Danville artist voluntarily draws people's lost loved ones

- During this holiday season, one man in Danville lives by the motto that the spirit of giving should be all year round.

He volunteers his time drawing portraits of lost loved ones to help grieving families here in the Bay Area and beyond.

Bill Small says he discovered his talent for drawing after he retired from his job as a project manager for engineering company Bechtel.

It started as a hobby. Then it became a mission about giving to others.

"It gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction," says Small.

The people in the portraits  are often victims of gun violence, drunk drivers, suicide and other complex circumstances of untimely, traumatic deaths. They include babies, children and adults. 

The drawings are gifts to their families.

"I get some wonderful thank you notes from people who are obviously feeling a great deal of pain," says Small.

The 74-year-old works with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Contra Costa County Crisis Center, and anti- gun violence nonprofits to find grieving families.

He says he picked up a piece of paper and two pencils five years ago to draw his grandchildren.

Small says when the Sandy Hook massacre happened December 2012, he decided to focus on helping people turn their grief into a remembrance of their loved ones.

He says the challenge is that he often works from photographs of poor quality.

"I spend a fair amount of time studying the photographs before I start and then mostly, I  think it's just practice.

Primarily self-taught, Small says he's taken some classes.  He says time has helped him hone his skills.

The desire to capture the essence of the person for their families is perhaps his  greatest motivator.

"What I'm trying to capture in the portraits is that this is the person as I remember them.  They can focus on the good times and not what they've lost," says Small.  

"His eyes, his beautiful eyes, how he captured them," says Mattie Scott of San Francisco as she looks at a portrait painted by Small of  her son George C. Scott...who was shot and killed in 1996.

Scott now runs a nonprofit to help other families.

Small has gifted the grieving mother three portraits of her son.

"They're healing for me. They touch my heart.  They let me know I'm not alone ..that someone does care.  For someone to do that for me and not charge me a dime is unbelievable," says Scott. 

Small says the art of giving is rewarding.

"It helps me put everything in my life in perspective because when you're drawing pictures of people that are gone, your problems sort of fade away," says Small.

The artist says the demand for his portraits has grown over the years.

He's has done work for families across the United States and other countries.

He donates  his time and materials. 

Small hopes to recruit other artists to do the same. 

His goal is to give hope to others.
For more information:  http://www.billsmallportraits.com

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