Will’s Art Heart

Will 10″ x10″ mixed-media, 2012

One more Art Heart is complete! This painting is for a little boy named Will.

Will was born in the winter of 2005, and seemed to be completely healthy and perfect. During his first day, Will’s parents spent time holding him, and noticed that there were moments when his lips seemed blue. Reassured by the staff that he was just dusky, they assumed all was well. At eighteen hours old, a new nurse came in to check up on Will, and while checking his vital signs, decided to do further testing in another room. As time went by, Will’s parents realized something must be wrong. Soon they were told there was a problem with Will’s heart, and that he had been rushed to the NICU.

It turned out that Will had an arrhythmia defect which elevated his heart rate to over 250 beats per minute. Doctors were working to find the right combination of medications to control the arrhythmia events, caused by a defect called Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome (WPW). After six days, Will was sent home on what doctors believed to be the correct regimen of medication. Unfortunately, over the next two days Will became much worse, and was rushed back to the hospital. He was now in congestive heart failure.

Will’s parents requested a transfer to Children’s Hospital Boston, a decision which may have saved his life. Once there, doctors discovered he had a more serious heart defect, a deformed mitral valve, which was causing Mitral Valve Regurgitation. Over several weeks doctors worked to reverse the congestive heart failure and treat both heart conditions. He became one of the youngest patients ever to receive a surgery for his WPW.

Though Will was initially scheduled for an open heart surgery at three months old, during his pre-op checkup he was granted a postponement. His valve regurgitation was downgraded to moderate, and later was reclassified as mild. If his heart continues to function well he will not need heart surgery until he is in his twenties. Because of this experience, Will’s Mom Kelli has co-founded an organization called Helping Hands, Healing Hearts, to support other families affected by CHD.

Through all this, you can imagine the incredible ups and downs that Will and his parents endured! Though the news is good now, there is always the fear of a change for the worse. It is sometimes difficult to be around non-heart families. It is impossible to forget that they are living with a CHD as they must always be vigilant in regards to Will’s health. To try to explain this, Kelli sent this essay to me:

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, Gondolas. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After several months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland!” “Holland?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy. I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place. So, you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around. You begin to notice that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. And Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that experience will never, ever, ever, go away. The loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

– “Welcome to Holland“, by Emily Perl Kingsley

Did you cry when reading that? Because I sure did! Armed with such descriptive and detailed essays, it didn’t take me long to come up with ideas for Will’s painting. I settled on a gateway between two worlds. The one Will’s parents had expected, and the one where they exist now. Though the landscape through the gate is lush and beautiful, the beach is a calm, serene place, quiet and with its own beauty. This world is rich with blessings unexpected, and also those hard-won from their journey. The turtle walking across the sand represents patience, for Will and for each other, learned during everything they have experienced. The gate is built of seventeen stones, for Will’s birth date.

Notes and thumbnails


The final sketch, ready to paint

So my process started with thumbnail sketches and research, looking at a lot of images before sketching out the final design. Once that was worked out, I transferred the sketch to paper.

First washes of color
The painting as more layers of color are added

Working in the center of the heart, I started adding washes of watercolor. I had the paper taped to a drawing board, but tried to lay each wash down quickly so that the color stayed even, and not saturate it too much so that it would dry flat. I built up the color in layers, adding some texture by spattering watercolor over the stone and sand.

A base color is added around the edge

I then added a base coat of green watercolor around the heart’s edge for the pastel to adhere to later. Once I had an idea of how that would look, I wanted to make the center look richer.

Painting in some grass along the beach


Will’s patient turtle gets more detail, and the outer edge shapes up

I thought the sky could be bluer, so I gave it a gentle coat of pastel, with some fluffy clouds. Using watercolor and gouache, I added wild grass over the sand and darkened the shadows in the arch of the gate. Once the inner details looked right, I went back around the outer edge of the heart with a radiant gradation of color using more pastel.

The completed painting

So here’s how it came out! Will is six years old at the time of this post, so I hope he likes the little turtle especially. And the ocean is the hallmark of Rhode Island where his family lives, a landscape where so many families find joy playing under the sun. I wish him and his family happiness, for this piece of the world is a better place for them being in it.

This is the twelfth 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!

5 thoughts on “Will’s Art Heart

  1. I have been so moved by every heart that you have completed so far. Thank you so much for creating yet another perfectly fitting piece to this amazing project.

    Derek and I are thrilled with Will's Art Heart.

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