Drew Sarka has two different lives. And even though they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, neither diminishes the other. In fact, the longtime Denver family doctor and award-winning painter says his jobs keep him in balance—and each enhances the other.
Sarka, who has a medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine, came to Colorado on residency and didn’t want to leave. Today, he runs a medical practice in Aurora. As a painter, he is known for his representational oil paintings of everything from mountainscapes to flowers inspired by the Centennial State. His work has appeared in more than 30 exhibitions across the country, and one of his paintings won first place in the 19th annual Estes Park Lines Into Shapes art exhibit. We spent some time tapping into both the left and right sides of Sarka’s brain.
What led you to become a doctor? I knew I wanted to work with people. In high school, I had a neighbor who was a nurse, and she allowed me to meet some physicians and spend time following them around. That’s when I knew I wanted to do that.
When did you discover a love for art, too? I’ve always been interested in art, even as a child. But I never really pursued it until my father bought me a paint set when I went to college. He was a painter, and his father was a painter. It runs in the family.
He encouraged me to do something other than studying, which I had a habit of doing a little too much. He thought it’d be a good way to balance my life. Sometimes parents know best, because without it now, I wouldn’t feel as fulfilled doing medicine.
How do you keep the two activities balanced? During college and medical training, which was about 11 years total, I would probably log 60 to 80 hours a week working and studying. Now I’m in a normal job where I work 45 to 50 hours a week, sometimes less, and I have time on my hands, comparatively.
But it’s certainly not a chore.
I definitely get energy from painting. It does take a lot of focus, but at the same time, because it’s something I love so much, as long as I’m not completely exhausted when I start, I end up having more energy when I’m done painting than when I started.
Why do you think it’s important to have both in your life? It makes me a better person. Patients have commented that art makes me a better doctor, and in some ways, being a physician makes me a better painter.
Practicing medicine is wonderful in many ways, but at the same time, it can be very exhausting physically and emotionally, being that engaged with your patients. So doing something on your day off that is different, but still intellectually stimulating, is a great way to balance the two and recharge you in a healthy way.
It makes me more content and happy with my life, doing both.
It satisfies different parts of your brain.
How does being a doctor inform your painting? There’s the image of the wild, Bohemian painter out there, but a lot of the professional artists I know who are truly gifted and masters of their craft sometimes approach it much more methodologically. I certainly do.
You learn to analyze and study things in medicine, and I use those qualities to improve my artistic work. A few years ago, I decided I would start to try to understand painting in a more analytic, scientific way. What makes one painting better than another? How do I improve my process?
I began taking notes and being critical, in a good way, of what I was doing, and I came up with a very thoughtful checklist that tries to encompass everything I’ve learned from different sources and people, about composition and color and values and design. I use this as a way of critiquing the subject before I even start painting.
I’m much happier with my paintings. I seem to be getting to where I want to be easier, partly because I have such a very clear focus on where I want to go with the painting.
How would you describe your art? One of my focuses is in trying to find the beauty and interesting designs in the everyday that we all experience. What I would love for people to do when they see my paintings is be reminded of the wonderful things that are in their own backyard.
Where can we see your work? It’s currently in the Light Rail Gallery in Arvada. Starting in September, see it in Washington Park’s historic Dos Chappell Bathhouse. In the past, it was in the National Oil and Acrylic Painter’s Society online show and the Greeley National Art Show.
Learn more about Sarka online at drewsarkapaints.com.