“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice.”

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-Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption

Hi! How are you? I hope that all is well. My name is Dana Benz and I am from Bethel, Connecticut. I am a 27 year old professional hyper-realistic portrait artist. I draw portraits from photos. I drew Morgan Freeman’s portrait in colored pencils.

It took me 65 days to create this. My estimation is around 12-16 hours on average a day so 900-1000 hours total. I don’t have the exact numbers because each day varied. I did not take a day off until it was done. Every minute was worth it and I will never regret challenging myself.

It is on 14×17 Strathmore paper with Prismacolor Soft-Core colored pencils. I only used those; nothing else. I didn’t even use anything to blend. I just added layers and layers of shading, texture and detail. I drew every strand of hair as close as I could get it.

Morgan, if you end up reading this, you have helped me so much through film and your quotes. You are extraordinary and your gifts are incomparable. You are exemplary, sir. You have changed this world profoundly with your talent and inspired so many of us. You are cared for, strong and so brilliant. You are a treasure to every life you touch. I hope that this makes you feel encouraged and loved even though I am a complete stranger to you. I want you to once again be reminded of the epic person that you are when you see my portrait. I want to shine a light on the good. You are a gift the I will never, ever take for granted. You are outrageously amazing, a blessing to this earth and sincerely a magnificent person. Much respect and I mean that whole-heartedly.

Mr. Freeman, I really resonate with how you learned to overcome through struggle. I’ll be honest with you, I had a very hard life but I am very different now. In the past, I have been abused and bullied pretty badly. My Dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was 12 and died when I was 19. My family member was an alcoholic. I had depression and anxiety. However, I don’t consider myself a victim and I am not ashamed of my past. My past is my past and I am not defined by it. I do not hold grudges. I do not say it to dwell or to pity myself.

Morgan, I want to personally thank you for helping to inspire me. I know more of who I am and I have peace. I have passion, hope, drive and an exciting future ahead of me. I am fighting for it! I am now more healed in my mind and heart than ever before. I feel so good and I want to live my life to the full.

There is always, of course, more to see, learn and experience. I don’t have all of the answers and there are always things to improve on. I am trying so hard to become a better person and artist. I want to have the best life I can and to help others rise above their problems too. I am only one person but I want to do my part. I don’t want to waste any time because life is way too short.

I feel really strong now and I try to be compassionate to other people who need it. There are too many cruel people out there already and I don’t want to be one of them. Part of the reason why I draw is for others to see the tremendous good in themselves. I want to spread love through my talent and make a difference.

Kind regards to you and I wish nothing but the absolute best for all of you!