Frequently Asked Question: Do professional artists draw for fun?

Above art: Sterba’s Corydora, Harlequin Rasbora, and White breasted nuthatch. ©2014 Ikumi Kayama.


Let me share some pages from my small sketchbook. It’s about 6″ x 6″, and the paper is thick enough to hold some watercolor.  As you can see, I love to paint animals especially birds.

In my professional life, the neurosurgical textbook I worked on is finally out. Yay! I’m currently working on orthopaedic procedures and middle school science textbook figures.  My flounder illustrations appeared in a science book teaching New Zealand children the Maori language. Working on these illustrations make me really happy and keep me very busy. I don’t think I’ve drawn the cranial nerves all the way to their terminal branches before. I love learning (and re-learning).

My usual illustrations  look like this: (see more illustrations)

human brain hydrocephalus

What I do for fun:

In between researching and illustrating supraorbital muscles and tendons of the ankles, I find little time–usually in the evenings–to bring out some watercolor and do quick studies. The two fish above-Harlequin rasbora and Sterba’s Corydora are worked from life. They were asleep and made good models. The white breasted nuthatch was done from a series of photos I’ve taken in a nearby park.

My fish and I have a long history. I got my Sterba’s “Cory” Corydora when I was still living in Athens, GA, before I went to grad school for medical illustration at Hopkins. I freaked out when one spring morning I found the glass tank covered in eggs.  We love her, but she is also guilty of eating the remains of the fish who went to fish heaven.  I still get a little sad that she hides from me every time I pop food in the tank.

The other fish is a Harlequin rasbora. I love the delta shape on the body, and I think they have a cute face. I got them few days after the last day of anatomy at Hopkins. I remember stumbling out of the lecture hall after the last exam and thinking to myself, “No more locking myself up in the basement dungeon of the library, and I’m going to get new fish”.  I kept the promise about the second bit.

The white-breasted nuthatch. They have a long beak, black cap, slate back, and run around on the bark like it’s a flat surface. They are very fun to watch. They are usually pretty friendly and curious little guys and girls, so with a little patience you get to see them pretty close.

Canada Geese and friends. ©2014 Ikumi Kayama

Few months ago, I discovered that the local Audubon society meets for a bi-weekly birding trip. It was the best discovery of 2013. My best discovery of 2014 so far is the urban sketchers group. More about them later. The members are so friendly, so knowledgeable, and I’ve learned a whole lot. Just getting outside and looking at birds is such a great way to reduce stress and to get inspired by our surroundings.  Some people go to Africa to look at birds, but we have an amazing variety of birds right here in Maryland. I used to think that the nuthatch (pictured above) and the chickadee were the same species. Now I’m learning the differences between a Carolina chickadee/Black-capped chickadee, seasonal colorings of starlings, and how to identify birds of prey in flight.

The Takeaway: Q: Do professional artists draw for fun?  A: Yes, but they have to make time for them.

I love to helping others. I love to teach. I love to draw and paint. I love to do research and create accurate illustrations. I love working with experts and teachers. Does that make medical and scientific illustration fun? Absolutely! But that doesn’t mean it’s stress-free.

I still have to treat it as a profession. So my production time becomes a valuable resource. Is it all right to spend time doodling and doing little watercolor studies? Do all my work need to be for sale? The answer depends on who you ask. For me personally, I find it relaxing and enjoyable to paint something for fun and not worry about having the correct number of fin rays (even though I counted) and how exactly the flight feathers overlap on the bird (even though I am still unhappy with the secondaries).

Do you create art professionally or for pleasure? What other tips can readers share on ways to separate hobbies from professions, and how to deal with everyday stress?

P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for, but I’m also founder of the medical and scientific illustration services site, Studio Kayama, and give speaking programs and hands-on workshops that cover scientific illustration, Photoshop techniques, and more. I hope you’ll check them out!

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