use art with the homeless community for a long time now and I wanted a concrete plan of how I was going to go about it. But for some reason, I could never get a solid plan of execution. All I could picture was sitting there on the street with them and talking to them while I drew their portrait. I thought I could come up with something better than this before going, but the grand plans I wanted to reach, just weren’t coming. So finally I was so fed up with doing nothing, I decided to just take a leap of faith and go.
conte and charcoal on found wood
Thomas (detail no.1)

                                                                                        Thomas (detail no.2)

charcoal on found wood
These portraits are the result of that first experimental trip. I got to sit with these two guys for a couple hours each and talk with them as I studied their faces and translated them onto these found pieces of wood. I didn’t even have to ask them if I could draw their portraits. I was walking around San Julian street with all my materials, looking for a place to sit down and offer free portraits, and before I could find a good place, the man in the top images stopped me to ask what I was doing with all the paper, wood, and drawing tools under my arms. I told him I was going to draw portraits of the people around the streets. Immediately, he asked me “could you draw my portrait?”
I said yes.
The second man saw the hand scribbled sign under my arm that said, “Free Portraits.” After I was a few feet past him, he said in my direction, “Free portraits?” I stopped and turned around. “Yeah,” I said, “Free Portraits.”
During the process I had several people in the homeless community stop and watch for a while. They would look on in amazement and ask me where I was from, if I was coming back, and if I could draw them too. It was so encouraging and I could hardly believe that it was happening– my visions were becoming a reality and all I had to do was go.
These reclaimed pieces of wood were seen as junk before they were salvaged and turned into art. The men were able to watch and be a part of this process of redeeming and ennobling. I was able to talk about how God does this with our lives too. He takes what most people would say is invaluable and not worth it, and he turns it into something valuable, beautiful, and cherished.

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