In 2003 Bren, a whimsical artist, decided to do a month long experiment where he left his “happy” character paintings in random places with a note attached which read, “This painting is yours if you promise to smile at random people more often.” Shortly after, numerous people contacted him to share their stories of how his paintings had touched their lives, and in several cases gave them hope. One painting was found by a woman on her first day of chemotherapy. Finding and having Bren’s painting helped her deal with her illness and treatment. Another painting was found by a college student who was planning to commit suicide. He wrote Bren telling him, “…I came across your painting. It was like something or someone was smiling down at me. Finding that painting gave me the strength to carry on that day and during the next few days…” With such a powerful response, it is no surprise that his month long experiment turned into an ongoing mission called the “Smile Project”, where his goal is to spread “smiles” and kindness.
Bren said he found his passion for painting happy characters when he was going through a difficult time. Bren had a stable tech job, but everything changed in 2000 when the stock market crashed, and he was laid off. He lost all of his invested money, was unemployed, and living with his mom. It was then that he decided to paint happy characters, similar to ones he had drawn as a child. He painted these happy characters, because that was his “true essence inside”, and he wanted to feel the happiness these characters exuded.
After he started spreading kindness through his art, he received, and continues to receive, multiple opportunities to share smiles through painting murals at elementary schools and children’s hospitals. Bren said, “Nothing beats the smiles of people who find paintings.” Bren’s month long experiment turned into a dream job where he works as a full time artist and muralist. Bren has given away over 2,500 paintings in all 50 states and in 70 countries.
As Bren says, “Acts of kindness can truly be paid forward and it comes back. When you help others, it makes you feel good about yourself. And giving can be as simple as a smile.”