Angels

When I met with Jennifer she explained that the one thing they needed was my the depiction of angles in the motif as Cayman HospiceCare nurses were know as such.

Jennifer also volunteered that what had attracted her to my art was my paintings of small children playing on the beach in Cayman.

First we thought that something along the lines of a child holding an angle’s hand, strolling in a beach sunset might be lovely.

But then it occurred to me that the grouping of angles, children, sunsets and the subject of hospice care might be a much too frightening image to any parent or someone with loved little ones and thus might not be an ideally inspiring fundraising image.

We mulled over several possibilities, angle-like clouds, children on the beach… But each time I came back to the conclusion that the combination of angles and children in the same motif was wrought with the danger of alluding to a child’s illness.

I was quite at loss on how to combine these two subjects matter without appearing morbid until the moment when awakening from the surgery for my cochlear implant in September 2011 still heavily medicated and groggy, I had a sort-of epiphany.

Of course! The children should not be lead by the angles in any way or form as to suggest that they were passively and frighteningly being lead away from us. Rather the children should assume the active role of creating the angles themselves.

I saw the image so clearly, and as I was laying there slowly returning to a more conscious state, the visuals of painting took form.

Last February Jennifer Grant-McCarty, Operations & Fundraising Manager of Cayman HospiceCare contacted me and asked if I would consider creating the artwork for their the annual fundraising  brochure .  Knowing the generous and loving work of this wonderful organization I was happy to oblige and donate my art for the cause. 

Jennifer explained that the only criteria was that of angles were included in the motif as Cayman HospiceCare nurses were know as such.

We mulled over several possibilities for a motif– Angel-like clouds or waves with children playing in the waves or on the beach.

And then I imagined the motif so clearly… 

The children should assume  the active role of creating little angles as christmas ornaments and my painting would be of them decorating HospiceCare Christmas tree.

Angels in Action” is dedicated to my father, Dr Bjorn Ibsen (1915-2007), the founder of intensive-care-medicine.   His dedication to hospice care and patients’ rights are what motivated me in creating this painting.

Professor Bjørn Ibsen (1915-2007) is considered the founder of intensive-care medicine. In 1953 he set up what became the world’s first Medical/Surgical ICU in The Municipal Hospital in Copenhagen Denmark

Doctors from around the world traveled to Copenhagen to learn the principles of intensive care and adapt those to their countries.   My childhood family dinners were often filled with my father’s colleagues’  discussions about the miracle and benefits of intensive care and the ability to keep a severely sick patient alive while a cure and treatment was found.   Soon doctors were able to keep patients alive for years, even decades, sometimes  when no brain activity was present  deeply bothered my father’s conscience. Dr Ibsen felt that the rights of the patients had been violated and ignored and that the laws of the country had not been adjusted to reflect the scientific achievements highlighted by the advances in intensive care units.  From 1973 and on he wrote several books, many articles, and often lectured on the right of a terminate patient to have a say in the treatment they were willing to accept and the right to refuse  such life prolonging measures that depended on being hooked up to machines.   

His belief in hospice care and the dignity of life and death became as much part of his conscience as his commitment to the principles of the intensive care breakthrough that he had pioneerd that allowed – by utilizing highly sophisticated machines, to keep a patient alive so that healing treatments  and cures could be sought and administrated. 

This commitment to human dignity and the right of the individual to refuse exsessive and invasive medical treatments  that do not cure but only prolong the suffering  deeply shaped my childhood and my own beliefs in the benefits of hospice care. Hospice care helps a person, in the profound final stage of living, to  leave this world at home, surrounded by loving care and responsible nursing. 

The “Angles” of Cayman HospiceCare, as the nurses call themselves are the embodiment  of what my father would have prescribed for his terminally ill patients.

Thus when Jennifer Grant-McCarthy contacted me I was delighted to offer my artistic abilities to help create the brochure for Cayman HospiceCare’s annual Christmas fundraising event.

The first children that came to mind were my three little granddaughters, Celia (9), Scarlett (7) and Gretel (4). Next time we were together I told them about hospice care and the brochure I had promised to create. I explained what I was planning to create and asked if, in the spirit of Christma, they would like to be part of helping those in need and sick They were thrilled and promised to help me create angles and pose as model when they came to visit us in Cayman over Easter.
We have a condominium on SMB. As all day long I watch little kids splashing in the waves and building castles in the sand there were plenty of children to choose from. Often the children visiting our condominium comes up to ‘paint’ with me on my terrace which serves as my Cayman studio; this is a mutual delightful experience. Some of these, like Kelly and Sally from Memphis have become great friends and each year return to what they refer to as “Christel color time”.

The Angle Team

One of those color time sessions occurred while I was in the process of preparing the beach-scape background for the painting. When I told them what the painting was for they asked if they could help too and soon we were cutting, pasting and coloring little angles. Next door Julie and Christopher were visiting from New Jersey and before long they joined our artistic team. (From left Sally, Julie and Christopher)

Christopher's splendid 'Trumpeting Ange"

Julie's "Blu Angel”

The Christmas Tree Search

It was beautiful sunny and a perfect day for beach play.  But instead of playing in the pool, there they were sitting there on my hot terrace, listening intently as I explained what angels they needed to make.   Watching them having such fun and so eager to contribute and help this cause was adorable and inspiring indeed.

