Jan 26, 2012

Brianna's Art Heart

Brianna  10" x 10" mixed-media

It's been a busy month, but I have one more Art Heart ready for the upcoming show in February at the QVCAH! This painting is for a little girl named Brianna.

Brianna's mom was nineteen when Brianna was born. Her doctors discovered that she had a heart murmur during her newborn exam, but thought that this was normal and would go away as Brianna got older. Only 36 hours later, a nurse noticed that the newborn was in respiratory distress and turning blue. Brianna was transferred to the NICU while the doctors worked to find out what was wrong. Eventually a cardiologist diagnosed her as having Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a congenital heart defect that leaves the left side of the heart underdeveloped. Because of this turn of events, Brianna was transferred to Children's Hospital Boston.

At five days old, Brianna underwent the first of three open heart surgeries. As her mother was still recovering from her c-section, Brianna's grandfather stayed with her while she was being prepared for her surgery, talking to the infant and holding her hand. Brianna would later undergo another surgery at six months and again at two and a half years old to correct her heart. Throughout the surgeries, tests and check-ups, she always managed to smile. She was blessed with extended family and friends who worked to keep her motivated, always ready with gifts, love and support.

Despite the help from her family, Brianna's mom Kristina still had an uphill battle. Brianna's father left when she was two, leaving Kristina and Brianna on their own. When caring for Brianna she could not work and had to depend on welfare. But over time she completed her college education, during which time she participated in Heart Walks for fundraising events, inspiring others in her community. Kristina and her parents became deeply involved in charity, making donations to the hospital whenever possible. Her father taught himself to sew, and he and his wife have since donated hundreds of handmade blankets and pillows to  Children's Hospital to bring comfort to other children. They also purchased a sewing machine for the local senior center where their example has inspired residents to help them in their mission. The family has done their best to give back to the community in gratitude for the time that Kristina and Brianna were in need. Brianna is now doing very well, with a healthy heart and a little sister whom she loves to sing and dance and play with.

The sketch transferred to paper

So for this painting, I wanted to honor what I felt was a circle of giving that this family created through their experience. After doing some research, I found that nasturtiums represent charity, conquest and victory. They are sometimes given as a gift at the end of a struggle, or for encouragement during a long journey. All perfect statements about the family, and how they overcame the difficulties presented by Brianna's CHD. I created a wreath shape of the flowers, using the circle to symbolize the journey from receiving help, to reciprocating and giving back to others.

The flowers rendered in watercolor

After making the sketch, I started painting the flowers in with layers of watercolor. Working from light to dark, a built up color and slowly added lines and texture.

More detail on the leaves, and the background filled in

The leaves of the nasturtium looked too bare to me, so I added the veining with opaque gouache. Once that looked right, I added a soft purple background color to contrast with the wreath.

The Vivid Dancer damselfly

Brianna and her sister both are very active, and love to sing and dance. While I feel like the friendly-looking flowers represent them pretty well, I thought the artwork could use something special. So I added in a type of damselfly named Vivid Dancer. The insect is a beautiful intense blue (Brianna's favorite color!) and is so named for its elegant movement in flight.

Outside edge of the heart in blue

With that done, I was able to move on to the outer edge of the heart. The base color was painted in with watercolor in a sky blue.

Adding radiance around the edge with pastel

Once that was dry, I added a layer of pastel to give a radiant effect around the heart. A little line of deep purple helps to define the heart shape.

The completed painting

So here is the finished painting. I really like the bright, cheerful feeling of these flowers, and the spring colors feel friendly and optimistic. I hope that Brianna and her family will enjoy this Art Heart and feel the same joy that I did in creating it. They have truly taken a devastating event and turned it into a positive experience in their lives. Not only for themselves, but for the many children they have helped through their efforts, and the greater community that has been inspired by their activism.

This is the thirteenth of my Art Hearts which I am donating to Olivia's Heart Fund. Please check out the Art Hearts page on my blog to read more about the project. If you'd like to purchase a print or greeting card of this or other paintings, they are available through the charity's store, and all proceeds benefit Olivia's Heart Fund. If you are so inspired, you can make a donation to the charity by clicking here or on the button below to visit the Olivia's Heart Fund site. Enjoy!

Jan 21, 2012

Will's Art Heart

Will  10" x10" mixed-media, 2012

One more Art Heart is complete! This painting is for a little boy named Will.

