Radiant Rainbows

By Marshall Hammond

Jessica Swift painted the first rainbow in 2018 after her husband Ryan died suddenly at the age of 40, leaving the Portland artist alone to raise their toddler and pregnant with their second child.

Shortly after Ryan’s death, Swift found a crystal prism that had been a gift from her sister-in-law years before and decided to hang it up. Then she painted a rainbow. It comforted her so much she decided to paint 40 of them, one for each year Ryan had been alive, to give away at Ryan’s memorial service to the people in her life that showed her love and support.  

That day, Swift called Ryan’s mother, Barbara, and told her about the rainbow paintings she would be giving away. It turned out that Barbara had just ordered 40 crystal prisms to give away at the funeral as well. “She told me she got all these crystals and I said ‘that’s so weird, I just hung up this crystal that I’ve had for years and I don’t know why I chose today’,” says Swift. “Maybe it doesn’t sound that significant, but I remember on that day I was like wow, this is kind of wild.”

When Swift shared pictures of the rainbow paintings on Instagram she began receiving requests from people to purchase them. “Eventually I started to think, ‘ok, well, maybe I could sell them, maybe that would be a nice way to honor everything that’s happening here.’ And I kind of intuitively thought that I should create 100. Immediately I was like ‘that’s insane, I’m busy, I’m overwhelmed, I’m pregnant, I have a toddler, I’m not making 100 paintings.’ But this idea stuck with me and I thought, ‘ok, what if I counted 100 days from the day that Ryan died, and maybe I could make 100 and sell them that day.’ So I counted on the calendar and the 100th day was Thanksgiving Day, which was Ryan’s favorite holiday. So that sealed the deal for me, I thought ‘ok, I have to do this.’”

When Thanksgiving Day arrived, all 100 paintings sold by afternoon. A few years later she decided to paint 100 more rainbows.

Swift’s new book, Radiant Rainbows: Messages of Hope, Healing, and Love, pairs these paintings with positive affirmations for anyone who is going through grief, suffering from loss or facing adversity. “Everybody feels happy when they see a rainbow right? It’s a reminder that hope exists for me, even in the darkest of times. You can be heartbroken and you can be hopeful at the same time. Brightness exists even in the midst of darkness.”

Swift has been making art since she was a little girl. Although she majored in painting in college, she didn’t expect to become a professional artist until she surprised herself by winning an art competition she entered at the suggestion of her mother. She made more money that weekend selling paintings than she had on any previous weekend she spent working at an art museum or restaurant. “I opened my business officially the next week and that was the start. I had a lot of confidence right from the beginning. It has not been all easy and successful. But I can remember that feeling. Like, ok, it’s possible, I just have to keep going.”

For Swift, making art is a form of therapy and self-care. “All of the artwork that I make is for myself. I’m listening for something that I need to hear for myself while I’m creating.” Swift says it’s “a bonus” that her art then resonates with other people.

“Everybody struggles. We all have our own version of hard things in our lives, whatever those might be. Some might be really dramatic, some might not be so dramatic, but that’s just part of being a person–experiencing pain and confusion and hard things. It’s like all the ways that I’m reminding myself of those things seem to resonate with other people as well. Because we all need that, right? Most people that I know like to be reminded of who they really are and that they are allowed to be themselves and that they matter. We all need that.”

When she’s not painting or corralling her four and seven-year-old children, Swift designs patterns for fabrics and stationary, and teaches art classes online. Radiant Rainbows: Messages of Hope, Healing, and Love  is published by Gibbs Smith Books. Purchase the book and find out more about Swift and her art at jessicaswift.com.

Author Jessica Swift in her studio.

Radiant Rainbows

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