And inspiration was sorely needed.   For where in Cayman Island in February would I find a Christmas tree?

I scanned the grounds in front of my terrace and all I saw were swaying palm trees.   And then … of course … this being a Cayman Christmas image, I asked myself what could be more fitting than decorated palm fronds.  

While the children continued to cut and color, I ran to see Missy (our condo manager) and asked if I could borrow Calvert (our grounds keeper) and have him cut down some palm leaves and plant them in the sand at the edge of the ocean.  When Missy heard about the hospice cause, she was delighted because her mother had been supported and helped in her final months by Cayman HospiceCare.   Missy described how these angels in action had been comforting, and how much their presence and advice had helped the family and eased her mother’s final days.

Calvert to the rescue!

then went in search of Calvert and asked for his help. Soon the two of us were busily scouting in search of the perfect three palm leaves that could serve as our hospice tree. The fronds were felled and then brought to my chosen spot on the beach in front of Harbour Heights.

The works begin

The planting was much more complex that I had envisioned.   The three fronds had to be cropped and shaped and fitted in a way that they would project the perfect image of a lush, swaying Christmas palm.

Decisions… decisions

Now, how would we make these fronds remain upright – particularly as we were planting them at the edge of the water where the tide would be sure to sweep them out to sea?
 
 

Solutions

Calvert disappeared and then returned with a heavy pipe, and then dug a deep hole in the sand. So far so good…. Calvert and I placed large coral rocks around the base and finally the “tree” felt steady.

Decorating

The First Motif

The fronds swayed gently in the wind, and the tree stood safe and proud in the lapping waves. For almost an hour I photographed. And my models were true “angle troopers.” We experimented with many different themes – decorating, reaching for the leaves or hiding behind the “tree.”

Finally, I knew that I had captured the image I was looking for. The moment I lowered my camera and told them we were finished, they leapt up, tore off their outfits and plunged into the cool waves while I hurried back to my condo to check my photo results.

The pictures were glorious! I had my motif, just as I had imagined. The children looked peaceful and serene, and you could almost believe that – together with their angels – they were praying for our hospice patients.

Now all I had to do was to add my granddaughters’ images and I could start the sketching of the final motif.

Family Affair

At Easter, my granddaughters arrived. And after a few days of beach, sand and family fun, they were eager to move forward with our angel project and to contribute to the visual image I needed for this wonderful organization’s fundraising effort.

Their mother, Sarah, had brought three beautiful matching white dresses that were fit for any angel!

Paper, scissors and tubes of color were brought out .

Fun Creating

We had such fun with the girls drawing and coloring, and using all of Grandma’s paints and tools …

Coloring the Cayman HospiceCare Ornament

The “Tree” Rises

Now the palm fronds had to be replanted and decorated, and Calvert once again proved to be the perfect team member.  
 
 

Photo Moments

As the tree was raised, my daughter-in-law, Sarah, who is a superb professional photographer had some creative moments of her own.
 
 
 
Everyone pitched in! Papa helped find coral rocks to secure the base, while Gretel took the opportunity for a game of hide and seek.

Hide and Seek

Final Touches

Finally, we prepared for the first shoot.  The angels were hung – including those made by the other children and those I had found at Pure Art Gallery, made locally out of Cayman shells.

Lost Angel

Finally, we prepared for the first shoot.  The angels were hung – including those made by the other children and those I had found at Pure Art Gallery, made locally out of Cayman shells.
Finally, we prepared for the first shoot.  The angels were hung – including those made by the other children and those I had found at Pure Art Gallery, made locally out of Cayman shells.

Ashley & Tashana

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

he more I looked at my compositions, the more I realized that – this being the Cayman Islands – we had to include Caymanian children. Lee, my wonderful housekeeper, often visited us at Harbour Heights accompanied by her beautiful granddaughters, Ashley and Tashana. I had but a few days left on the island before returning to NY. So I had to act swiftly. I asked Lee if the girls would mind letting me photograph them that weekend.

It was important that the light and shadows of the images match up with the two other photo shoots – meaning taking the photographs at about 10 a.m.  It turned out that both girls attended Sunday school at that time.  But after the pastor understood that my angel paintings were for Cayman HospiceCare, he was delighted and allowed them to skip Sunday school for this once.

he more I looked at my compositions, the more I realized that – this being the Cayman Islands – we had to include Caymanian children. Lee, my wonderful housekeeper, often visited us at Harbour Heights accompanied by her beautiful granddaughters, Ashley and Tashana. I had but a few days left on the island before returning to NY. So I had to act swiftly. I asked Lee if the girls would mind letting me photograph them that weekend.

Caymanian Angles

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

There was one photo left to take.    “Love you Grandma!!!

