Andre’s Art Heart

Andre – by Lisa Kretchman, watercolor and pastel, 2014

Happy spring, readers! I’m so glad we have officially left winter behind, and are seeing the emergence of new growth for the season – flowers are blooming in my garden, the hosta are breaking ground, and the snow has finally turned over to rain.

I’ve been working a lot of freelance design and animation work lately, but still making progress on the Art Hearts series. Today’s Art Heart is for a little boy named André.

André’s mom has her own blog about the challenges of Congenital Heart defects. She shared her story with me, starting from the diagnosis of Andre’s heart condition at six months into her pregnancy. An OBGYN noticed an enlargement on the right side of his heart, and immediately scheduled an ultrasound. They discovered that André’s pulmonary valve was very narrow, and was expanding the right atrium due to a backflow of blood. His tricuspid valve was also positioned incorrectly. After more echocardiograms, the family was advised to be prepared , but to wait and see what would happen at birth.

When André was born at thirty-nine weeks into the pregnancy, he was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit for administration of oxygen. He spent six nights there, until his oxygen saturation was high enough to be sent home.

Because André’s parents could not check his oxygen saturation, they could only monitor certain symptoms, adding stress to his care at home. At six weeks old, they brought him back to the hospital for a valvoplasty, to stretch the pulmonary valve to allow blood to flow properly. André recovered from his procedure, but during his next echocardiogram, it was determined that the valvoplasty had minimal impact on his heart condition. The next step had to be open-heart surgery.

Now André’s parents faced a big question – when to perform such a surgery? The cardiologist wanted to perform the surgery as soon as possible, while surgeons wanted to wait until he was four months old (normally considered the minimum age) for this procedure. Despite his small size, the doctors decided not to wait. At three months old, André was brought to Children’s Hospital in Boston for a four-hour surgery to repair his heart. After five days in recovery, his family welcomed him back home.

Since then, André has faced another heart procedure, but is doing well. He recently turned six years old, and is a happy, bright kindergartner. His Mom told me he has a love for learning, reading, acting out stories from Bible study, singing, bike riding, and loves anything to do with machines.

So after getting to know André and  his heart story, how could I come up with something that represented him and his journey? I felt that I should look deeper into machines and try to find something interesting there. After doing some research and sketching I settled on an illustration of an orrery, a mechanical or clockwork model of the solar system.

Andre’s heart – sketch with first layers of watercolor

I really liked the beauty and complexity of the orreries that I could find, and the idea that they depict the world with mechanics that are in themselves interesting to look at. In André’s case, his world is similar to ours, with the earth and moon circling as the days and years are recorded. But I rendered this orrery to be unique to André – so the clock and calendar dials in the foreground mark the time and date of his birth, and the dial in the back depicts symbols of André’s happiness – liturgy, book, music, building blocks, wheel, and drama masks.

the gears are complete, and a layer of blue watercolor fills the background

This being a painting with a lot of technical detail, I wanted the painting to be precise and have very fine edges. So the center of the heart is painted entirely with watercolor, much of it with a tiny brush, to create ridges on the gears. I did my best to build up layers of color and shadow so that the machine would look reflective and metallic, and have depth. I picked a shade of blue for the background that would contrast with the warm brass color of the metal.

I even out the space around the heart with layers of pastel

After the machinery was rendered, I added a red outer edge to the heart, first with a base of watercolor, and then with several layers and shades of red pastel. Red is André’s favorite color! I also blended the pastel to have a radiant effect with the shading, tto be consistent with the other Art Hearts.

detail of the Latin inscription

One of the last details I wanted to add was a phrase that I thought captured something about André’s experience with CHD. I found a phrase in Latin that I felt fit – “Astra Inclinant, Sed Non Obligant”. Meaning “The Stars Incline Us, They Do Not Bind Us”. I added it to bring the whole painting together to depict elements of André’s life. To remember that though this orrery is his “world” and it is one that has been affected by CHD, it is not how he was born, rather it is his free will that determines the quality of his life.

I wish André a very happy birthday, and thank his Mom for her writing, which has helped me create his artwork.

Andre’s completed Art Heart

This is the sixteenth of my Art Hearts which I am donating to Olivia’s Heart Fund. Please check out the Art Hearts page 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!

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