Turning photos into portraits

Published 9:39 pm Thursday, February 13, 2020

For the better part of the last month, students in Brian Kershasky’s art class at Nansemond River High School have been creating portraits of children from Malaysia.

Eleven students have each been drawing a portrait of a child, using a photograph sent to them by The Memory Project, a group that promotes intercultural awareness, friendship and kindness around the world using art as a universal language to communicate.

Kershasky said he had thought about having his students participate in the program for a few years but decided this year was the right time to introduce something like this to his students.

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“I think the biggest thing was, when you’re in school and you’re doing art, you don’t always have a ton of opportunities to put art in the world and see how valuable it is outside of the classroom,” Kershasky said, “because you’re so busy talking about and learning techniques and learning strategies, and then all of a sudden, what’s it all for, why? Here’s a big why.”

Julius Austin, a 17-year-old senior, wanted to make his portrait something that would represent the person and be as realistic as possible. He said this project is more exciting and satisfying than others he’s done, though he said he feels more pressure because it is going to somebody.

“I’m possibly making somebody’s day or week,” Austin said. “I’m making somebody happy.”

He and the other students also got the chance to leave a short message with the child’s portrait.

Ayden Carr admitted to being a little nervous before starting the portrait.

“I think it’s special because I haven’t done anything like this before, going to another person,” said Carr, 17. “It’s big and kind of special.”

Senior Ariana Rodriguez, 17, said portraits are not a strength of hers, which made the project nerve-wracking for her, initially.

“It’s, over time, gotten gradually more interesting, and a little bit more exciting,” Rodriguez said.

She said that while she will likely never know the person whose portrait she drew, she got to know them in a different way.

“I feel like, physically, I know them better because I’m looking at their features, but I wouldn’t say I know them,” Rodriguez said.

As students were wrapping up their portraits Thursday, Kershasky reflected on his students’ experience, saying the project shows them how important and special art is. He said there’s a chance they’ll get a video back from the students.

“It’s so far different than anything else we’ve ever talked about, like going to a contest,” Kershasky said. “We decorate things, and that’s the normal, and then here you are making a project for somebody, and it’s a little kid in this little town who probably doesn’t have the same kind of comforts that we grew up with, and here, we get to provide them with something that probably … will be around forever.”