Drawing Connections

The war in Syria has sparked the worst refugee crisis in recorded history. While the crisis has not fully hit us in the U.S., its impact in Europe and the Middle East is unprecedented. According to the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR), "4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq and 6.6 million have been internally displaced within Syria." In August 2015, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel announced an open door policy to immigrants fleeing war zones.


The UNHCR states, “Persecution, conflict and poverty have forced an unprecedented one million people to flee to Europe in 2015”. Over 800,000 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan Iraq and Iran crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece. Many attempted to travel through the Balkans with the hopes of gaining asylum in Western Europe. However, countries along the Balkan route closed their borders and/or tightened up security measures resulting in 50,000 refugees trapped in Greece.

Non profit, NetHope, has been installing Wi-Fi hotspots in refugee camps across Greece to aid those who have been trapped. In order to access vital information and loved ones, internet is as important as food and water. In December 2016, I volunteered with NetHope as storyteller, to document the work being done by engineers as well as interview refugees to learn more about how they utilize the internet. These drawings were created during a technical deployment.

Team J installing an access point on top of container homes, north end of Koutsochero camp, Larisa Greece.

In each camp, I started interviewing refugees and after a few sessions, I needed time to process their stories of fleeing war and persecution. To decompress, I'd sketch on location which would soon attract a crowd. Many would invite me into their tents or containers for tea and share their rations with me. This would then result in getting to know them on a more personal level.

In Eleonas camp, I found a spot to sit on the ground and draw. Syrian Kurdish refugees [pictured left] offered me tea.


The first camp we wired up in Thessaloniki (Northern Greece) I merely took out my sketchbook when a young Syrian man came over and said “My friend, draw me!” He invited me into his tent where I was introduced to his mother and younger brother. They huddled around a fire of burning scraps of wood. The winter air blew through a gaping hole in their dilapidated tent. After sharing Arabic coffee I drew his portrait to thank him for his hospitality. I was able to catch a glimpse into their harsh living conditions and felt saddened that I couldn’t do more to change their situation.


Syrian refugee boys play on a bike while others line up to receive daily rations off the back of a truck. Koutsochero camp, Larisa, Greece.

Often I’d be surrounded by curious children. I brought some crayons to share and encouraged them to draw in my sketchbook. One young Iraqi Yazidi boy drew a home and topped it off with a Wi-Fi access point. Of all the things he could draw, he chose a hotspot.


“Refugees often saw us working hard and out of hospitality, shared their rations with us.”

Refugees gather to receive daily rations at Lepida camp, Leros, Greece. Wiring up camps required long days with little time for lunch breaks. Refugees often saw us working hard and out of hospitality, shared their rations with us.

Moments I shared with the men, women and children I met were extremely special and I’m thankful for their hospitality. Drawing became not only a medium to create but also a way to connect. It is innate in every human being to want our voice and story to be heard.


Iraqi men spend time socializing outside one of their container homes. Iraqi Yazidi children play on cardboard [foreground]. Swings were made out of rope and old pillows tied to razor wire lined poles.

It will take decades for the dust to settle and lives to be rebuilt. Whether through time, skills, or monetary gifts, please consider supporting NGOs working on the ground: NetHope, International Rescue CommitteeMercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders and Medair. Those displaced by the conflict need our help more than ever. 

No Ban, No Walls

In December 2016, I volunteered with non-profit, NetHope, in 14 refugee camps across Greece where I met countless Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan refugees. The individuals I met were good people who want nothing more but a place to call home and live in peace. They travelled thousands of miles, escaping Bashar Al Assad’s violent regime, ISIS, the Taliban or religious persecution.

The refugees extended warm hospitality, inviting me into their tents, sharing arabic coffee and rations. They shared stories of their homes being bombed, relatives killed, deadly sea crossings from Turkey to the Greek Islands, and arduous journeys from their native countries. I was deeply moved and saddened by the situation they’ve been forced into. Their stories will be burned into my memory forever.

