It was late March 2020 when former high school art teacher Kristi Nelson sketched a portrait of a nurse in personal protective equipment on the sidewalk in front of her Missouri City home.

She was inspired by her sister-in-law and her neighbor, both nurses, who had previously sent her selfies of them decked out in PPE. Word soon spread when another neighbor—a nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center—saw the drawing during her nightly run and posted it to the community’s Facebook page.

“This whole thing wasn’t intentional,” Nelson said. “I drew a nurse on the sidewalk outside of my house when we were playing with my kids.”

Nelson said she first drew the sketches as gifts for each nurse’s service. The two shared the artwork on Facebook, however, and Nelson began receiving requests to sketch portraits of health care workers across Greater Houston.

“A lot of people started asking me to draw their nurse friends, I would draw them, and then what I was doing was spreading in a very organic way,” Nelson said.

By the time she paused her sketches earlier this spring, Nelson had drawn 105 health care workers, forming the basis of the second of two editions of her published book, “Masked Heroes: A Tribute to the Frontline Workers of COVID-19.” The book not only displays Nelson’s artwork, but shares the experiences of the portrait subjects.

Nelson said the pandemic’s effect on the people she drew motivated her to continue her work.

“Seeing my neighbor every single day come home from work, go to her garage, and have to change her clothes before she could even go inside was very eye-opening for what they were all experiencing,” Nelson said. "It was just so scary, and what I was doing was bringing people joy, so I felt like I couldn’t not do it."

Now on pause with her sketches as she takes a break, Nelson is focusing on her family but said she plans to leave the door open to future work.