The profession of optometry, while fulfilling and rewarding, isn’t always creative. Healthcare is a science. Optometrists each learn the same technical skills, which they universally apply to a single part of the human body. With such technical, meticulous careers, optometrists must often go outside of their day jobs to express themselves. The creation of art is one way doctors can share their thoughts and feelings with the world.
Meet four of ICO’s many artistic alumni. Each uses a different medium to relax, entertain, and delight. While optometry school teaches vital skills, these individuals also learned life lessons from their own creations.
NICHOLAS OLBERDING, OD ’13
Practice: Advanced Eyecare Assoc.
Hiking, biking, fishing, archery, the great outdoors… these are a few of Nicholas Olberding, OD ’13’s favorite things. So, when he broke an ankle in 2015, he needed a new hobby to challenge himself during recovery. Dr. Olberding never enjoyed leisurely activities like watching television or reading for extended periods. Instead, he turned to a favorite passion of his father- woodcarving.
Since his dad already had the tools and knowledge, it was convenient for Dr. Olberding to give it a try. He’d consult his father whenever he had questions. “I did a couple of pieces, thought they turned out nice, and I enjoyed the time doing it,” he says. “I thought I’d keep going.” Today, Dr. Olberding is back on his feet, practicing optometry, enjoying the outdoors, getting married in July… and still carving.
While woodcarving isn’t a mainstream hobby, Dr. Olberding finds it easy and affordable to get into. All you need is “an idea of what you want to carve.” For large pieces of wood, he begins with a band saw. Then, for smaller details, he uses a variety of rotary and burning tools. The finished wood is usually painted or stained. Though the options are nearly endless, Dr. Olberding insists that anyone can carve with “a block of wood and a hand chisel or knife.”
Dr. Olberding can’t accurately say how long a finished product takes. Carving is a great medium for multitasking.
He often carves while watching a baseball game or relaxing outside. Many of Dr. Olberding’s pieces portray wildlife, especially birds. These creations are a testament to his love of conservation and nature. He also creates Christmas Santas, and recently finished a piece inspired by Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue. Dr. Olberding’s favorite piece is still the house wren, his first-ever carving.
While there aren’t any carvings in his office (yet,) Dr. Olberding feels that woodcarving and optometry work well together. Both require patience and a detail-oriented personality. “Sometimes, our careers get repetitive,” he says. “It’s nice to have that outlet where you can think about our world in a more abstract or creative manner.” He aspires to connect woodcarving and optometry. “I would like to have a piece someday that demonstrates the human eye in a unique and magnificent way. I’m just waiting for that idea to come to me.”
The Lesson: Challenge yourself to improve every day, no matter the obstacle.
Christopher Banna, OD ’14
Practice: Professional Eye Care Center
“We’re all capable of some art at any age,” says Christopher Banna, OD ’14. “I started with sketching little cartoons when I was young, but I never stopped.” Dr. Banna remembers drawing Tom and Jerry, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and other favorites. “I got a lot of encouragement from my parents just to keep going.” He remembers visiting the Art Institute with his dad. This familial support helped turn Dr. Banna’s childhood love of sketching into a passion for charcoals, watercolors, acrylics, and oils.
“I’m mostly self-taught,” Dr. Banna explains. He tried a few art classes, but, “art is difficult to set on a regimen.” For him, the desire to paint doesn’t arrive on any kind of schedule. “What strikes up inspiration,” Dr. Banna says, “is if I see something with a lot of detail in it- if it has a lot of highlights and values. Then, I get to thinking, ‘How can I put it on a canvas?’”
Dr. Banna enjoys still life- fruits, flowers, urban architecture- and a little bit of portraiture. “Portraits are kind of harder,” he jokes. “The person will know if it’s not looking right.” Dr. Banna gives away most of his work to friends and family. His parents love their bright, fresh-looking strawberry painting. His favorite piece, a painting of the Chicago “L” train, was a wedding gift for a friend.
Each painting can take a month or longer to complete. Finding the time to be both a doctor and a painter can be difficult. Thankfully, his co-workers support the hobby, including fellow ICO grad Pamela Lowe, OD ’88. Says Dr. Banna, “It’s a struggle, but it is a good stress reliever and a way to express yourself.” For him, the discipline it takes to balance art and optometry is worthwhile.
The Lesson: Make time to find beauty in everyday things.
Robin Rinearson, OD ’77
Practice: Nova Vision Center
Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia
Art: Fused glass
Whenever her first husband was home from the military, Robin Rinearson, OD ’77, helped him create stained glass. She was fascinated by his talent. “He was magnificent at it,” she says. Dr. Rinearson would help with the metalwork and soldering, but says, “I really was awful at it.”