Will was born in the winter of 2005, and seemed to be completely healthy and perfect. During his first day, Will's parents spent time holding him, and noticed that there were moments when his lips seemed blue. Reassured by the staff that he was just dusky, they assumed all was well. At eighteen hours old, a new nurse came in to check up on Will, and while checking his vital signs, decided to do further testing in another room. As time went by, Will's parents realized something must be wrong. Soon they were told there was a problem with Will's heart, and that he had been rushed to the NICU.

It turned out that Will had an arrhythmia defect which elevated his heart rate to over 250 beats per minute. Doctors were working to find the right combination of medications to control the arrhythmia events, caused by a defect called Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome (WPW). After six days, Will was sent home on what doctors believed to be the correct regimen of medication. Unfortunately, over the next two days Will became much worse, and was rushed back to the hospital. He was now in congestive heart failure.

Will's parents requested a transfer to Children's Hospital Boston, a decision which may have saved his life. Once there, doctors discovered he had a more serious heart defect, a deformed mitral valve, which was causing Mitral Valve Regurgitation. Over several weeks doctors worked to reverse the congestive heart failure and treat both heart conditions. He became one of the youngest patients ever to receive a surgery for his WPW.

Though Will was initially scheduled for an open heart surgery at three months old, during his pre-op checkup he was granted a postponement. His valve regurgitation was downgraded to moderate, and later was  reclassified as mild. If his heart continues to function well he will not need heart surgery until he is in his twenties. Because of this experience, Will's Mom Kelli has co-founded an organization called Helping Hands, Healing Hearts, to support other families affected by CHD.

Through all this, you can imagine the incredible ups and downs that Will and his parents endured! Though the news is good now, there is always the fear of a change for the worse. It is sometimes difficult to be around non-heart families. It is impossible to forget that they are living with a CHD as they must always be vigilant in regards to Will's health. To try to explain this, Kelli sent this essay to me:

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, Gondolas. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After several months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland!” “Holland?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy. I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place. So, you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around. You begin to notice that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. And Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that experience will never, ever, ever, go away. The loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.
- "Welcome to Holland", by Emily Perl Kingsley

 Did you cry when reading that? Because I sure did! Armed with such descriptive and detailed essays, it didn't take me long to come up with ideas for Will's painting. I settled on a gateway between two worlds. The one Will's parents had expected, and the one where they exist now. Though the landscape through the gate is lush and beautiful, the beach is a calm, serene place, quiet and with its own beauty. This world is rich with blessings unexpected, and also those hard-won from their journey. The turtle walking across the sand represents patience, for Will and for each other, learned during everything they have experienced. The gate is built of seventeen stones, for Will's birth date.

Notes and thumbnails 

The final sketch, ready to paint

So my process started with thumbnail sketches and research, looking at a lot of images before sketching out the final design. Once that was worked out, I transferred the sketch to paper.

First washes of color

The painting as more layers of color are added

Working in the center of the heart, I started adding washes of watercolor. I had the paper taped to a drawing board, but tried to lay each wash down quickly so that the color stayed even, and not saturate it too much so that it would dry flat. I built up the color in layers, adding some texture by spattering watercolor over the stone and sand.

A base color is added around the edge

I then added a base coat of green watercolor around the heart's edge for the pastel to adhere to later. Once I had an idea of how that would look, I wanted to make the center look richer.

Painting in some grass along the beach

Will's patient turtle gets more detail, and the outer edge shapes up

I thought the sky could be bluer, so I gave it a gentle coat of pastel, with some fluffy clouds. Using watercolor and gouache, I added wild grass over the sand  and darkened the shadows in the arch of the gate. Once the inner details looked right, I went back around the outer edge of the heart with a radiant gradation of color using more pastel.

The completed painting

So here's how it came out! Will is six years old at the time of this post, so I hope he likes the little turtle especially. And the ocean is the hallmark of Rhode Island where his family lives, a landscape where so many families find joy playing under the sun. I wish him and his family happiness, for this piece of the world is a better place for them being in it.

This is the twelfth of my Art Hearts which I am donating to Olivia's Heart Fund. Please check out the Art Hearts page on my blog to read more about the project. If you'd like to purchase a print or greeting card of this or other paintings, they are available through the charity's store, and all proceeds benefit Olivia's Heart Fund. If you are so inspired, you can make a donation to the charity by clicking here or on the button below to visit the Olivia's Heart Fund site. Enjoy!

Jan 18, 2012

Art Hearts show this February!

