Artist Helps Sick Children’s Imaginations Come To Life

Other photographer’s images may be worth the proverbial 1,000 words, but Shawn Van Daele’s really only going for one.

The word is hope, and it’s the motivating force behind his Drawing Hope Project. The project is an imaginative undertaken whereby Van Daele meets up with children suffering from a variety of illnesses and ailments. He makes them the subject of a photo shoot. They, in turn, give him details of a story, dream or wish.

Depending on details the children supply, Van Daele will then use a little photo editing trickery to turn them into everything from princesses to pirates, so that they’re no longer bound by oxygen tanks and doctor visits and daily prescriptions. In Van Daele’s images, at least, the children are masters of their own magical realm.

At the moment, he’s preparing to release a storybook this summer featuring the first 27 children photographed. His mother is helping to write it, and proceeds will be split with the causes related to the children captured in its pages. Already, for example, Van Daele has used the project to spur greater awareness of the importance of registering to be an organ donor.

Meanwhile, Van Daele also is working on finding a way to pursue the Drawing Hope Project full time. Until he gets there, he’ll keep shooting and going out one-on-one to meet children that, through his pictures, he wants to help take to infinity and beyond.

“I have a very hard time saying no to anyone,” Van Daele tells Hooplaha. “Children with life-threatening illnesses I try to work with as soon as possible. As many are located all over the world, I try and work with various families at one time when I am in their area.

“The finished photo is always inspired entirely by the drawing the child sent in. If there’s a rainbow-colored octopus in the drawing, there will be one in the photo. It’s all about letting them see their imaginations come to life.”

Van Daele began the Drawing Hope Project in April 2012. In one of the resulting images, a young girl he photographed stands defiant, hands on her hips. Her superhero uniform includes a logo on her chest and a red skirt, and there’s a cape floating behind her. Farther back is a giant sandcastle, the highest point of which includes the word: “Hope.”

In other Drawing Hope Project photos, a young boy wearing glasses Van Daele photographed beams as he leaps into the air waving a wand, his magical abilities resulting in a floating swirl of people, objects and a house dancing fancifully around him in the image.

The children, whose days otherwise include complications like chemotherapy and transplants, are encouraged by the photographer to focus instead on their dreams and imagination. It’s a fitting project for Van Daele, whose own early years were marked by a fascination with things like fairy tales and Choose Your Own Adventures books.

Through his photography project, he’s now sprinkling some of the same pixie dust from his own youth among children today who deserve to be reminded about the power of their own imagination.

“I really had come to a point in my life where I wanted and needed to give something back, to show gratitude for everything I've been given in my life,” he said.

“I wanted to do something with my creative abilities that would make people smile, inspire them, and was fulfilling my own need for a creative outlet at the same time.  Being able to do something you love with the tools you've been given, that in turn can change someone's life for the better, is the best possible use of your skills and gifts.  I wanted to bring awareness to rare diseases and conditions, and everything fell into place.  I wanted to inspire the magic of childhood and let kids and their families who could use a little happiness in their life see that anything is possible.”

You can check out more images from the Drawing Hope Project on its Facebook page.



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