Wanting to get better, she took some classes with a friend. As it turned out, the art of glass bead making was fit for an optometrist. The hand movements of polishing and modifying hard contact lenses were so like creating beads that Dr. Rinearson excelled immediately. “I made earrings. I made necklaces. I made pens… any kind of thing that you could stick a bead on, I made it!” she says.
Dr. Rinearson began merging her hobbies. Home remodeling collided with glasswork when she was making a backsplash for behind her stove. “I didn’t want a piece of metal and I didn’t want basic tile,” she explains. She found two-inch, square, fused glass squares at Home Depot Expo, and was “jazzed about it.” For the price, though, Dr. Rinearson wondered if she could make her own. Her friend agreed to host a tile-making party, and again, Dr. Rinearson was baffled. “None of my stuff came out.”
She eventually learned that different-colored glasses had to be fused in a specific order. Additionally, says Dr. Rinearson, “When you’re working with hot glass, all the glass has to have the same COE (coefficient of expansion.) If you put glass together that doesn’t have the same COE,” it will break.
Dr. Rinearson became so passionate that she bought her own kiln. Her home now features glass tiles in the kitchen and bathroom, plus decorative knobs and fixtures. She makes wind chimes, jewelry, sconces, sun catchers, dishes, and more.
“A firing cycle to fuse pieces of glass takes anywhere from 14 to 20 hours,” she says. This does not include any “cold working” that must be done, such as smoothing edges or adding embellishments. Dr. Rinearson practices optometry 40-50 hours a week alongside William “Dodge” Perry, OD ’08. So, she slowly collects projects over time for when she can finally fire up the kiln.
In addition to time, working with fused glass can cost significant money. Black, white, and clear glass is affordable, but Dr. Rinearson calls purples and reds “astronomically expensive.” She remembers a time when she broke a 65-dollar piece of glass meant to be a table inlay. “I didn’t want to do anything for a month because I was just so annoyed with myself.” Thankfully, even broken pieces can be incorporated into fun designs. “I think symmetry and things that match are overrated,” she laughs.
Dr. Rinearson is “not so inclined to sell” her work. Instead, she donates to fundraisers, including ICO Homecoming. Her confession: The first time she was asked to create wind chimes for ICO in “the school’s colors,” she did not know what those colors were. At least they aren’t purple and red!
The Lesson: The first try isn’t always pretty. Never give up!
Charlie Donlea, OD ’99
Practice: Premier Eye Care & Surgery Barrington and Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Art: Suspense Novels
Sometimes, the talent of one person inspires creation in another. When Charlie Donlea, OD ’99, read John Grisham’s The Firm, he was hooked. “It is still so good in my mind,” says Dr. Donlea. “It’s such a good suspense novel that I thought, at some point in my life, I am going to write a book.” Dr. Donlea read The Firm in college. His first story idea came in 1999. Still, it took many years for success to hit.
Dr. Donlea began the writing process in earnest after graduating from ICO. However, with no deadlines and nobody pressuring him, he took his time. “I tended to procrastinate the story a lot and only write when I was inspired,” he explains. “It is a recipe for why people tend to take three or four years to write their first book.”
His first manuscript was rejected. In fact, says Dr. Donlea, “I wrote three failed manuscripts over the course of a decade.” When his agent told him to scrap his third manuscript and start over, Dr. Donlea almost quit entirely. “I was really disappointed with the fact that I just couldn’t break into the industry.” When he stopped writing, that’s when Dr. Donlea realized “the purpose of [his] life.” He wasn’t sad about the rejection. “It was that I stopped chasing my dream… the process of doing. It was what I loved.”
Summit Lake, Dr. Donlea’s first book, came out last year. It sold overseas in 10 different countries. The success of Summit Lake turned a 2-book deal from New York Publishers into a 4-book contract. His second book, The Girl Who Was Taken, was written in 8 months and is now on shelves. Both are suspense novels- Dr. Donlea’s favorite genre. They are set in “quaint, sort of small towns,” reminiscent of places he visited in Canada as a child.
While Dr. Donlea’s novels were inspired by specific authors and places, he knows his work will strike each reader differently. “Books are alive, in a sense,” he says. “A book means something different for each reader… and for the author who is producing it. If that’s not the definition of art, I’m not sure what is.”
Dr. Donlea’s career as an author sees him touring, teaching, and waking up early each morning to write. His schedule must also include time for optometry and family. “I love optometry and I love my private practice. I am a husband and a father. My family is more important to me than anything else,” he says. How does he balance it all? “No sleep. Give up sleep. Who needs it?” He will at least get a break soon. Dr. Donlea and his wife are celebrating 20 years of marriage with “a nice vacation.”
The Lesson: If you miss it when it’s gone, it’s worth doing.
To see more of Dr. Donlea’s work, visit www.charliedonlea.com.
Are you an artist? Share your work with ICO by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your work could appear in the online version of ICO Matters!