The Arts Center building in Southbridge

Great news folks - the wonderful people at the Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities have invited me to show the Art Hearts project at their gallery in February! This is a fantastic opportunity to create awareness of Congenital Heart Defect, and introduce new people to the mission of Olivia's Heart Fund.

This show will display the Art Hearts as a work in progress. I have completed twelve hearts, and am working on number thirteen now, anticipating that it will be ready for this event. The photographer Jessica Coristine has met with nine of the families, taking wonderful portraits of the participants who have let us tell their stories. Both the artwork and the portrait will work together to show the face of CHD in our community. I will also create a multimedia presentation that will make it possible to read a synopsis of each participant's story and the evolution of the artwork.

That leaves us with plenty to do in the next two weeks! Pete and Julie at Olivia's Heart Fund are working to help bring all the elements together, and Kim (volunteer extraordinaire) has hooked us up with Jason at Crestar Picture Framing, who has generously offered to handle all of our framing needs for the event.

If you are in the area, or wish to support us and families struggling with Congenital Heart Defect, please come to the Art Hearts opening reception! There will be refreshments served, and Pete, Julie and I will be there to meet people and speak about the project.

Art Hearts Exhibit 
Show dates:  February 3rd - 26th
Opening reception:  Friday February 3rd, 6-9pm
Location:  Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities, (the Arts Center) 
Address:  111 Main Street Southbridge, MA 01550

View Larger Map

Jan 13, 2012

Cloe's Art Heart

Cloe  10"x10" mixed-media, 2011

The Art Hearts project is coming along, and I am focused on making significant progress in 2012. My most recently completed Art Heart is for Cloe, a little girl with both Down Syndrome and congenital heart defect.

Cloe's Mom Gina discovered her daughter's CHD when she was 21 weeks pregnant, during an ultrasound to diagnose her Down Syndrome. This was terrifying news, as Gina was a mother of two other children, and going through a divorce. Knowing that she would be a single parent, and not knowing anyone who had gone through something like this, she educated herself on Cloe's Atrioventricular Septal Defect (AVSD).

An AVSD is a hole in the wall between the upper and lower chambers of the heart, and causes moderate valve regurgitation. It is common in children with Down Syndrome. Because of the CHD and low oxygen stats, Cloe spent her first eight days in the NICU. At three months old she had her first open heart surgery, and due to complications a pacemaker was put in the next week. Because of infections, respiratory illness and phenomena, she was kept at Children's Hospital Boston for six weeks. The surgery helped Cloe's valve regurgitation, though she still had problems with her pacemaker, eventually having five replacement surgeries. At two and a half years old, during a routine checkup another complication surfaced. A thick membrane had formed and was further damaging her mitral valve, which required a second open heart surgery. Though Cloe still has mild regurgitation, she has been doing well since her surgeries. She is prone to illness during cold and flu season, and sometimes has trouble breathing in hot and humid weather. 

Now this tells the physical story about Cloe and her CHD, but the heart of her story is in how this has affected the family, and in getting to know Cloe herself. It's been difficult for Gina, having sole custody, caring for a child with special needs as well as her older brother and sister. It is hard for them to do things together as a family. Cloe has a speech delay, and while she can understand others, to communicate she uses sign language. But her Mom described her as a spirited little girl - feisty and sure of what she wants. A little spitfire! She knows well over 60 signs, gives high-fives, and is a social butterfly.

In reviewing the CHD essays I try to determine what the core themes are that I take away from each story. For Cloe and her family the inner fire - the spirit and the strength to keep going really resonated with me. It is not the CHD or the Down Syndrome but that fire that defines Cloe, and how she communicates with her family.

Getting webcam pics of the "spirit" sign

I did some checking into baby sign language and found that it is pretty much the same as American Sign Language (ASL), but using fewer signs. I found some great resources with video of ASL, and settled on the sign for "spirit". This sign both has an appropriate meaning and is recognizable as a still image. 

Arranging the hands within the heart shape

I took some photos of my hands with my webcam, and asked my great Aunt (who is deaf) if she would help me confirm if I was getting the sign right. BTW - I'm pretty proud of my Aunt Mildred, who is my Grandmother's sister, and nearly 90 years old, using both email and Facebook. Go Auntie! She gave me the thumbs-up from on my photos. I looked at about a hundred images of candles and flames, and added a graceful one to the center of the sketch. Another visual representation of the inner fire.

The center of the heart is nearly complete!

