Pictures for People: The art of really seeing someone

Tri-Valley artist's project to raise money to help homeless

Artist E. Trent Thompson has an interest in seeing the total person -- and a heart to help those in need.

Using these talents, he has embarked on Pictures for People, a project to get to know folks on the streets, capture their spirit in personal portraits, then sell the paintings to help provide them with services.

Thompson, 24, who was raised in upstate New York, has been doing art "since I could pick up a pencil," he said with a laugh.

"I figured out I was good at it and kept at it," he added.

He moved to California to attend Azusa Pacific University where he earned a degree in cinematic arts with a concentration in animation and a minor in fine art. Now he lives in Dublin and has a studio at The Switch, a collaborative work space on Second Street in Livermore, where he is establishing himself as an "Art-Tre-Pre-Neur."

A homeless woman named Syndey perches just outside the studio.

"In passing by her in the mornings, I would say hi and move on about my day," Thompson said. "Occasionally I would bring her lunch or whatever."

But he wanted to do more for her than just wave in the morning.

"I wanted to make her feel seen, to know that people feel for her and wish they could help," Thompson said.

He started talking to her and learned her story.

"I made it a point to build a relationship, then asked if I could paint a picture of her," Thompson recalled.

He took a reference photo of Syndey and set to work. What emerged was a large up-close likeness using colors to reveal her personality.

"I took it out to her to show her, and she was absolutely delighted," Thompson recalled. "Just seeing her smile when she saw the picture inspired me that it was something to do more often."

He began to befriend other homeless people, getting to know them and do their portraits. He also branched off into other people with needs. Shepherd's Gate, a shelter for women and children, put him in touch with an alumna who was willing to share her story, and he also made connections at Sunflower Hill, a community of people with special needs.

Thompson has completed the personal portraits of six people, each 48 inches by 30 inches, acrylic on wood or canvas, and is now partnering with CityServe of the Tri-Valley to hold a fundraising art show from 6-9 p.m. March 12 at Range Life restaurant in Livermore to auction them off. Tickets for the event are $75, which includes hors d'oeuvres, a drink and live music. Proceeds go to the nonprofit groups that have helped those in the portraits.

"Part of the learning process for me has been how to facilitate these paintings, selling them, and making sure we are respecting the subjects in the process," Thompson said. "It's an innovative way to help that person."

"The key has been to be honest with the person," he added.

CityServe is the fiduciary agency for the project, receiving the donations and disbursing them as directed.

"I love the fact that there is dignity involved, in just showing people as people, not as their situation," Aaron Horner, of CityServe, said in an online video detailing the project.

"I like it. It makes me feel important," Syndey shared on the video.

When each painting was completed, Thompson had the subject sign it.

"That's the last step of the process, to take it back to the person to show them themselves and they sign it," he said. "It's a lot of fun."

These signed portraits will be auctioned off March 12 but the buyers will not take ownership until after they are displayed to the public for free from 1-3 p.m. May 11 at the Bankhead Theater. The subjects also receive a small print of the portrait.

Thompson hopes to bring more artists into the project.

"My goal is to be able to keep it growing and growing," he said. "It's just a good way to fuse my passion for art with helping people. It seems like a win-win."

Thompson wants to create art with a purpose as opposed to just being aesthetically pleasing.

"By painting a person in the community and sharing their story, we hope to infuse compassion back into our community," he explained. "By purchasing a painting, we hope to be able to fund community organizations and projects that will better the lives of our brothers and sisters in need."

"We are painting a brighter picture one person at a time," he added.

To buy tickets for the March 12 event, or to see the video about the project, visit

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Mary Mele
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Feb 22, 2019 at 2:48 pm

So excited to see all of Trent's work up-close and personal! Love to see folks using their passion to help in their community. Giving doesn't have to hurt to be helpful. this really is a win-win opportunity....and whoever bids highest on the painting gets to add a third 'win'! ;-)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Differentiating Grief from Clinical Depression
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,615 views

Jammed BART trains demand innovative thinking moving forward
By | 9 comments | 1,079 views