Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Very Special Painting


When I received the message on Facebook this past summer, I remember reading it with my hand over my heart. Andra introduced herself as the mother of a little girl who had recently died of cancer, a day before her sixth birthday. She wondered if I would do a painting in memory of her daughter.

My initial reaction was that I couldn’t possibly do it. It seemed so sad. I thought that doing the painting would make me feel sad. Then I reread her message.

The girl she was describing was a joyous and happy person. Andra listed the colors she liked best: pink, red, yellow, light blue and green. She told me how Helen loved flowers, ladybugs, rolly-pollies, butterflies, birds, the beach and sea creatures. She said that she wanted the painting to include Helen’s name as well as some of her loves.

I realized that this was a very happy painting she was describing.  Helen enjoyed so many of the same things that I do. She was someone who loved nature and who thoroughly appreciated the world around her. The list of Helen’s likes included many of the things I love to paint the most.

I wrote back to Andra and, over a series of emails, we came to an agreement that I would do a painting for Helen. She wanted a painting that was larger than I usually do. After much thought, I committed to doing a 16 x 20 inch watercolour.

Andra was lovely throughout the process. She left the visual side of the painting entirely up to me. I showed her the initial rough sketch I had come up with and then she very, very patiently waited to see the final version. The painting took me several weeks to complete.

My initial rough sketch when I was trying to figure out the contents and composition.
I started by painting the banner and then began adding all of the other elements.
Slowly but surely, I added all of the creatures and flowers.
With most of main elements in place, I started to pull the sky down and behind the flowers.
This watercolour was an absolute joy to work on but it also was a lot of work. Its size, the number of things it included made it one of the most complex paintings I have worked on in a very long while. The detailed sketch alone took me two days. I don’t generally do detailed sketches but this painting required it. By the time I finished the painting, I realized I had looked at almost 50 reference photos in order to be sure that I was being true to all of the creatures and flowers I had included. In my research, I even found a flower that is called ‘Helen’s Flower’ (Helenium). It’s the yellow flower on the left and right (visible in the full view of the painting). The shell, sea urchin and starfish were all from my seashell collection. Some of my garden flowers were used as models.

A detail from the centre of the painting
Details from the bottom of the painting - A snail, mushrooms, a heart-shaped rock and three rollie-pollies playing together on the rocks at the right hand side.
It was so important to me to create something that was not just a good painting but something that was appropriate to and worthy of Helen’s memory. I wanted to create a painting that Helen would have loved.

Do you want to know something? I didn’t feel sad once while working on this painting. I felt happy. As I was working on it, I found myself thinking ‘Wouldn’t it have been nice to have met Helen and then I realized I did. I had met Helen “through” my painting.

After I sent photos of the completed painting to Andra, she responded within minutes:  “Oh, my goodness...It is absolutely beautiful! Helen would have loved it! The painting is soooo Helen…” Mission accomplished. I had created a painting that was true to Helen. I burst into happy tears.

When I asked Andra's permission to do this blog post about my painting and the story behind it, she said she would only agree if people didn’t feel sorry for Helen or her family. She said “Helen was so joyful and happy, she must be remembered that way too.”

My painting was done for a beautiful, joyful little girl who loved the world and all those around her. This painting is a celebration of a wonderful person named Helen.





20 comments:

  1. What a wonderful painting, in memory of a wonderful little girl, and painted with love from your heart.

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    1. Thank you, Barbara, for those lovely words. ♥

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  2. A beautiful and happy painting.

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    1. I am really glad that is what you see when you look at it, Janet. ♥

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  3. I can't imagine a better person for such a lovelly and special task Kathleen. It's beautiful!

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    1. Thank you so much, Maria, for saying that. ♥

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  4. It is a gorgeous painting and a wonderful celebration of Helen herself. It is hard for me not to hurt for a mom who lost her child.

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    1. Thank you for your kind, loving words, Sherry. ♥

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  5. What a beautiful story for a stunning painting ! So many wonderful details, no wonder why her mother loved it. Such a touching piece.
    I'd live in this painting. Really amazing.
    xoxo

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    1. Thank you, Sonia, for everything you wrote. A big hug. ♥

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  6. A lovely painting and a lovely story. My heart goes out to Helen's mother. I pray the Lord will send her comfort. The Psalms especially can be a great help.

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    1. Thank you for your kind and compassionate words. ♥

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  7. Kathleen - this is such a beautiful painting and I feel the spirit of Helen just by looking at this joyful piece. What a gorgeous way to celebrate a young life that must have been well loved and well lived. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, Debbie, for your lovely words. It makes me feel very emotional to think that I have successfully conveyed a sense of Helen's joy to others.♥

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  8. When I saw the painting on FB, I thought "what a delightful painting from Kathleen" -- and then read the story. Beautifully written and I feel as if I, too, came to know Helen through the painting, flowers and creatures in it. And, what a wonderful way to 'share' Helen with many people who weren't able to meet her, and wish we had. Life is to celebrate, and here is a beautiful way to celebrate Helen, too. Prayers for peace of heart to her family. Thank you, Kathleen, for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for every single word you wrote, Sheryl. Thank you for seeing my painting and Helen, for celebrating her and the words of peace you sent to her family. ♥

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  9. Oh goodness. You´ve managed to capture everything this little girl was about, that´s for sure. Thanks for sharing. :-)

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Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog and to leave me a comment. I love reading them. -- Kathleen

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