Water Colour Painting and Clinical Practice

An article by guest writer Foo Keong Tatt. Refer to “About the Writer” at the end of the post.

Introduction

I am a practising Urologist at the Singapore General Hospital. As Urologists, we are attracted to water and like to go with the Flow! Storm may come and Go, but if you go with the flow you will eventually reach your Goal. The goal is to be at peace with the world.

I like water colour as an art medium as it is natural and simple. What you need is just the colour pigments and water available everywhere and a brush, to apply colour to the sketch book. It is a simple and inexpensive hobby.

Learning the Art

I started to learn how to sketch as a Boy Scout, when we went for hikes and camping. We were taught to be observant and to keep a log book with maps and sketches.

Below are some of my sketches and in my log book during undergraduate days
in the 1960’s.

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Over the years, these sketches become more sophisticated.

Hornbill seen on the tree tops in our Housing Estate at Bukit Timah (犀鸟喜上树梢 武吉知马居宅), 2012

Hornbill seen on the tree tops in our Housing Estate at Bukit Timah (犀鸟喜上树梢 武吉知马居宅), 2012

Bulbul in our garden (夜莺 花园), 2012

Bulbul in our garden (夜莺 花园), 2012

Kookaburra in the old Gum tree in Australia (笑翠鸟 古老橡胶树 澳大利亚), 2013

Kookaburra in the old Gum tree in Australia (笑翠鸟 古老橡胶树 澳大利亚), 2013

Later on in life as a Doctor, I attended many conferences overseas. I liked to sketch the various places I visited and put colour on them. If there is time, I did the sketches on the spot; otherwise, I would take photos or videos and do the pictures during my free time at home.

Sketch of limestone cave “San Bao Dong” in Ipoh in (溶洞素描 “三宝洞” 怡保), 1961

Sketch of limestone cave “San Bao Dong” in Ipoh in (溶洞素描 “三宝洞” 怡保), 1961

Ayer Itam Temple Penang (亚依淡庙 槟城), 2001

Ayer Itam Temple Penang (亚依淡庙 槟城), 2001

Hongkong waterfront (香港海滨), 2001

Hongkong waterfront (香港海滨), 2001

Golden temple Kyoto, Japan (京都金庙 日本), 2006

Golden temple Kyoto, Japan (京都金庙 日本), 2006

Sarawak River Kuching (砂拉越古晋河), 2010

Sarawak River Kuching (砂拉越古晋河), 2010

Bagan Myanmar (缅甸蒲甘), 2013

Bagan Myanmar (缅甸蒲甘), 2013

Sunset over Siray Bay, Phuket (西瑞湾日落 普吉岛), 2015

Sunset over Siray Bay, Phuket (西瑞湾日落 普吉岛), 2015

I learnt the basics of fine Art from my secondary school art teacher and later from the books. As in any basic art picture, composition is important with the one third rule, and the focal point of interests. Later, my Chinese Art Teacher, the late Mr Fang Chiu Pi also taught me the importance of empty spaces in the picture, to give the sense of peace and balance.

Penang Bayview (槟城湾景), 2007

Penang Bayview (槟城湾景), 2007

Yes, balance is the key, in nature, in life, in water colour painting as well as in our clinical practice as a medical Doctor. Without balance, a patient may be over treated, or under treated. Over investigations and over treatment can do more harm than good. Though the main stream medicine (allopathic medicine) is said to be a science, we need to know the Anatomy, physiology and Pathology; the actual practice of clinical medicine in real life is more an Art than a Science. This is because, in real life we are treating patients not the disease. Treating the disease is the easier part, as in would be all in the books. However, when it comes to treat Patient, a person with the disease, it is a different scenario.

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Often patients do not come with a ready diagnosis, they come with symptoms or combination of symptoms, and we need to sort out the important ones and make a diagnosis, and do various tests to confirm the diagnosis.

After the diagnosis, we need to know the prognosis for the particular patient and to predict the natural course of the disease. Most of the time, nature is the best healer. The body has its own defences and healing power, and the Doctor just need to facilitate the healing process. Too much interference may make the patient more ill. The clinician need to balance the benefits and the harmful side effects of the treatment planned.

Just like a good Artist, the Doctor need to have the correct perspective to achieve balance and harmony in his work. Of course the Doctor work is made more difficult as he cannot afford to make mistakes. Unlike the Artist, who can just tear up his work and start all over again!

