By Caitlin Clark
Nurses provide the best care when they are at the peak of wellness — physically, mentally, and emotionally. For Hanna Nichole Braaten, a senior in the School of Nursing’s bachelor of science in nursing program, mental health self-care comes in the form of creating art. The aspiring pediatric nurse practitioner uses various art forms for self-expression, stress management, and education. Her latest project, The Intricacies of Nursing, tells the story of her nursing school journey through stitch art.
How long have you been doing stitch art? What inspired you to learn the craft?
Growing up, I would watch my great aunt Betty cross-stitch large masterpieces of teddy bears and flower-filled scenes. Her cross-stitch artwork, an embodiment of her work ethic and attention to detail, is something I always admired and felt inspired by. I could not wait to create my own artwork with needle and thread. It was not until two years ago when I enrolled in Introduction to Textile Design, a course [in] UW–Madison’s Textile and Fashion Design program, that I first started to embroider. Our first assignment was to fill a piece of cloth with stitches. I secured a swatch of cotton to a makeshift embroidery hoop that I had made from a shiny, blue Royal Dansk cookie tin and sewed my first few stitches. In that moment, I felt more deeply connected to my great aunt Betty than ever before.
Do you create with any other mediums? If so, which is your favorite?
I work with a variety of mediums! I hope to continue to grow my skills in embroidery, acrylic painting, digital photo collaging, and digital patternmaking. While I enjoy the structure of embroidery, there is something lovely about the free-flowing nature of goopy paint or the spontaneity of digital patternmaking anywhere and anytime right on the phone.
What do you get out of creating art? What role has art played in your life?
Imagine yourself plopped in the sand on the Amalfi Coast, toes in the sand and lemonade in-hand. This is where my mind goes when I create art—on vacation. It takes me to a mental space of relaxation and infinite possibility, a much-needed escape from the stress of hectic workdays and library-filled nights. In addition to being an escape, I am thankful for the voice that art gives me. It is my favorite means of expressing my emotions and educating a large audience.
The idea for this collection budded as I was studying physiology and reconfiguring complex concepts into art out of necessity. For example, redrawing processes of endocrine activity and glycolysis with organic shapes and bright colors boosted my understanding of the material immensely.
What inspired the idea to incorporate your nursing school experience into your art?
The idea for this collection budded as I was studying physiology and reconfiguring complex concepts into art out of necessity. For example, redrawing processes of endocrine activity and glycolysis with organic shapes and bright colors boosted my understanding of the material immensely. I figured that, if I was having trouble understanding content out of a textbook, my peers were, too. I couldn’t help but think, “Why not help others understand this difficult material through art?”
This inspired my first embroidery of the magical and perplexing female reproductive system. From here, my embroidery collection grew from solely focusing on science-based concepts to nursing concepts as I started studying how to be the best nurse possible every day. To embody nursing through embroidery and help others conceptualize aspects of the profession has been extremely fulfilling.
What makes art and nursing so uniquely paired?
Artists and nurses operate on a very similar wavelength. The work that artists and nurses do is a labor of love that requires passion, drive, and dedication. Both professions focus on constant learning, development of skills, and educating others. Just as nurses pour their hearts into caring for patients, artists spill their souls into the creation of each masterpiece.
What do you hope exhibit goers will get out of the experience?
My first hope is that exhibit goers leave with a better understanding of nursing as a science, profession, and art … maybe even feel so inclined as to thank a nurse, too. My second hope is that exhibit goers are inspired to pursue their passions, making the world a better, brighter place along the way.
What would you say to nurses who want to create but are holding back?
There is a quote by Pablo Picasso that I really like — “Action is the foundational key to all success.” This is coming from someone who created roughly 50,000 works of art in his lifetime ranging from sculptures to paintings to sketches. Drawing from the advice of Picasso, my advice to nurses who want to create, but are holding back, is to set small and achievable, time-based goals. Then, begin each day with the intention to meet your goal.
Are there any other nurse artists you would recommend checking out?
Yes! Kimberly Joy Magbanua is an extremely talented nurse artist. She uses syringes filled with paint to create gorgeous portraits and flower scenes. You can find her art under the username @kimjoymm on Instagram.
Note: The Intricacies of Nursing has been on display in Enroth Hall, located in Signe Skott Cooper Hall, since January 29, 2020. While the exhibit will be on display through the end of June, it is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, we have compiled photos of the collection for your viewing at home. We hope you enjoy the artwork as much as we do!