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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I did some splattering of white gouache to bring out the splashing sea foam…
…and added a bicycle for Ryan.
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.
To make the lightning and the beacon stand out, I added gold leaf and metallic ink on top of the watercolor.
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!