Normandy, Summer 2012

Back in New York during April, May and June I edited the photos and, consulting with Jennifer via email, coordinated where the text would be located on the brochure and how this location would impact my design. It was an especially interesting and creative challenge to accommodate my painting to the needed copy. Both the front and the back of the brochure had to stand on its own, and yet when the brochure was opened it had to present a coherent, full image. It was therefore very important that the fold be in the precise middle of the palm tree.

During July and August, in my Normandy studio I finally commenced working on the final drawings.

As I tried to place the text that Jennifer had sent me it quickly became apparent that the back of the brochure should be as clutter-free as possible. It also became clear that there were too many children in my motif. I needed to trim back to allow space for all the text on the back.

After continuously adjusting the position of the three children to the left of the tree, I was running out of options. I realized that I had to make a hard creative choice. With all that text, the image would be too busy and the children would be, cluttered with text and hard to see.

It was now seven p.m. Our Normandy home is an ancient vicarage, and the bells from seventeenth century church (about 100 yards away) began to chime. I stopped working and went down to join my husband for our evening cocktail in the garden. Sipping my drink, I explained the challenge. To simplify the motif I would have to remove some of the children. But these children had worked so hard and been so generous with their help. How could I now tell them they would not be part of the final painting?

Building the Motif

Ashley and Tashana were essential to the image and their position together could only be to the right of the fronds.   The image of them holding hands and running toward the tree was perfect, and had to be on the right lower corner of the cover

My granddaughters had been the first I had asked to help, and all three had to be there.  As every grandmother knows, there was no way that I could choose one over the other. 
 
They should be placed together, centered and decorating the tree  This  placement would leave space on the sides free for the Cayman HospiceCare text . 
 

Difficult Choices

Ashley and Tashana were essential to the image and their position together could only be to the right of the fronds.   The image of them holding hands and running toward the tree was perfect, and had to be on the right lower corner of the cover

Textures and Drawings

By now it was mid-July, and I knew that I would run into deadline issues if I did not get started on the actual painting right away.

After a few more drawings and outlines, I was finally satisfied with the balance, the overall harmony of the motif and the text.

The size of 14″ X 24″ had been determined by the size of the final brochure. 

As I employ heavy textured fresco techniques – to prevent the canvas from cracking if touched – I give it stability by working on canvas mounted on board.  With the promise of his favorite grilled duck for dinner, my husband, Bob, set to work sawing and cutting.  The canvas was mounted on board, the first coats of gesso were applied, and a rough outline of the seascape and the position of the children added.

The first acrylic background hues were then brushed in, slightly overlapping the silhouettes of the girls and the palms. 

Next came the building of texture.  

Texture in a painting is a question of rhythm, balance and focus.  You cannot have a textured sky, a textured ocean and textured sand as this would cause the visuals to be confusing.

 

By now it was mid-July, and I knew that I would run into deadline issues if I did not get started on the actual painting right away.

After a few more drawings and outlines, I was finally satisfied with the balance, the overall harmony of the motif and the text.

The size of 14″ X 24″ had been determined by the size of the final brochure. 

As I employ heavy textured fresco techniques – to prevent the canvas from cracking if touched – I give it stability by working on canvas mounted on board.  With the promise of his favorite grilled duck for dinner, my husband, Bob, set to work sawing and cutting.  The canvas was mounted on board, the first coats of gesso were applied, and a rough outline of the seascape and the position of the children added.

The first acrylic background hues were then brushed in, slightly overlapping the silhouettes of the girls and the palms. 

Next came the building of texture.  

Texture in a painting is a question of rhythm, balance and focus.  You cannot have a textured sky, a textured ocean and textured sand as this would cause the visuals to be confusing.

 

Oils

It was now time to concentrate on painting the girls – and for that I had to switch to oils. I sealed the compound and acrylic already on the canvas and then let it dry for about a week while I worked on other artworks in progress.

While Compound and Acrylics allow me to work fast and create strong textures, Oil painting is the core of my art. The multifaceted opportunities for nuance, for layers and for glazes, makes this medium the most laborious and yet, for me, most fascinating stage of my paintings.

Almost there

People always ask me how long it takes to paint a work of art. I do not believe many artist knows how to answer this question. Sometimes I paint rapidly and at other times I fuss and go back and again to add more layers and details. Angels in Action was an extremely time consuming painting. If nothing else because of the sheer number of little girls and angels to be sketched and painted. The one thing I did not factor in was the enormous effort required to create the movements and details of the individual fronds.

I have a mental notebook that contains a list if subject to avoid painting again. This list includes cloth with tiny checks and fabric with thin stripes. To that list I have now added fronds of palms.

Although the end was near, I progressed at a snail’s pace. Ever so slowly, my vision emerged on canvas. By mid-August I was sufficiently pleased to begin adding the final many layers of glazes that were needed to seal and stabilize the painting.

From a technical perspective it was clear, that to have the fold exactly where it needed, the designers of the final brochure needed an image with a bleed and some extra space to play with.

Thus, before I wrapped the canvas around the frame and photographed my paintings. I emailed these to Jennifer in Cayman… just in time for the date of the printing of the brochure.

The Finished Brochure

The Cayman HospiceCare Brochure

To learn about this extraordinary non-profit community service dedicated to ease suffering and pain, please click on the site below