Next steps were transferring the digital sketch to paper and then getting a watercolor base painted. While I am improving with my watercolor, I really love a softer medium for rendering hands, so I went back over the underpainting with pastel. To get the smaller details, I shaved Nupastels (a harder variety of pastel) to a point or used pastel pencils.

The outer edge filled in

Once the center of the heart was worked out,  I added pastel around the edges, with a radiance of lighter blue. While I liked the purple within the heart (Cloe's favorite color!) I felt that the flame needed to look brighter, so I darkened the edges to give the flame a glowing effect. 

The completed painting

Last steps were to add some brilliant sparks to the flame. By wetting the surface (carefully!) in spots, I could lift the pastel enough to use gold leaf adhesive. The leaf adds just enough bright areas within the fire. I wish the best to Cloe and her family. May her bright spirit shine for all to see. 

This is the eleventh of my Art Hearts which I am donating to Olivia's Heart Fund. Please check out the Art Hearts page on my blog to read more about the project. If you'd like to purchase a print or greeting card of this or other paintings, they are available through the charity's store, and all proceeds benefit Olivia's Heart Fund. If you are so inspired, you can make a donation to the charity by clicking here or on the button below to visit the Olivia's Heart Fund site. Enjoy!

Jan 11, 2012

Plans change...

Sunset at the Kripalu Center

So it's funny how plans can change so quickly. Back in December I was invited to show the Art Heart series at a venue in Southbridge, MA during the month of February. Shortly after that I was told that we would need to reschedule the exhibit, so I figured I was free to participate in the Fun-A-Day exhibit instead. I am sure that because I chose the Art Hearts project as my focus for Fun-A-Day, the universe decided to resurrect that original show. Pretty cool actually - but since I (and my artwork) can't be in two places at one time, it looks like I won't be at Fun-A-Day.

I took a brief break from the artwork to sort out the details of the exhibit, and go on a creative retreat at the Kripalu center in Lenox, MA. Now it's back to work, to finish up Art Heart number twelve and start number thirteen. Lots to do to prepare for this show!

Jan 5, 2012

Fun-A-Day day 4

The stone arch, forest and turtle are painted

More progress on the painting - most of the center is done (I think). I like to look at it with fresh eyes again later to see how it works.  I will probably need to add some bright areas with the pastel over the watercolor base. That, and more texture in the grass and sand.

Jan 4, 2012

Fun-A-Day day 3

Beginning washes of watercolor 

Man, Tuesday was a long day. Museum work, then grocery shopping, cooking dinner, giving hubby a haircut, and finally, back to my Art Heart. Just enough time to get a few washes of watercolor in for the background before yoga and bed! 

Jan 3, 2012

Fun-A-Day day 2

The design sketched out for painting

Work on the new Art Heart continues! Monday I had a long stretch of time to put into the artwork, so I worked from the thumbnail sketches to find reference material, tried out different layouts, and then decided on what colors would support the imagery. After committing to an idea, I sketched the final design onto watercolor paper. Next up...the underpainting!

Jan 2, 2012

Fun-A-Day Providence 2012!

New Year  - section from my holiday linocut print 

It's a new year already! Holy smokes 2011 went by fast. The last three months were a crazy blur. Lots of work at the Warwick Museum of Art and for Kretschmann Brewing, participating in holiday art fairs, visiting family and friends, decorating, cooking, way too much eating, and artmaking. Once we hit Christmas the art went on hold, so now it's time to get back to work. Starting with Fun-A-Day!

Last year I participated in Fun-A-Day Providence for the first time. If you are wondering about FAD, here's a description from the website:
Fun-a-Day is a creative challenge open to all inspired by the basic premise that everyone is an artist and everything we make is art. Do something creative every day in the month of January and share it at the community art show in February.To participate, sign up at: http://www.funadayprov.org/p/participate.html
Fun-A-Day from day 1 - research and sketches
I want to focus on my Art Hearts series, so I'm making that my Fun-A-Day project for 2012. For day one I started research on a new Art Heart. I have to brainstorm a bit at this stage and usually sketch out some ideas and symbolism related to the essay. I was a little nervous getting back into it - I want each heart to be different, and yet appropriate for the family and meaningful. Perhaps a little performance anxiety has been slowing down my creative process on the hearts lately. In any case, I have some new ideas. Whew!

So today I'll continue on this Art Heart, and try to catch up on blogging the previous Art Heart. I want to make 2012 a great year for supporting families affected by CHD.