London (CNN)A middle school art teacher in Illinois is gaining attention for his sketches of Syria's more than 5-year-old civil war.
The US art teacher sketching Syria's civil war
Marc Nelson began sharing his artwork on social media with hashtags like #ArtForAleppo and #StandWithAleppo in September, as the Syrian regime stepped up its assault on the besieged city. Nelson's drawings, sketched in charcoal, ink, and graphite, capture emotive scenes of children being rescued from the rubble.
"I started seeing these images from Syria that seared their way into my mind," Nelson told CNN. "I couldn't stop drawing them."
Putting pen to paper is Nelson's way of digesting the disturbing scenes the world has witnessed in Syria.
"There is something about using the human hand to interpret a photo. I needed to process it through drawing to kind of deal with it in a way," he said.
Nelson, who teaches 8- to 14-year-old students at Central School in Kewanee, Illinois, was working on a project about unsung heroes with his eighth-grade class when he heard about the Syria Civil Defence -- a first responder group also known as the White Helmets. He began researching the volunteer group, which operates in besieged areas of Syria, and was struck by photographs of their search-and-rescue efforts.
"It was something that I had to draw," Nelson said. "I started looking at the imagery of them pulling people out, and people reaching out of this horrendous rubble, and I just thought...oh my god."
The White Helmets took notice of Nelson's artwork. In October, the group shared one of his drawings of a Syria Civil Defence volunteer carrying a young girl, asking their followers for help finding the artist. "We love this, thank you. Can you help us find the artist?" the group said in a tweet.
After tracking down Nelson, the group shared a message calling for others to check out his artwork.
Nelson said that the recognition was gratifying, adding that he had wanted them to know a "random guy in the middle of the United States was thinking about them."
"When they said they saw my art, I didn't expect that to happen. It's one of those moments; I was glad that they knew," Nelson said.
For those covering the conflict closely, Nelson's drawings are hauntingly familiar. His sketches capture many poignant images from the war -- among them, a photograph of a child being treated in the aftermath of an airstrike in eastern Aleppo. Or another, more recent photograph, of a little girl in a pink hat lying dead in a street, her legs splayed on the ground.
When the clashes in the besieged city began to escalate, Nelson's students were reading Maus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust. He took the opportunity to teach his class about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and told his student's about Bana, who he compares to a modern-day Anne Frank.
"My students ask me when they come into class, 'How's Bana? How's Bana?'" Nelson said. "She's got kids in the Midwest that really care about her."
For their class project on "heroes under the radar," many of Nelson's students turned to Syria for their subjects.
Their drawings included portraits of Khaled Omar Harrah, a White Helmets rescuer who was killed in an airstrike in August. Other students drew Khaled al-Issa, a Syrian journalist who died of wounds sustained in an attack on his home in Aleppo in June.
"I don't see a lot of artwork coming out of this conflict," Nelson said. "We really wanted to let people know -- someone out there is thinking about you."