3rd image: The Sunflower. Dr. Hasan loves spending time in nature, and her love of the outdoors is often reflected in her art.
4th image: Fading Bouquet. This painting was created with alcohol inks on panel. “As the raindrops make everything misty, you can still see the fading blooms and their bright colors,” says Dr. Hasan of this painting.
A practicing rheumatologist for 20 years, Umbreen Hasan, MD, FACP, MBA, Coon Rapids, Minn., knows how challenging it can be to work through pain. Over the years, she has helped many patients learn how to manage chronic pain so they can continue to pursue the activities they love.
Five years ago, after suffering a severe concussion and head trauma in a major car accident, Dr. Hasan learned the power of perseverance firsthand. Unable to work as she underwent neurocognitive tests, and with her husband and two sons gone during the day, Dr. Hasan felt isolated and began looking for an activity to fill her days. One day, she found herself on the paint aisle in a local craft store, admiring the assortment of paint colors and textures.
“As a busy rheumatologist for the past 20 years, I never seemed to have the time to pursue any hobbies,” Dr. Hasan says. “After the accident, I was feeling down and thought it might lift my spirits to try making botanical arrangements, something I enjoyed doing years ago.”
But rather than flower arrangements, Dr. Hasan’s eye was drawn to the art supplies. Although she had never painted before, she was intrigued and decided to buy some paint and a few blank canvases.
For her first project, Dr. Hasan mixed the paints and poured them on the canvas using her hands, a paint brush and a heat gun to manipulate the paint.
As she explored her creativity, Dr. Hasan used techniques she had learned in past physics and chemistry classes. Rather than using traditional tools, she began using alcohol inks, gravity, fire and compressed air to paint. In addition, she employs encaustics (i.e., beeswax mixed with resin and pigment). Precious gemstones, gold dust and other raw materials derived from the earth often complete her mixed media work.
“I also love working with alcohol inks because they have a mind of their own,” she says. “You can’t control them 100%, and I like their challenge and unpredictability.”
Dr. Hasan finds inspiration for her artwork everywhere. Her mixed media piece, “Life on the Ocean Wave,” came from memories of beaches in New Zealand; another piece, “The Pink Beach,” was inspired by the beach in Indonesia of the same name.
In addition to giving her a chance to explore her creativity, Dr. Hasan says painting has been therapeutic.
“Even after returning to my job as a rheumatologist, I’ve set aside an hour at the end of the day to paint,” Dr. Hasan says. “I find it relaxes me and uplifts my mood. The studio is my sanctuary.”
During the pandemic, tragedy struck Dr. Hasan’s life again. Her mother and younger sister both died of COVID-19 complications.
“It was really hard to lose two members of my family so close together,” says Dr. Hasan, who once again found solace in her artwork. “Creating art has helped me process my grief and emotions.” She has dedicated several paintings to their memory.
She has also found her art allows her to help others.
“I’ve sold some of my paintings, with proceeds going to support both the Arthritis Foundation and survivors of acid attacks,” Dr. Hasan says. “It felt good to use my art as a way to give back to the community.”
Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Hasan began conducting art workshops, targeting beginning artists and those who wanted to experiment with new techniques, such as working with alcohol inks. She stresses in her workshops that painting doesn’t have to be a career; it can be a way to destress and find joy.
“There’s no one way to create art—it’s something everyone can do—but I think as we get older we don’t engage in artistic endeavors; we can lose that creative spark,” she says. “I tell my students not to worry about what others might think and encourage them to paint for themselves and to put their emotions on the blank canvas.
“I firmly believe art can assist people both mentally and physically,” she says. “I’d love to open a studio someday and teach art to people with arthritis as well as those who have anxiety and depression.”
Dr. Hasan has sold artwork through Instagram and her website, and has exhibited her work at the Maple Grove Arts Center and other venues. A recent project is an art installation that will premiere this year at the Minnesota-Saint Paul International Airport.
“Recently, my youngest son, who is 14, asked me if he could try his hand at painting in my studio,” Dr. Hasan says. “It was nice to see him wanting to express his own creativity.”
Linda Childers is a health writer located in the San Francisco Bay Area.