Jared’s Art Heart


Jared – by Lisa Kretchman, watercolor and pastel, 2016


It’s winter here in New England, and all I see out my window is snow. Though it’s been a mild winter, a recent storm dropped almost a foot of snow in my area, coating everything, and bringing a pristine beauty to the woods by my home. But while it’s shades of grey and white outside, in my studio I see the brilliant greens and blues of summer. I’m revisiting the Art Hearts series with one last piece of artwork inspired by nature and exploration. This piece is for a boy named Jared.

Jared’s parents did not know he had a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) until he was born. Because of pre-eclamsia, his mother had an emergency c-section, and Jared was transferred to the NICU for observation. Within a few hours the family was told they would have to transfer Jared to Children’s Hospital due to his CHD – Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA). Four days later Jared had open heart surgery. While that entire week his parents faced this surprise diagnosis and prayed for his health, ultimately the surgery was successful and Jared recovered from it well.

Today Jared does not remember his surgery, and he is a bright, active boy. I contacted Jared’s family, and his mother told me that he loves the outdoors – fishing, hunting, camping, skiing, all ways of being out in nature with his Dad. His best friend is his beloved beagle Bentley, and his favorite color is blue.

Thumbnail sketches for Jared's Art Heart

Thumbnail sketches for Jared’s Art Heart

So for Jared, I really loved the idea of the connection he has to living things and nature. It did take me some time to settle on a direction for this piece, and I did some research on symbols to work with, especially centering on the stag. Eventually I thought the greens and blues would work well for this with a landscape incorporating woods and river, for hunting and fishing.

watercolor detail of buck

watercolor detail of buck

The stag is a symbol of the Artemis – Greek Goddess of wild animals and hunting, as well as patron of child delivery and infant survival. But it also represents transformation in Irish culture. So here I let the Celtic sybolism unite the artwork and it’s color pallette with all the greens of the landscape.

Detail of tree of life

Detail of tree of life

I also incorporated a tree of life standing apart from the foggy woods. With branches reaching upward and roots below, it represents the link between heaven and earth. I softened the distant trees with wet watercolor so that the large tree would stand out. Using white gouache I added a little glow around the tree.


Beagle and clover in the foreground


Bentley inspired this little hunter beagle in the foreground, pointing toward our stag. He also serves as a symbol of courage, loyalty, and healing. Next to him I placed a patch of clover, as the shamrocks represent the trinity of earth, sea, and sky (reminding me of how Jared loves all aspects of the outdoors), as well as good fortune.


Painting with watercolor base for edge


Once the inner space in the heart was painted, I added a base layer of watercolor for around the heart. This would be blue, Jared’s favorite color.


Painting with layers of pastel burst around heart


And for the final touches I added more layers of pastel in varying shades of blue to make the heart really glow. I hope with it’s lush landscape and connection to nature that this painting brings joy to Jared and his family, and that they enjoy a future of happiness, healing, and good fortune as are symbolized here.

Jared's completed Art Heart

Jared’s completed Art Heart

This is the eighteenth and final piece in my Art Hearts series, 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. (please note that at the time of posting, the charity’s website is under construction and will be up again as soon as possible)

After eighteen essays and paintings, I have worked my way through all the stories collected by Olivia’s Heart Fund for the Art Hearts project. This is the first day of Congenital Heart Defect awareness week for 2016, and so the perfect time to post the last painting. This series has helped me to better understand how many people in our community are facing Congenital Heart Defects, and the stresses they endure. It is hard to take something so frightening and painful and turn that experience into hope, strength and beauty, but that is what these families do every day. I hope that by reading about their experiences I have created something that honors their journey, and I appreciate the kindness of the participants in this project for letting me do so.
Thank you Pete and Julie of Olivia’s Heart Fund, and volunteers Kelli, Jess, Kim and many others for their help in this project. I will post more information on when and where we will show the artwork in the coming year!

