Sisters – second charity Art Heart

Things are progressing with my work for Olivia’s Heart Fund, a charity working to fight CHD (congenital heart defect). Pixel-Artistry has been redesigning the OHF website, and it has recently gone live! I know we will be making a few more tweaks, but the bulk of the work is done, and that frees me up to put more time into the Art Hearts project.

As CHD awareness week lands in February of each year, the gallery event we are planning to show the series of hearts will be in February of 2011. Now my original plan was to render 20 hearts – each for a person or family who has suffered with CHD. It is possible to hold the event with fewer hearts, but that is my goal. OHF has been locating families who are willing to participate, and their stories are slowly coming in. To stay on schedule, I’ll have to complete a heart each 2-3 weeks. As I’m working on the artwork, I remind myself that making the paintings too complex will slow my progress, and potentially paralyze me in the creative process. So it’s important to balance narrative and simplicity.

original version – Sisters 10″ x 10″ mixed-media

The second heart depicts the story of sisters diagnosed with truncus arteriosus.

For this painting, I wanted to depict the sisters, as well as the branching of the heart indicating truncus. With some internet research, I found a few medical illustrations of hearts with truncus, and began thinking about the branching and life – somewhat of a tree of life emanating from the heart. I sketched out the concept in Adobe Photoshop, settling on sisters holding hands, facing this tree, which represents both the defect and the life they are living beyond it.

The printed sketch

I printed the digital sketch, and transferred it to watercolor paper, where I began an underpainting. This helps when I am filling in with pastel later, so that the paper has more tooth, and the color has a lot of impact when it’s blended in. It’s also helpful to me in that I can brush out the background quickly without worrying too much about it looking perfect at first. As I worked on the underpainting, I made some changes from the original sketch. The heart in the background was just too literal, so I left the truncus branching, and let the heart become a full tree.

Detail of the branches in pastel

With that resolved, I started filling in the heart center with pastel. the linework in this design was delicate, so I used pastel pencils quite a bit. I felt the tree should have more life and more color as well, so I added leaves to the branches. Because the hearts of both girls are linked by this form of CHD, I added gold-leaf hearts to each of their silhouettes.

Detail of the gold leaf hearts

The last element was to complete the outside edge around the heart. I’ve been trying to create a vibrant, radiant effect for this portion of the paintings. This was completed with layers of soft pastel, transitioning through several colors. I really like the way this painting worked, and so I feel it is complete. It tells enough of the story to invite the viewer in, and perhaps ask for more.

Layering of pastel for the outside edge

You can read more about the OHF Art Hearts here, and you can support the charity here.


As referenced here, I decided to make a change to this piece.

At the time I created this heart, I was torn on whether to include symbolism for a third child who was not afflicted with CHD. As the painting was detailed already, I opted to focus on the two CHD sisters. But after some thought, I decided to incorporate symbolism for the third sibling.

updated art – Sisters, 10″ x 10″ mixed-media

As I pictured her looking out for her sisters, I thought perhaps she should be there, looking over them from the background. I envisioned her as a brilliant bird nested in the tree, watching over the girls.

detail of the nesting bird

Luckily I was able to add this symbolism as another layer over the branches using pastel pencils. The paper still had enough tooth to accept more detail, and I think the bird is just conspicuous enough without overpowering the design.
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.

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