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!

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