Ryan’s Art Heart

Ryan – by Lisa Kretchman, watercolor, pastel, and metal leaf, 2014

Welcome to February! This is truly a month about the heart, but it is much more than greeting cards and chocolates for Valentine’s Day. February is American Heart Month, a time to show some self-love, and be aware of risks to your heart health. Friday the 6th was also National Wear Red Day, raising awareness that heart disease is the #1 killer of women. And today starts CHD awareness week, where we honor our heart heroes that face the challenges of Congenital Heart Defects. It is appropriate that to kick off the week, I have a new Art Heart for a little boy named Ryan.

Ryan’s parents found out that he had a ventricular septal defect (a hole between the lower chambers of the heart) 22 weeks into the pregnancy. In addition, Ryan also had transposition of the great arteries (where the pulmonary artery and aorta have switched positions). Though several cardiologists recommended they terminate the pregnancy, Ryan’s parents knew that was not an option for them. They were eventually referred to Boston Children’s Hospital, where Ryan was born, and had his first surgery at four days old. He came through the surgery without complications, and now, years later, is growing to be a happy and healthy boy.

Ryan’s parents know they are lucky for the outcome of his surgery, but will always be aware of his health – for them, every sniffle and injury is a risk to his heart, and they have developed more patience and appreciation for each day with Ryan as a result. He is their little hero, and a reminder to not sweat the small stuff.

So when I communicated with Ryan’s Mom and got an update on his life,  she helped me get a better sense of who Ryan is now. I also asked if he is aware of his own CHD journey, since the surgery happened when he was so young.

He is now 5 years old. He is happy and healthy. He loves school. His favorite color is orange. He is obsessed with LEGO [Bricks]. He has a great imagination. He enjoys playing outside and riding his bike.

Ryan is a very funny boy. He is shy fat first but once he gets to know someone, he’s very outgoing. He’s also a very sweet and sensitive boy.

We have told him about his journey but I don’t think he quite gets the whole thing idea. He knows he had a boo boo on his heart and the doctors in Boston fixed him and now he’s a superhero. He actually has a girl in his class with the same defects.

Now this just gave me some great ideas for a heart for Ryan! I loved the LEGO® movie (everything is awesome!!), and found that there is a free 3d LEGO® digital designer software you can play with. I sketched a concept and then “built” it virtually so that I’d have a fun reference for the painting:

The first concept for Ryan’s heart

The little super hero on top was in honor of Ryan. My favorite part was probably the little doctor fixing the hole in his heart with wrenches and such.

I especially liked the doctor at the bottom with his tools

Now I know there are some books and photos out there that people sell with LEGO® brick scenes, but I’d really hate to put Olivia’s Heart Fund in an awkward position should the LEGO Group have a problem with prints of this artwork being sold. From what info I could find online, that’s a no-no. It is their trademark after all (especially the minifigs), so I sent a letter to corporate asking permission first.

LEGO actually got back to me fairly quickly, and very politely. They did say that I am  allowed to make the art and display it, but prints could not be sold. Ah well. Rather than limit the charity on future use of the artwork, I decided to start over with a new concept.

By the way – legal disclaimer here:

LEGO®is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this site.

So back to the new concept. I thought of something still involving building, bricks, etc, since that is something that makes Ryan happy. That and the symbolism I wanted helped me to settle on the lighthouse/tower. I wanted to incorporate a local landmark if possible, so the drawing is based on Point Judith Light in Narragansett, RI.

So this sketch has some similarities to the Tower card seen in tarot cards. The traditional tower in those images is in a storm, with waves crashing against the rocks, and sometimes being struck by lightning. But the Tower itself is not a bad card, so much as one that represents a sudden change, of a world turned upside down. Plans are disrupted, but the storm will pass, and then will shine the light of truth.

