Cloe’s Art Heart

Cloe 10″x10″ mixed-media, 2011

The Art Heartsproject 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!

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