To keep your head straight, here’s something to remember: Your head is five eyes wide. Your two eyes are one eye apart. The base of your nose is often the width of your eye. The corners of your mouth line up with the inner edge of your pupils. 

These are some of the basic rules for drawing a face. It’s the kind of stuff artists pick up in art school, pool halls or wherever creative learning occurs. 

Once you’ve learned the rules of facial proportion and you begin studying physiognomy, you’ll soon notice that almost no one conforms. For example, some people smile so big that the corners of the mouth reach beyond the limits of facial conformity. Happiness breaks the mold.

Sometimes not conforming can lead to happiness — and that’s what Real Change is all about. 

For the past 25 years, Real Change newspaper vendors have become part of Seattle’s infrastructure. They sell the paper in all kinds of weather on street corners throughout the Puget Sound region. Many are homeless. All are low income. But Real Change gives them a chance to make connections with the communities where they sell. And with those connection comes satisfaction, a sense of self-worth, money in their pockets, and often a smile that breaks the mold.

These portraits began as a personal project for Real Change art director Jon Williams. In November 2012, he set out to create portraits of several of the vendors who sell this paper every day. Soon, with the help of Real Change contributing artist Derek Gundy, the two began asking other artists if they wanted to join the project. Many did, including folks such as Robin Weiss and Sam Day, whose work you’ll often see hanging in galleries in Seattle. Some artists worked from photographs, while others, such as Day, worked from life. 

When Sam Day painted his portrait of vendor Mike Hall, he set an easel on the corner of First and Main and painted in the rain. The rainwater mixed with oil and created a chilling portrait that captured Hall’s ability to stand on his corner and sell Real Change in any weather. At the time Hall had been on that corner for 16 years. He owns it — even when it’s cold and wet.

The Real Change Portrait Project first showed in Bremerton when there were 12 pieces. It’s since shown in Poulsbo, Port Angeles, Edmonds, Woodinville, Pioneer Square and Seattle’s City Hall. It’s larger each time it shows; more artists have contributed their time and skills to keep the project growing. It has become an artistic outreach project for Real Change. 

We are eternally grateful to the many artists who have contributed to the project and to the vendors whose images we have tried our best to capture.