Laurie’s Art Heart

Laurie 10″ x 10″ mixed-media

Back to the Art Hearts! I just finished the sixth heart in this series of Art Hearts for Olivia’s Heart Fund. This heart is inspired by Laurie – an adult survivor of congenital heart defect.

Laurie’s battle with CHD began when she was just three months old. Diagnosed with a heart murmur at a routine pediatric appointment, her parents were surprised when the condition was determined to be Pulmonary Stenosis. Laurie was sent immediately for open heart surgery, which would be a temporary fix. She did well with the surgery and happily was raised to be active and outgoing like her siblings. Her condition necessitated another surgery at age five to repair the pulmonary regurgitation that had occurred because of the compromised heart valve.

While Laurie still has memories of this second surgery, she continued to live life as if she had no physical restrictions, determined to be a “normal” child. Over time the doctor’s visits seemed superfluous as she maintained her health, despite the fact that her right ventricle had to work harder than most. She entered adulthood and continued her life as an active, physically fit woman, running two half-marathons, working two jobs, being married and even having three heart healthy children.

For years Laurie lived without worry of her CHD, but eventually her busy life changed when she became very ill with viral pneumonia. A friend and cardiac nurse practitioner insisted that Laurie have a check-up to see if her heart condition was complicating her current illness. This was the point where she received the hardest news she would face as an adult – despite her apparent health, she had two of the three criteria for a valve replacement, and would need another open heart surgery.

When I read Laurie’s story, I kept thinking how though she was determinedly living her life as if she never suffered from CHD. The physical activity, having three children though pregnancy was not recommended, she never let her condition sway her from living an active and fulfilling life.

Sketch for Laurie’s heart

So for Laurie I wanted to represent the boldness of her spirit, and came up with imagery based on a Buddhist symbol – the golden fish (matsya). This is one of the eight auspicious symbols, generally meaning good fortune or happiness. But also it represents living beings living fearlessly, not drowning in the ocean of suffering but freely migrating from place to place like fish in the water.

Once I had that firmly in mind, I was able to start sketching out a golden carp (a large koi) within my heart shape. I pictured the fish as fluid and elegant in how it filled the space. Rather than floating gently, this fish looks active, with bubbles and swirls on the surface as she is stirring up the water.

The first layer of watercolor within the heart

Working from the center out, I filled in the initial sketch with watercolor. Since the watercolor was vibrant and crisp and I wanted to add lots of gold leaf to the scales, I tried to make my underpainting more detailed, thinking I would hold back on the pastel in those areas. I then filled in some of the water, leaving white highlights on the bubbles and suggesting swirls and movement, and later, the background color around the heart.

Yellow glaze applied over the fish, and gold leaf on the scales

I did go back and add another layer of rich yellow watercolor to the koi to fully saturate it and enhance the “golden” look. After the color dried, I added gold leaf to scales on either side and some gold inking around the head. Yay! Love the shimmering effect of the scales. Now on to the water.

Shades of blue and green pastel to create the swirling water

Here I thought I could even out my messy watercolor with some pastel, and add more color. Mostly using pastel pencils, I blended in varying shades of blue with white highlights and green accents. I emphasized the circular movement of the water, feeling that this story is also about returning to the beginning – Laurie’s life has brought her around full circle to focus on her CHD and surgery again. Lastly I added three sparkles on the water to represent Laurie’s three children, glimmers of light in the circle of her life.

The finished painting!

I usually work from the center outward, to keep the most detailed parts of the painting clean. The last step for me is to add the blended pastel around the heart shape, and this time I used more pastel pencils to sharpen the edge of the heart and add some contrast.

Overall I’m really happy with the results of this piece! I hope you enjoy it as well. 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, please consider donating to Olivia’s Heart Fund, or come out to see the paintings in person at our art event coming up in 2011.


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