No Ban No Wall


On February 4th, I attended the No Ban No Wall protest in SF Civic Center. It was a rally cry against the executive order to ban all immigrants and refugees from 7 Muslim majority nations. Refugees and children of refugees shared their powerful stories of journeys from their home countries to living in America.

At one point the MC shouted “Show me what democracy looks like!” To which crowd from all walks of life responded, “This is what democracy looks like!”


Yemeni immigrants waved their nation's flag while the daughter of an Iranian refugee reads a poem.

I am disgusted by Trump’s executive order. Discriminating entry into the United States based on religion, gender, or race is deplorable, unlawful and unconstitutional. In retaliation, we must do all we can to serve those fleeing war, poverty and persecution.

These drawings are dedicated to my Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan friends overseas.

Stay the Course

To deal with my anxiety surrounding this historic election, I brought my sketchbook to the polling stations on Nov 8th. I was weary of a divisive political season fueled by hatred and ignorance and was looking forward to putting this all behind. Sadly, this will not be an option for at least another four years.

People raced to the finish their ballots at San Francisco's City Hall minutes before the stations closed. With all the propositions, California's ballot was four pages. For a moment I was encouraged to see how passionate voters were and how much they wanted their voice to be heard.


Later that night I watched the news, saddened and troubled by the outcome. I’m embarrassed for my country and the precedent its candidates have set. Gone are the days of experience, competence and level headedness as requirements for America’s highest office. It's only those who are most loud, proud and violent who get their way. The loudest and largest bell is the always the most hallow.



On their ballots, Americans made their mark. A decision was made and it is one I am not proud of. But we must stay the course, remember who we are and what we really stand for as individuals and a country. Our value and worth shouldn’t be placed in foolish “leaders." Look neither left nor right, but up. 


A Sea of Orange

It started as a trickle. One by one, Giants fans dotted the Embarcadero. Then as the afternoon progressed, a constant flow of orange and black dressed fans moved towards AT&T park. There was a game going on that night so I grabbed my sketchbook after work and headed over to the stadium. I’m not really into baseball but I will say that AT&T park is spectacular, even from the outside.


I think my favorite bit of Giants paraphernalia were the striped socks this woman had. 

A thumbnail study of the stadium as fans approach the gate.

The fun thing about drawing on location is that random people come up out of curiosity and strike up conversations. Sometimes they even extend kind gestures. I was offered a free extra ticket by a random fan but couldn't take it since I had my bike with me and no lock. I wish I could have gone in and seen the game. Note to self, don't bring bike next time. 

There was a bottleneck getting in due to all the security. The crowd looked like a sea of orange and made for good drawing material. More than the sport itself, I enjoy watching all the people as they turn out for their favorite team!

For All of Humanity

I went out to SF City Hall where the French Consulate organized a time of remembrance for those who lost their lives in November 13th attack in Paris. About a thousand people showed up to pay their respects and to show solidarity. Some waved flags, others sang. 

My heart has been heavy lately, not just for Paris but also for the many conflicts happening around the world. There has been little attention given to the bombing in Beirut that claimed the lives of 40 individuals. Back in April, 147 people were killed at a Kenyan university. Scores of refugees are leaving their war-torn homelands and making their way into Europe. These incidents are barely a blip on our daily newsfeed and it saddens me that we don’t also mourn their losses and suffering.

This is a time to pray not just for Paris, but for all who have have fallen victim to persecution and radicalization; and not just for our political allies but for all of humanity.

Taking Root

My buddy Matt and I traveled to Ecuador in 2012 and along the way we met an awesome fellow traveller named Kim. She was a American journalist living in Portland and spent some of her early teens in Paris. The entire trip was barrel of laughs as we traversed the Andes to Amazon getting to know our new friend more!

Matt and I recently visited her in Portland and she has an amazing garden in her backyard. I made this water color sketch, (a nod to Kim’s past time in France and present in Portland) as we sat out on her porch. Her dog Hildy would scurry into the bushes and there were so many plants we couldn’t find her till her fluffy head popped out. What is it about being surrounded by greenery that is so calming? In that garden and around Portland we continued to build on that friendship that took root over a year ago.

