Celebrate with TODAY! Ask Al Roker to wish your loved ones a happy birthday or anniversary

Artist helps sick kids live their dreams through fantasy photos

April is National Volunteer Month, and in honor of that, TODAY is kicking off the new series "One Day, One Deed," taking a look at people who are inspired to give back and the impact of their good deeds.

One self-described “weird artsy guy” is giving sick kids and their families new reasons to keep dreaming big.

Through his Drawing Hope Project, Canadian artist Shawn Van Daele takes sick children's drawings and turns them into artistic, fantastical scenes using his photography and photo editing skills. The result? Stunning portraits of the kids living out their wildest dreams, never mind their earthly limitations.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    Through his Drawing Hope Project, Canadian artist Shawn Van Daele captures photos of sick kids, and edits them into fantastical environments.

  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Soaring sunflowers -

    Sunflowers reach to the heavens for Sadie, whom Van Daele imagined as "The Sun Princess." Sadie has Cone Rod Dysfunction, an ocular dystrophy which leaves her incredibly sensitive to the sun.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    A girl and her horse -

    Kayla is transformed into a skilled equestrian as she soars through a sunny wood in this Van Daele image. Kayla was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at age 9.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    King of the sea -

    A colorful underwater landscape in this image transports Hunter to a safe, magical place. This "Hero of the Deep" was diagnosed with a rare combination of heart conditions including Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Magical thinking -

    In this Van Daele image, Cooper - who suffers from Stickler's Syndrome - becomes a magician, able to summon birds and lift houses. Cooper's condition led to a major retina detachment at age 5.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Super hero -

    Van Daele describes this image as his very favorite. Jack was born with Biliary Atresia and received a life-saving liver transplant shortly before this photo was taken.

    Jack "is able to save the day because an organ donor saved his," Van Daele writes.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Space man -

    The sky is hardly the limit to David's dreams, thanks to Van Daele’s imaginative photo artwork. David was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and has undergone three heart surgeries to prolong the life of his heart.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    How does your garden grow? -

    Avery "The Butterfly Fairy" makes a magical garden bloom with the flick of a watering can and the fluttering of her wings. Avery was born with a cleft palate and an underdeveloped jaw.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Natural beauty -

    Ruby's mother died when she was younger, but the unconditional love of her sister and family help her to shine through the pain.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    A very special expedition -

    At just 34 days old, Marco received a heart transplant that saved his life, only to batle cancer at age 4. This little hero gets to explore the world through Van Daele’s fantasy photo editing.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Somewhere over the rainbow -

    Penguins held aloft by colorful balloons help transport Owen, who was born with multiple heart defects, to a carefree fantasyland.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Candy land -

    Cotton candy trees and blooming lollipops guide this Queen into Candyland. Alexandria was born with Biliary Atresia, a maldevelopment of the bile duct in her liver.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Time traveler -

    One boy’s nightmare is another’s dream, and Dominic wanted to travel in time to the dinosaur days. Dominic was born prematurely with Down syndrome, feeding issues, and heart failure, but that doesn't stop Dom from running and playing with dinosaurs.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Hope floats -

    Captain Chance stays aloft under the moonlight, with guidance from the S.S. Hope. He was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2011 and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Magic carpet ride -

    Van Daele is Kasie's genie, transporting her to a magical land through his photo editing. Kasie has Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder that almost exclusively affects girls.
    Drawing Hope Project
  • Artist’s fantasy photos fulfill sick kids’ dreams

    of

    Riding in style -

    At 7 months old, Ryley received a heart transplant that saved her life. She is proof that anything is possible and Van Daele's photo illustration shows just that. A white unicorn, a flowering meadow and a magical tutu transform her dreams into reality.
    Drawing Hope Project

Van Daele told TODAY.com that he was inspired to start the project when his dad was battling cancer. “I turned a drawing I did myself when I was six, for my grandmother, into a real-life photo, and that triggered the idea that I could do this on a broader scale, for other families who could use some inspiration in their lives,” Van Daele said. “When you're up against battles like that, the idea that anything is possible is so important.”

David, keeper of the stars. Drawing Hope Project
Through his Drawing Hope Project, Canadian artist Shawn Van Daele captures photos of sick kids, and edits them into fantastical environments.

The Drawing Hope Project was off and running from there. Van Daele reached out to hospitals and support groups, who put him in touch with families who might be interested in his project. Once he created his first magical image (for Ryley, the "Queen of Hearts"), word spread quickly. Van Daele began working with children waiting for organ transplants, others with heart defects, cancer, “and every other kind of rare disease you could imagine,” he said. He offers his art free of charge.

The response has been “overwhelming in the most perfect way possible,” Van Daele said, and he’s worked with about 30 families in Canada and the U.S. “Seeing the children's reactions to having their imaginations come to life is priceless — and for the parents, seeing their children full of hope and life is a real gift that I've been blessed with being able to give them,” he said.

In this image, Van Deale turned one little girl into the fairy princess of poppies. Drawing Hope Project
In this image, Van Deale turned one little girl into the fairy princess of poppies.

In addition to raising spirits, Van Daele also wants to raise awareness about organ donation. Many of the children he photographs are waiting for a life-saving transplant. All his images include messages urging people to register for organ donation, with links to Canada's organ donor registry. (You can find the U.S. registry here.) Van Daele said he's received hundreds of letters and Facebook comments from people saying they've registered as an organ donor after seeing his pictures. “To know that this project has or will, technically, save lives — wow,” he said. 

As for his own favorite image in the project, it’s one of a boy named Jack, pictured as a superhero. Born with a rare liver disease, Jack received his first transplant when he was 7 months old. When Van Daele took his picture, Jack was waiting for a second life-saving transplant; he got it about a year and a half later. Van Daele told TODAY.com, “It really gets across the feeling of overcoming the battles these kids have gone through, and rising above whatever life throws at you.”

Van Deale describes this image as his very favorite. The subject of this photo recently received a life-saving transplant. Drawing Hope Project
Van Deale describes this image as his very favorite. The subject of this photo recently received a life-saving transplant.

Find more information about the Drawing Hope Project and organ donation.

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

TOP