Eleanor Port’s watercolors are bright, bold, stunning pieces that embody self-expression, beauty, light, healing, and even darkness. The English artist seamlessly combines whimsical fancy and surrealism with refreshingly authentic, down-to-earth storytelling. As a mother who has one biological daughter and two adopted daughters, and as an art therapist who trained at Lesley University in Boston, she has a unique ability to beautifully share her family’s collective story through paintings and words. She did just that with Dear Daughters, her open letter to her daughters in story form.
Her use of color goes far beyond mere aesthetics: “I love and need color. When I paint, it is one fluid energy that connects my thoughts to the brush to the canvas or paper. Connecting color choices with emotions comes very instinctively. My intention in my illustrations was to paint honest and open images that take the reader beyond the words of the letter. The bright, saturated colors in my illustrations reflect my raw, undiluted emotions . . . and hopefully a resilient underlying strength. In essence, I think of myself as a positive person; thus, even the somber colors have a vibrancy to them.”
I’ve come to terms with the misconception that ‘being a mummy is about what happens in your tummy
Eleanor enthusiastically explains her work as it relates to her children and the adoptive journey: “I wrote the story Dear Daughters after my middle daughter came home from school and asked me what it was like to grow up. It was an unexpected question (that) prompted me to think how I would explain some of my life experiences to them as they grow into older children and adults. The pictures are watercolor paintings that grew from the words. For me, the story expresses so much about my life and journey to motherhood that the words don’t seem complete on their own. The pictures are extensions of my words, and a lot of emotional experience is embodied in the colors and lines used.”
Dear Daughters tells the story of the good and bad in her own life in visual and written terms that are simultaneously simple and complex concepts. To a child, the story is easy to comprehend, accentuated and enhanced by Eleanor’s art. However, adults can see unspoken layers and nuances in her journey which will make the stories meaningful and relevant to her daughters throughout their own life paths. Through employing such techniques, Eleanor conveys an experience that, while her own, also translates to others who can see themselves in her personal joys and trials.
She uses flowers as metaphors throughout the story: “A lot of people connect and identify with nature and flowers. In my letter I reflected on a flower that many people admire and often aspire to: the sunflower. I’ve tried to explain that although the sunflower is recognized as strong, bold, and bright, it is okay to be different, and other flowers are equally strong and beautiful. Although we can have a vision of what we want to be, sometimes life dictates the course of our journey, and our vision needs to adapt. This doesn’t mean “giving up,” but rather finding the strength and skills to look at things differently and try new paths. I actually love sunflowers, but on self-reflection, my life and journey to motherhood is much closer to that of a bluebell.” Dear Daughters elaborates on the bluebell as a flower “blending light and shade” and one which bends as it grows.
In her story, Eleanor referred to darkness as a critical part of the adoption process as a whole. I asked her to expand on what the “darkness” was like for her and to define it in a way that may make other adoptive parents, especially moms, realize that there is hope:
I felt I was failing on the core ability of a woman: to child bear. No drugs or invasive interventions could remedy this either. My husband and I do not like to give up easily, so it was a hard decision to let go of fertility and choose a different route. We still wanted to expand our family and give our birth daughter a sibling, but knew we could not progress emotionally or financially with fertility (treatments). I still felt alone as we started the adoption process. I didn’t talk to many people about our situation, and I didn’t know many peers or people going through the same experience.
The adoption process was very long, and at times like it was barely moving. I was . . . busy with work and raising our daughter, but at nighttime I would sometimes lay in a deeper “darkness” of worry and fear—that I would not be able to fulfill my dream of having an (expanded) family . . . I worried that all the months and years of trying and waiting would lead nowhere. Someone once said to me, “You’ve got a kid, what’s the big deal if you don’t have more?” I guess everyone’s experiences are different, and for me bringing one child into the world and not being able to give her a sibling ignited a sadness inside me.
However, the longer the process took, the more I knew we had come too far to turn back. Despite the length of time it was taking, my husband and I both believed in adoption, and we wanted to give a child or children love, stability, and a forever family. We also felt that our journey had brought us even closer and (made) our relationship stronger. As a result, we felt stronger to manage potential complexities and needs that could arise once a match was found. Throughout everything, we stuck together, and even in the darkness, we managed to see the light at the end of the road. Looking back, this was the most important factor—to continue to believe. Families can happen, and they can happen to you.
Eleanor sums up her family’s story perfectly and in a way that both hopeful and current adoptive parents can relate to: “Even though I didn’t give birth to our two adopted children, we are their parents, I am their mummy, and our birth daughter is their sister. I’ve come to terms with the misconception that ‘being a mummy is about what happens in your tummy.’ Love, openness, nurturance, commitment and motherhood has a much deeper holistic meaning. For me being a mum is about what happens in your heart.”