A few years ago, artist Claudia Bien left her job at a start-up in San Francisco to work on her latest collection of drawings, called "Thoughts in Passing." It's a series of photorealistic portraits capturing the lives of nine hospice patients across the Bay Area.
"I came to observe a profound paradox: in talking with me about dying, these people taught me how to live more meaningfully and more intensely," Bien wrote in her artist's statement.
The life-sized drawings are defined by the smoky grit of Bien's graphite pencils. Each took 40 to 50 hours to create, and is accompanied by a short audio piece. After interviewing her portrait subjects, Bien worked their words into her drawings of their clothes. The technique is "a metaphor for how we carry our stories with us," she told The Washington post.
Bien's portrait of Jenny Miller is now on display at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The drawing was one of the finalists for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, a national award granted every three years to outstanding portrait artists.
Bien also leads workshops with adults and young people, using her art to pass along a deeper message: that talking about death might teach everyone more about what it means to be alive.
Check out some of Bien's riveting portraits, along with their accompanying interviews:
"We're here to learn something. If I die today or next week, I'm at peace with living and I'm at peace with dying." (Randy)
"I'm trying to go back, make a more creative mind... There's so much the world has to offer. I just barely skimmed it." (Osamu)
"I wondered about people who never got to that place of high peace, and I felt lucky that I knew. Who knew little old nobody me could get high peace." (Jenny)