CHESAPEAKE, Va. (NewsNation Now) — The population of Chesapeake is 225,000, according to the last census.
That’s only 12,000 more than the number of people who have died of the coronavirus in the nation.
Each and every one of those numbers has a face and a story.
A Chesapeake high school student is doing her part to make sure we don’t forget any of the victims of the virus.
The 15-year-old sophomore from Great Bridge High School is keeping the memories of COVID-19 victims alive through her artwork. She’s drawing digital portraits of these people to help families cope with their grief.
With the stroke her stylus pen, Natalia Nelson is re-creating a snapshot in time.
“I just take samples of the color on their faces to color match as best as I can,” she said, describing the process.
It’s a final portrait that holds a lifetime of memories.
“Drawing, it’s never really meant anything like this big,” Natalia said.
Natalia has loved art since she was a child, but that love turned into a passion project earlier this year.
“My grandmother’s friend died from COVID and my mom sent me a picture of him and was like ‘Hey can you draw him for her?’” she said.
Using a photo for reference, Natalia took to her iPad and went to work.
“My mom was really heartbroken. It was somebody who she had known for like 30 years,” said Isabel Nelson, Natalia’s mother.
The finished piece: A glimpse of a loved one no longer here but still living in color on a digital canvas.
“At first, it’s like all these like faceless people that are dying, but when it’s someone that someone you love actually knows, it kind of becomes more real,” Natalia said. “I think it was then when it hit me like hey this is a big deal.”
Natalia and her mother wanted to help others grieving due to COVID-19.
“It just inspired us to connect with more people that way,” Nelson, Natalia’s mother, said.
They received more requests for portraits after sharing a post on Facebook. Since then, Natalia has memorialized a handful of faces.
It’s been an emotional experience for the families and the teen, too.
“Whenever I give a gift to someone, it kind of feels better than receiving one yourself,” Natalia said. “Just knowing that I maybe made someone’s day better or made them smile just makes me happy.”
“These people are remembered, that their lives mattered, that they’re still present with us in some way,” said Nelson.
Natalia hopes that her artwork brings awareness to the severity of the pandemic and she also encourages everyone to wear a mask.
If you’d like to submit a photo for a portrait, send an email to email@example.com.