This tower for Ryan is also a lighthouse – a symbol of strength, and guidance to safe harbor. It is a beacon in the darkness. If the churning sea and storm represent uncertainty and emotion, the lighthouse is a steadiness and calm.

And so Ryan’s lighthouse/tower shows the unexpected challenge his CHD diagnosis has made for him and his family. There are still waves breaking here on the rocks, but the storm is passing, and the beacon still shines brightly. If it weren’t for the dangerous storm, we wouldn’t have the lighthouse in its beauty and grace. And we see a glimpse of the future in Ryan’s bicycle, to enjoy the world and the sunshine as it returns. To be grateful for every moment.

The sketch and first layers of watercolor

So now that I had a better working concept, I started on the painting. After taping down some watercolor paper, I got the sketch transferred, and then added the first layers of watercolor inside the heart.

Center of the heart painted

The first round didn’t look too bad, and I liked the way the bricks in the lighthouse were standing out, but I didn’t feel that the sky had enough contrast.

The sky with darker layers of watercolor

After a few more layers in the clouds, it looked much more like a storm passing, which made more sense with the crashing waves in the foreground. Also this added a stronger diagonal energy with the waves on the left.

Some gouache splatters to add energy to the waves

I did some splattering of white gouache to bring out the splashing sea foam…

…and added a bicycle for Ryan.

Pastel added around the heart

After the center of the heart was done, I painted an orange background around the heart. I layered pastel over it to give the heart radiance, and worked back and forth on the delicate railing and the pastel, so that I could keep the detail crisp.

Metal leaf and metallic ink

To make the lightning and the beacon stand out, I added gold leaf and metallic ink on top of the watercolor.

Ryan’s completed Art Heart

And the lighthouse is complete! I hope that Ryan and his family enjoy this painting, and I thank then for sharing their story. I know that Ryan does not currently have much awareness of his CHD journey, but when he does ask about it, I hope he knows that he is also a light of hope for others.

This is the seventeenth 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!

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!

Benjamin’s Art Heart

Benjamin Art Heart by Lisa Kretchman

Benjamin – 10″ x 10″ mixed-media by Lisa Kretchman

It’s the beginning of 2014! January is a time of renewal, reflection, and new potential. I just finished this Art Heart at the end of 2013, and now that we are through the holidays, it’s time to revisit the Art Hearts project. This heart is for a little boy named Benjamin.

Benjamin was diagnosed at 19 weeks gestation with Congenital Heart Defect. He had holes between both the upper and lower chambers of his heart, a narrowed aorta, and transposition of the great arteries, preventing his blood from being oxygenated properly. At six days old he had his first surgery to repair the transposition and holes, and it was believed that the aorta would correct itself as Ben grew.

Two weeks after Ben came home, he went into congestive heart failure while his family was driving in the car. His mother performed CPR until the police arrived and brought them to the hospital. Doctors determined that his aorta had become more narrow, and he underwent his second surgery at one month old.

Since then, Ben has recovered and grown into a happy and healthy little boy. He recently celebrated his sixth birthday, and enjoys sports like soccer, football, and hockey. He loves life, and has become a talkative and passionate about whatever he does. Though he went through his surgeries when he was so young, Ben does still have an awareness of his heart defect. When the family was expecting their third child, he said was that he hoped the baby wouldn’t have any problems like he did, and that he wishes the baby will be healthy. His parents expressed how his approach to life inspires them to remain positive in the face of challenges. They are grateful for their blessings, the nurses and doctors that helped them, and the friends and family that supported them.

So what would be the right image for Ben? His mother kindly gave me some more insight into his likes and personality. He loves turtles…so I thought I’d start with that symbolism. As an animal totem, the turtle brings a sure and steady energy. With it’s shell, it is a symbol of protection, and because of it’s long lifespan, it also represents persistence, endurance, and the continuation of life against the odds. The turtle also reminds us to be patient, accept what is, and move on with wisdom.

happy little turtle!

