I have had fun creating things, experimenting and doing projects since I was little. This probably is how I ended up as a surgeon. More recently, I got into creating art.
My childhood friend Paula Hare is an artist who developed a technique to create intricate designs on eggshells. About 10 years ago, she taught me the process of first painting and then using a tiny drill to remove parts of the shell while keeping it overall intact. As someone who likes to do ear surgery, this was right up my alley! How much shell could I remove and still keep the egg in one piece? Since then, I’ve created many delicate eggs, including some with the American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH) logo. I enjoy donating eggs to fundraisers that benefit AFCH—my favorite charity. From goose eggshells to ostrich eggshells, they draw a lot of interest at silent auctions.
A few years ago, I took up painting from photographs, which involves using your eyes more than your brain while recreating the images. Instead of my brain thinking “the flower is pink” or “the dog is black,” I try to see the shades of red or blue or purple or brown involved in making it look like a pink flower or black dog. I continue to be astonished at how seemingly minor variations of shading or outline create depth and topography on a flat canvas.
In November 2017, Paula and I submitted a proposal for the UW-Madison Bucky on Parade public art event. We were invited to pick up a big, white fiberglass Bucky in March. The organizers waved us away with a smile and QUARTERLY 37 told us to bring it back in four weeks, looking like the sketch we had provided.
Painting every bit of a six-foot‑tall, three-dimensional mammal was way different than anything either of us had ever done! Our sketch included only Bucky’s front, so there was a lot more creativity needed to make a 360-degree artwork. Of the 85 statues, ours was one of the few that did not look like a Bucky Badger. Instead, we used the Bucky shape as a canvas and created a floral scene loosely based on a photograph taken at Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We named it Blooming Bucky.
During summer 2018, our statue resided on Henry Mall near Agricultural Hall at UW-Madison.
Thousands of people visited the Bucky statues around Dane County. We got a lot of fun feedback and selfies of fans with our Bucky. A little girl who had visited all 85 statues was particularly excited to meet us, and her mom explained that Blooming Bucky was her daughter’s favorite of them all!
Blooming Bucky was part of a fundraising auction, with proceeds supporting cancer research, treatment and awareness through men’s basketball Coach Greg Gard’s charity, Garding Against Cancer, and the Madison Area Sports Commission. Our Bucky raised $21,500 for charity.
Every year I try slightly different things with my art. Like other physicians, my work is demanding. I realize I’m at great risk of not unplugging often enough. Being able to sit down and create something pretty uses the “other half” of my brain and allows me to put aside whatever is churning around in there and relax.
About the author
Diane G. Heatley, MD ’87 (PG ’92), is a professor in the Departments of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is the chief medical officer of the American Family Children’s Hospital. After she earned her medical degree at the School of Medicine and Public Health, Heatley completed an otolaryngology-head and neck surgery residency at University Hospital in Madison and a pediatric otolaryngology fellowship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital at Washington University. In addition to her administrative responsibilities, she continues her surgical practice in pediatric otolaryngology.
This article appears in Quarterly magazine.