To achieve good balance, like the Artist, the Doctor needs to know the basic fundamentals of clinical practice and when to intervene for the individual patient after making the diagnosis.

The first is whether the disease is life threatening, e.g. in patient with acute injury to the solid organs or obstruction to the airway. Also, whether there is cancer, however not all cancers are life threatening. Second, is the disease threatening any organs functions, e.g. the kidneys functions, the heart or liver functions. If so, then steps need to be taken to lessen the threat. For example, poorly control high blood pressure may lead to kidney failure or heart failure and also results in stroke. Third, is the disease causing any troublesome symptoms like pain or discomfort which would need relieve. If none of the above is present, then, it may be advisable to watch the situation. For example, a simple cyst in the kidney, which is not life threatening, not causing harmful effect to the kidney and has no symptoms can be left alone. Operating on the cyst may cause more harm than good. A less aggressive prostate cancer, especially in the older age group, is better observed than to treat, with its many side effects of treatment.

Thus when one is ill, getting a proper diagnosis is important as a first step. The next is decision making, and for that you would need an experienced Doctor to weigh the risks and benefits of various options for you. A Doctor whom you can trust, that whatever decision is done in your best interests.

The late Dr Earl Lu, a surgeon and an accomplished artist himself, well known for his painting of roses, once told us that, a good Artist goes through 3 phases in his life, very similar to the clinicians:
The first is “not the same”, (Bu Xiang 不像) whatever he draws is not up to the standard and not the same as the master.

The second phase is “the same” (Xiang 像): he is able to copy the work of the master and may be able to reproduce the exact copies.

The third phase is “not the same” again. (you bu xiang 又不像). But this time, he is now his own master artist, and produce original works which are not the same as any other, but is a class of his own.

Similarly, in clinical practice, the intern or junior resident work is not the same and need constant supervision from the seniors.

Next, the senior residents or junior consultants would be practicing evidence based medicine and follow the latest clinical guidelines, treating patients more or less the same.

Hopefully with more experience, they would involve to practising individualised medicine, for the particular patient in real life practise. He would be treating not just the disease but the individual with the disease, taking into account the patients’ age, anxiety and other co-existing conditions and his social economic background. Every patient is different and he thus need to individualise his treatment and personalised his care. In this way he would be practising a more balanced medicine and improve the care of his patients.

Balance: The Way Forward (Inle Lake Myanmar), (平衡:向前之道(茵莱湖 缅甸2013)), 2013

Balance: The Way Forward (Inle Lake Myanmar), (平衡:向前之道(茵莱湖 缅甸2013)), 2013

Huang Guo Shu Waterfall, China (黄果树瀑布 中国), Go with the Flow (顺流而下)

Huang Guo Shu Waterfall, China (黄果树瀑布 中国), Go with the Flow (顺流而下)

About the Author

I was born in Penang Malaysia, a fourth generation Hakka from the county of Yongding in Fujian Province. I studied Medicine at the University of Singapore and graduated 50 years ago. I have been in practice for the past 42 years at the Singapore General Hospital, and now employed as a Senior Consultant Urologist at Singapore General hospital, Clinical Professor at YLL School of medicine and Adjunct Professor at the Duke NUS Graduate medical school.

The Round House in the County of Yongding, Fujian China (土楼 福建永定 中国)

The Round House in the County of Yongding, Fujian China (土楼 福建永定 中国)

My ancestral House in Koukang village in Hakka county of Yongding (祖屋 永定客家县觉川村), 2010.  My Great-grandfather migrated from this village about 100 years ago (大约100年前,我的曾祖父移民离开这个村庄)

My ancestral House in Koukang village in Hakka county of Yongding (祖屋 永定客家县觉川村), 2010.
My Great-grandfather migrated from this village about 100 years ago (大约100年前,我的曾祖父移民离开这个村庄)

4 thoughts on “Water Colour Painting and Clinical Practice

  1. Hi Lam, you are a born artist. Anyway, beautiful paintings you have here. I have read your previous blog and found that you are a chinese porcelain rare spoon collector. I’m a beginner, and often travels to Singapore to my sis home. Possible for you to email me at haiqal.tan@gmail.com. i have a few questions to ask you about spoon collection. Thank you and best regards.

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