The sketch for Ben’s painting

In North American Indian mythology, the world turtle (or tortoise) supports the earth on it’s back. From it’s spine grows the cosmic tree, a connection between heaven and earth. I drew up a version of this turtle, and added some runes into the patterning on her shell to better represent Ben’s nature. They depict hardships, protection/support, journey/change, health/success, and strength/energy. Symbols that describe Ben’s story, what he’s overcome, and who he has become.

Painting the texture on the turtle

Using layers of watercolor and gouache, I added lots of texture on the turtle in warm shades of yellow and orange (based on a box turtle) to contrast with the cool night sky.

Adding layers of watercolor into the sky, and outlining the cosmic tree

Behind her I layered in shades of blue and purple for a starry sky. After experimenting with some ideas, I decided to use gel pens for the twisted branching of the cosmic tree, to give it an ethereal quality.

Adding celestial objects into the sky and tree

I added whirls of suns and moons, stars and sparkles into the sky, with watercolor and metallic ink.

Metallic ink and silver leaf bring some sparkle to the cosmos.

Then a few more stars within the tree itself, and two comets to represent Ben’s two surgeries. These I highlighted with silver leaf.

The completed painting

Lastly, I added the outer color around the heart in watercolor and pastel. I made the radiant effect with pastel layers in shades of green – which is Ben’s favorite color. I like the way the cosmic tree sparkles and seems like it’s part of the night sky, and the turtle really seems warm and full of life against the cool colors. My favorite part though, may be the gentle smile on the turtle’s face – very serene and wise. I hope Ben and his family love his painting, and want to wish them congratulations on the birth of their new baby! Here’s to a joyous New Year for them and for all of us in 2014.

This is the fifteenth 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!

Poppies for remembrance

poppies for remembrance by Lisa Kretchman

poppies painting work in progress

As I write this, I’m listening to a live media stream about the manhunt for a suspected bomber of Monday’s Boston Marathon. It has been a rough week, full of tragedy for both my community in Massachusetts, and also the many people killed and wounded in the Texas fertilizer plant explosion.

There is not much I can say that hasn’t been rehashed about the depths and the heights of humankind that we see in the wake of these events. It’s an emotional roller coaster, and I am saying prayers for everyone involved.

As all this is going on, I have a painting on my easel that was commissioned by a friend  based on a series of poppies on a yellow background – Radiant. Working on artwork brings me peace, and it struck me as timely to be painting this right now, with the symbolism of these flowers. Because of their history with opium as well as their red color, poppies have long been a symbol of peace, sleep, and remembrance of the dead. We often see the little paper ones as symbols of wartime remembrance for veterans. And as I looked further into the flower’s history, I see that ancient Egyptian doctors would direct their patients to eat their seeds to relieve pain.

So though this painting was not created specifically for the people hurt and killed in those in these two tragedies, as I look at it I think of them, their families, and their communities. I wish all of us peace, and release from pain and suffering.


Phoenix’s Art Heart

Phoenix by Lisa Kretchman

Phoenix 10″ x 10″ mixed-media

It’s time to get back into the Art Hearts project! This painting is for a boy named Phoenix. Here is his CHD story.

At 21 weeks pregnant, the same day that Phoenix’s mom found out she was having a boy, she was told that he was moving around too much for doctors to examine his heart. She was sent to Children’s Hospital in Boston for the procedure. Once there, doctors discovered that Phoenix had a Congenital Heart Defect – Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The diagnosis was severe – she was told that the baby might not survive, but there would be a series of surgeries that would increase his chances.

Though she had originally planned to give her child up for adoption, Phoenix’s mom now knew that she could not do so. Instead, she would raise him herself. At seven days old Phoenix faced his first open heart surgery. During the procedure he suffered a collapsed lung and a paralyzed diaphragm, but he miraculously recovered on his own. Five months later he had his second surgery. After that things took a turn for the worse. Phoenix’s coloring would randomly turn blue, and he became weak and lethargic. As his condition degenerated, he was brought back to Children’s Hospital, eventually going into Congestive Heart Failure. Phoenix was placed on the heart transplant list.

