Portraits for Ukraine

A local artist is using his talent to help refugees half a world away.


Chris Bronstad is painting for Ukraine.

The retired Key Peninsula Middle School teacher and local artist, who lives in Vaughn, spent the last few years concentrating on his award-winning artwork. Since the invasion of Ukraine, however, he has been concerned with the plight of millions of refugees and learning about local relief organizations helping them.

“I read about Empact Northwest, which is based in Kingston, and a local person who went to help,” Bronstad said. (See “Local Relief Worker Back From Ukraine,” April 2020.)

“I had the notion I wanted to do something,” he said. “I’m just horrified by what’s going on over there; everybody is. I felt that I could generate some funds and donate them all. There is such a need. So, I gave it a whirl.”

Bronstad posted an offer on his Facebook page: He would paint or draw a portrait from a photograph for a reduced price to generate funds supporting Ukrainian refugees.

“I’m working on my fifth portrait at the moment,” he said, just one month into the project. He’s done three of people and two of dogs, working in charcoal, pastel or oil paint.

“I’m just finishing up a portrait of a dog in oils; it’s going to Tennessee,” he said. “I talk with interested parties about media, so I can create something that people really like, and they’re contributing to what I’m trying to.”

Bronstad charges $200 to $300 for an unframed 11-by-14 to 18-by-24 inch charcoal drawing. He can usually produce a portrait from a live model in three or four hours but working from photographs allows him to create a more finished and strikingly detailed product that takes about twice as long to complete.

“That crispness is part of my style, I guess,” he said. “I do everything entirely by eye — it’s all freehand — so it takes time.”

Bronstad uses charcoal pencils and a variety of brushes to draw figures and fill in the shading.

“I’ll do an initial drawing with a No. 2 pencil and erase and correct as I’m working, but for quite a number of years I’ve done portraits using ground up charcoal dust,” he said. “I will take a sand block and get some dust and end up using that as a palette and work to get the modeling, how the light is affecting the image. That’s when it begins to come to life. I generally start with the eyes of the subject, so they can keep an eye on me as I work.”

As of press time he’s donated $2,000 to Empact Northwest, World Central Kitchen and UNICEF.

“I’ve also definitely wanted to funnel some money to concerns that are rescuing animals,” he said. “There are concerns in Poland and in Romania that are driving into the region where they can get to and rescuing animals. It’s hard to see any footage of Ukrainian refugees where you don’t see them carrying a pet. It’s heartbreaking.”

Bronstad retired in 2018 after 28 years of teaching, the last 17 of those at Key Peninsula Middle School. He is a veteran of many art shows and contests. In 2011, a portrait of his daughter won a place in the Art Renewal Center’s annual salon, a prestigious competition that included entries from 69 countries. That portrait, “The Dreamer,” is now on display at the ARC museum in New Jersey.

“I have a number of works yet to do; I have no idea how long I’m going to do this,” he said. “One of my hopes is that what I’m doing will also maybe inspire other people to come up with some ideas on how to help out. The need is going to be there for some time to come.”

Chris Bronstad can be found on Facebook.