Paint, Paper and Watercolors with Dr. Raya Saba

When she’s not busy pursuing her third year of fellowship in the WashU Oncology division, Dr. Raya Saba finds time to get creative with paints and other mediums.

Growing up in Damascus, Syria, Raya’s parents were followers of art, literature, and music, and her Mom enjoyed painting with oils. This introduction from her family began Raya’s love for art. Raya attended medical school in Syria, but the thought of going to art school for a career was financially not an option. After her family left Syria to move to Canada, Raya joined them once she finished medical school with plans to come to the US for her residency. Raya worked on the Bone Marrow unit at Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago and was able to work with several attending on various research projects that led to her fellowship now at WashU since 2020.

Raya Saba, MD

Raya’s work has ebbed and flowed over the years while she pursued a degree at the University of Damascus in Syria and then onto clinical work at Northwestern University in Chicago. She landed at WashU in 2016 and has found herself drawn back to the craft table to sketch, watercolor, design jewelry, and now make candles. Creating is a way to help her disengage from the medical world and express herself through various art mediums.

She initially started painting with acrylics on small canvases and, over time, increased the to a larger surface like those you might have spotted when walking Farrell Learning and Teaching Center (FLTC). Raya said she finds inspiration through social media, walks around the city, and uses things that catch her eye as inspiration for the paintings she creates. She enjoys painting portraits along with the human body and has created collages combining paper and paint, working with human body images.

I do like mixed media and have worked with watercolors, charcoals, acrylic inks on paper and incorporate some watercolor. Every medium you work with gives you a different type of expression or different feel you may not be able to achieve with other mediums.

The Art Institute of Chicago has a current Dali exhibition—the first devoted to the Spanish Surrealist presenting more than 30 paintings, drawings, photos, and surrealist objects that she recently went to enjoy. She shared that it was such a fantastic experience to see the artist’s work in person. You don’t have to have the same style, but you find inspiration in seeing other artists’ work and taking away ideas to adapt and use for your own work.

Street art, exhibit, museums and all the amazing things shared on social…in fact that is one of the good things about social is it allows you to see artwork from artists all over the world that normally would be difficult to access. It’s so inspiring.

Raya shares that a big part of the reason she paints as an adult is because it’s such an excellent outlet from her daily work. Painting allows her to use a different part of her brain that wouldn’t be stimulated otherwise when she’s reading, studying or working in medicine. Raya shares, “There’s definitely been many times I force myself to paint but sometimes I feel like I need to go paint that it would be good for me. It’s like exercise for my mind. Doing something with my hands that is different from my daily role, definitely helps me feel better afterwards.”

Over the years Raya has volunteered with the Arts as Healing Foundation here in St. Louis and helped support their fundraising events – including one this this upcoming Saturday. Arts as Healing Foundation provides art teaching and classes to cancer patients and survivors and welcomes support, donations and participation in their events.  Many of their collective art pieces, including a special fellowship program piece, can be found spread across the 11th floor halls in the MCC building.

Several years after being in St. Louis, Raya met her future husband and recently got married, and now has a furry family of two cats and a dog. (who may soon find themselves the focus of one of Raya’s future pieces) If you’ve not made your way over to FLTC, be sure to take the time over the next several weeks to stop and view Raya’s art. And to see more of Raya’s personal art collection, you can find those via her Instagram page.