A fun distraction recently became an obsession for watercolor artist Helen Sandow, who took a break from her self-described “serious paintings” to create a series of “Illustrated Idioms,” combining figurative language with literal images. 

“Idioms often pepper our conversations, adding color and description to our speech,” said Sandow, whose Illustrated Idioms series will fill the display window at Artists in Paradise gallery on Big Pine Key April 15 through May 15. 

“We’ve all heard expressions like ‘two peas in a pod,’ ‘cold feet,’ or ‘bite the bullet,’ but many people don’t know they’re called idioms,” Sandow said. “I don’t even know if schools are teaching the term anymore.”

A 5-year-old boy in Sandow’s neighborhood helped inspire her Illustrated Idioms series.

Helen Sandow’s painting is a ‘horse of a different color,’ literally and figuratively as it describes something unexpected and atypical.

“He’s a bright, outgoing and friendly child, and we often talk while I walk my dog, Peaches,” Sandow said. “One day, he showed me two leaves he had picked up and asked which was prettier. They looked nearly the same to me, so I told him the leaves were almost two peas in a pod. He asked me what that meant, and it occurred to me as a watercolor artist that I could paint a literal picture of the figurative language. I wanted to interpret what the idioms say in a humorous way.”
Sandow also adds a three-dimensional element to every painting, including real eggshells in her painting of “walking on eggshells,” and broken miniature dishes under the feet of a bull in a china shop. 

‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’ pertains to opportunities that are offered, but not used.

Sandow has won numerous awards for her realistic paintings and is compiling the Illustrated Idioms into a colorful children’s book, with a foreword written by an English professor at University of South Florida who specializes in idioms.

“I want to encourage parents and their children to see how valuable idioms are to our language and to teach children that laughter and learning can go hand in hand,” Sandow said.

Each 11- by 14-inch painting in the Illustrated Idioms series is an original painting in a colorful matte and white, metal frames. They sell for $135 and will be available at Artists in Paradise Gallery, 221 Key Deer Blvd., Big Pine Key.


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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. She's married to a saintly — and handy — fisherman, and has been stringing words together in Key West since 1998.