All the Colors

Bright yellow and red fabric twisted and flowed as girls from the Chhandam Youth Dance Company performed a beautiful choreography. It was just one of many fascinating shows at the Spring India Day in SF.

The whole event was an explosion of color, song and dance. In an age of globalization it's refreshing to see celebrations of cultural heritage.

There were fashion shows and competitions where people dressed up in costumes representative of regions within India. A woman representing Maharashtra dazzled the crowd with fun dance moves and a fantastic outfit. 

There was even a small wedding ceremony. The groom rode in on a horse and a procession of girls surrounded the tent where the ceremony would take place.

The bride wore beautiful silver and bronze henna designs created by the Henna Lounge.

The woman put a colorful necklace around the man’s neck. I’m not sure what the significance of it was and wish I knew. 

The bride was an Indian American while the groom was caucasian. The couple had been married for many years but decided to rededicate their vows through an Indian wedding. It was fun to see this small ceremony.

I had been there all day that my ears were ringing from the music but it was totally worth it. I had a blast. I’ve been able to travel quite a bit over the years but have not yet been to India (though it’s been at the top of my list for a while!). This event made me want to go all the more.

Towards the end of the day I came across a stand called "Sarang" that sold Indian apparel and other items. Their theme was “All the Colors” and I felt like this theme summed up the day’s wide array of events. I hope the Bay Area can continue celebrate a spectrum of cultures.


After mountain biking on the Camp Tamarancho Flow Trail, I took a break to sketch in downtown Fairfax. These folks were enjoying some ice cream while chatting. I love the quaint and relaxed atmosphere of the town where everyone seems to know each other.

Laguna Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda is a nursing facility in SF dedicated to therapeutic care for seniors and adults with disabilities. Last summer I went to watch a choir group perform to entertain the residents.

I sketched the residents as they attended the event. 

Much of this generation lived through World War II, the cold war, man’s journey to the moon, the civil rights movement and the advent of the information age. 

They’re faces told so many stories, I wondered where they had been and what they had seen in life.

Unlikely Vessels

Flora Grubb is an urban oasis in Bayview-Hunter's Point, SF. A cross between gardening center, gallery and coffee shop, it's space and curated selection of plants is awe inspiring. 

Vegetation grows from the most unlikely places. Succulents grow out of letter shaped planter boxes. Air plants sprout from rusty bikes which are suspended from rafters. Anyone with a green thumb and/or appreciation of design can geek out for hours here.

My favorite piece is an Edsel that they've used as a planter box. Greenery blooms out of the engine, trunk, and interior of this relic.

What would otherwise be left for scrap becomes a vessel from which new life can take root and flourish. 

Rollin' With the Homies

I love the watching the roller skaters in Golden Gate Park. Most of them dress up in crazy costumes, dance to 80's music with a carefree attitude. 

One woman had a giant pink bear hat and poofy boots. She had a bubble making machine on the back of her bike.

What I enjoy about it is that no one takes themself too seriously. Everyone is welcome to join in on the fun regardless of age or ability!

The Chen-culator

In 1916 my great grandfather Sun Ming, came from China to the US with hopes of a better future. He quickly enrolled in an English correspondence class. Armed only with an Underwood typewriter and lots of determination, he learned how to read and write.


I sketched this relic and admired its charm. Its keys are heavy. The mechanisms are sluggish and janky. And it's evident to me how spoiled we are these days and want instant gratification for everything. Upon successful completion of his course on July 31, 1919, Sun Ming received his diploma in “Good English.”


But he didn’t stop there. His inquisitive mind drove him to invent a precursor to the modern graphing calculator which he called the “Chen-culator.” Using the Underwood he created charts and spreadsheets with figures and an instruction manual. It's absolutely insane. It took 20 years to get a patent but he finally received one for his mad invention.

Instructions on how to use the “Chenculator”

Instructions on how to use the “Chenculator”

The force with which you have to apply on the Underwood's keys echoes the hard work you had to put into leaving your mark on society in that era. Sun Ming certainly left his mark, and generations to come are able to live a better life because of his journey.