An interview with Lindsey Ball MD, creator of Painted Hearted Art.
Dr. Ball, an emergency room physician and artist, talks about her inspiration and love for for medicine and art.
What made you decide to be a doctor?
I did not always know I wanted to be a doctor. In college I had a wide variety of jobs from barista to bike messenger, and I actually majored in English. I thought of literature as a way to study people and human behavior. I enjoyed creating and did a lot of writing and painting. I soon realized these were hobbies I could and would continue to do on my own without a class or assignment, but if I was going to study something, it should be something I cannot accomplish and learn on my own that takes me from outside myself.
I am very goal oriented and I desired a career that took an amount of commitment and training I had not experienced yet. Science and biology fascinated and amazed me with how naturally creative life on earth is. Medicine then seemed to be a natural fit that combined both science and the humanities. I ended up going back to school to get a post baccalaureate to obtain the medical school requirements, and I have never regretted my decision. I enjoy medicine because I am constantly learning and being challenged while getting to provide a service for others. I also enjoy the teamwork involved in the emergency department. I liked the tangible aspect of directly having a daily impact in caring for patients and the constant communication and interactions required with my colleagues.
It is also very rewarding to have a job where I continue to learn and grow on a daily basis, even three years after my residency training and mostly likely until the end of my career.
My specialty is Emergency Medicine. I practice in a community hospital setting in Southern California, with quite a variety of patients and pathology. My emergency department also has EM residents from two local programs rotating through in addition to PA fellows, so there is an opportunity for teaching as well. It’s a nice mix.
I donated this original painting to the American Heart Association “Heart Ball” event this March for an auction.
How long have you been interested in art?
I have always been interested in art since childhood but never formally trained in it. My favorite class in college at UC Berkeley was a beginning painting class taught by Katherine Sherwood. The class had a large impact on me and actually made me consider changing to an art major. I had never taken a painting class, and I initially felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Our first assignment was a still life of a vase and some fruit in black and white. I brought a list of required supplies to the art store and bought a bunch of oil paint and other supplies.
I found the oil paint challenging, because it took such a long time to dry that you had to work on your painting very slowly and in small steps. After painting a layer, you had to wait until the next day to continue to the next layer. When we had to present our painting, mine was the absolute worst in the entire class. The vase was droopy and the greys all blended together. I was mortified and felt defeated. For a moment I wanted to throw in the towel. I then tried to assess what went wrong...and correct it.
I went back to the store and bought some acrylic paint to replace my oil paint. This dried much faster and allowed me to work at the pace that was natural for me and fit my personality. If I wanted to make a change in the painting, I only had to wait 20 minutes for it to dry, not 24 hours. (Can you tell why I work in emergency medicine)? Our next assignment we were allowed to use color. This time it was a still life of a woman on a stool. This time I played with color, texture, and abstraction. I was very self conscious but I tried to follow my natural intuitions, and this time my painting stood out as the best in the class and I was approached by other teachers about it.
Our third assignment was open ended. I had just written a story in my creative writing class about a girl who was counting sheep to sleep, and when she fell asleep, the sheep escaped and traveled the world. So I started to paint a series of these two sheep in various settings, a potentially ridiculous idea that paid off and was well received. I spent all my spare time in the studio working on these paintings. I learned what techniques worked for me and experimented. I sometimes used fine tip pen.
For the class I made three of these paintings, but on my own afterward I made a series of over 30 that I used to illustrate a children's book I self published later on my own. This class taught me a lot about my self, and I do think it changed my life.
How did you get started and where do you see your art work heading?
In medical school, the idea of EKG paintings was sparked in my mind but I never actually attempted until mid way through my intern year in residency. I was feeling pretty burnt out that winter, very overworked, and I missed my family, who was on the opposite coast. I needed some inspiration.
I actually initially thought people might think I am crazy when I began the paintings. I started slowly showing them to friends and family and got a very positive response, so I kept going! I never initially intended for it to go as far as it has but it became a major outlet for me and was just too fun to stop. That part was not hard. I had many colleagues and friends asking to purchase the paintings and that was the part that was hard for me to start up figuring out how to implement this.
Life was busy and I moved back to California after residency and put the project to the side for several years. Finally I met with a fine art printer and he helped me digitize all my work and now makes the giclee prints. I needed a lot of help and had to learn how to make a website and start up an actual side gig business. None of that was intuitive for me, but it has been a good learning experience.
I don't really have an end destination in mind. I hope to share my work with as many people who appreciate it as possible and continue to add to the collection. Recently, I have been getting some requests for commissioned EKG pieces and I have started to agree to some. I do also like the idea of turning the project into a picture book of EKGS when I am finished with the paintings.
I hope to always be lucky enough to have the opportunity and time to create art in some way or form. It might not always be in the form of EKGS. I don't expect to stop working my "day job" (or actually mornings, overnights, afternoons...).
This EKG painting is called "Mom"
How do you fit painting into your schedule and what advice do you have for other doctors?
Just like anything else in my life from exercise, outdoor time, relationships, family time, cooking, reading books, my dogs, I try to make time for things that matter to me. Even the busiest of people can make time for things that matter to them.
When I feel overwhelmed with time management, I try to reassess the areas where I am wasting time and try to cut down on things that actually do not enhance my life, like the internet, social media, and mindless TV binges (guilty as charged). Do I need to check my email, texts, the news, etc. the second I wake up? Probably not! This is obviously easier said than done and life is about balance and progress, not perfection. I also try not to commit to obligations I do not want to do unless there is a very good reason.
As far as a side gig for a doctor...I think personally one should do it because you love it and it enhances and energizes your life. If it is not an outlet, passion, something that adds to your life and you do out of joy, what is the point? At least for me, there would not be one, as I don't expect to be able to support myself on art. I do it because I love it. You already worked very hard to become a physician and have sacrificed a great deal of time and energy. I value my time off work a great deal and try to reserve my extra time and energy for things that matter to me and make my life better and more fulfilling.
For me, art is a stress relief and not a stressor. Obviously, this does not mean it doesn't take hard work and discipline, just like anything else worth doing...of course it does.
You can see more of Dr. Ball's artwork at
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