North Bay artist sketches 17 Parkland shooting victim portraits
SANTA ROSA - A North Bay man is channeling his feelings about the Parkland, Florida massacre into his art, creating pencil drawings of all 17 victims.
They will soon be enlarged into posters and become part of a public display at a busy Santa Rosa intersection, but for Tony Speirs, the endeavor is personal.
"I feel like I could have gone to high school with these kids," Speirs told KTVU, working at his dining table Wednesday evening.
He was finishing the last of 14 student portraits, and will turn his attention next to the three adult victims.
"Some faces are a lot harder than others," Speirs admitted.
Each 5" x 7" drawing takes about five hours to complete. Sometimes, Speirs has a few photographs of the subject to work from. He culls the pictures from news reports and social media.
In each of his portraits, he has the teen looking out with a direct gaze.
"When I'm looking at their eyes, I turn a corner," said Speirs, "because looking into their eyes a bit, it gets me a little emotional."
For almost a month, the professional artist has neglected his home studio near Sebastopol, and postponed paintings his customers are waiting for.
He did not expect to become captivated by the project, but when the Parkland tragedy grew to 17 victims, and he started seeing their names and faces, something felt different.
"This time I did not want to let it just roll off and become another event," said Speirs, who was struck by the beauty and promise of those young victims. "And I think it was the next day, where I just said 'I can draw', that's something I can do."
Another artist will mount the drawings on the side of a vacant building at the intersection of Cleveland and College avenues.
An estimated 40,000 vehicles pass by each day, and the 6x14 foot mural will remain until late summer, when the building is set to be torn down.
But even more important to Speirs: the appreciation he has heard from families of the students, some asking for copies of his work.
He has posted each portraits on his Facebook page, and after each one, he writes a brief paragraph describing them.
Like how 15-year-old Peter Wang saved classmates by shoving them through a door as bullets flew.
"Yeah, the day of his death, he just sprung into action, people saw him and told about it later," said Speirs.
Those details make Speirs feel even closer to his subjects, and he begins work on each drawing with an apology, regretting that they are gone, and that he did not pay close attention to gun violence in the past.
"I say their name, and I say 'I'm sorry,'" said Speirs, "because I had to ask myself, did I really do everything I can, politically, or whatever?"
He hopes those who see his portraits, will ask the same question.
"It's what the kids are saying, "enough.' Can't this be the last one."
The artist who will create the mural has established a GoFundMe account for those who would like to support the project.
The page also has a visual rendering of how the mural will look.
The mural will have no sign or caption -- the assumption being that drivers will recognize the faces and remember.
"There's something about looking at a drawing," said Speirs, "and hopefully that is the power of art."