Eventually Phoenix and his mom got the call they were waiting for. A heart was available. At just over two years of age, he had his transplant and recovered well. By the time he was released he had spent 200 days in the hospital.

Since his transplant, Phoenix has had his ups and downs. He has fought bacterial infections, pneumonia, and an infection around his heart. But despite his struggles he is a bright child, very happy, smiling and full of life. He is described by others as energetic, mischievous and brave, and brings a smile to those he meets.

When I began brainstorming this Art Heart, I wasn’t sure if I should avoid representing Phoenix with…well…a phoenix! I thought about it for a while, and it seemed that though that imagery was obvious, it was also appropriate for everything he had gone through. This young man has certainly had his trial by fire. And the legend is beautiful and meaningful. In Dharmic religions, the phoenix represents the triumph of the soul over the body, and we are familiar with the tale of how the bird is reborn through the fire in a new and healthy body. So it seemed appropriate that Phoenix, with his new heart and his new life, should be depicted in this painting by his namesake.

Because the legendary bird is described as so colorful, I thought it best to paint this one in shades of blue transitioning to red – representing the shades of Phoenix’s complexion as he went from cyanotic to a healthy color.

the first layers of watercolor for the phoenix

The bird’s plumage trails behind him with hearts as the eyes of the feathers. After the first layers of the phoenix were filled in with watercolor, I added a sunset sky in the background.

once the bird was dry, the background of the heart was filled in

Now that the base of the watercolor was complete, I started adding in more details with opaque guache and pastel. Because the bird has just risen from the ashes, I added smoldering flames around its body and to the branches.

flames are drawn with pastel pencils over the watercolor

I used pastel to draw more details in the feathers and add dimension to the phoenix. Now that most of the work was complete inside the heart, I filled in the rest of the white area with what would be the background color.

more details are pulled out of the feathers with pastel, and the surrounding heart color is added with watercolor

I evened out the purple sky and the radiant area around the heart with layers of blended pastel. Since the phoenix should have glorious plumage, I painted metallic gold around the eyes of the feathers.

pastel fills in around the heart, and metallic paint completes the feathers

And with that, Phoenix’s Art Heart was complete! The pose of the bird is fierce and triumphant, an extraordinary creature in honor of an extraordinary life. The phoenix legend inspires us with new beginnings and better living through change and growth. I wish a long life full of joy and rich experiences to young Phoenix.

This piece will be exhibited this Friday for the first time at the QVCAH in Southbridge, MA. The entire series will be showing for the month of February, so please come by and support CHD survivors by checking them out! This is the fourteenth 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!

Back in action – holiday style!

Some of my artwork up for sale at the QVCAH in Southbridge

Welcome to the new website and blog! It has been too long since I last posted – during the last few months I was on a major contract project, built four WordPress websites, and did a lot of artmaking and spiritual exploring. Oh – and have been assisting with the brewery that my husband is creating. So things have been busy! But now that I have the new website up I will be back on the blog and sharing info and imagery on all that.

One big change is that I am now a board member of the Quinebaug Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southbridge, MA. The QVCAH (or the Arts Center) has been a great organization, who supported my work in the past with the Art Hearts project.

Yep – that’s me buying goodies at the Arts Center!

This past Friday opened the QVCAH Holiday Art & Craft Sale with a Winter Celebration at the Arts Center. I stopped by to check out the festivities, and see the work of all the artists there. I am a participating artist, but as you can see I enjoy art and craft of all kinds, so of course had to do some shopping for myself while I was there! I’ll be back to add more artwork to the sale, which has been extended through this Sunday, Dec. 16th. The QVCAH is open daily 11am-7pm for the Holiday Sale, so please pop in and support the arts!