Some artists are inspired to draw or paint by bucolic scenery, but Ben Ferrer, RN, said he believes that being a nurse is what brought out his inner artist.

“There are different ways of drawing a portrait and one is to capture their essence,” said Ferrer, a nurse in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit (ICU) at Keck Hospital of USC. “I think years of nursing helped me see people for who they are.”

Ferrer started drawing about two-and-a-half years ago during a quiet night in the ICU. While chatting with a colleague, he drew her portrait even though he hadn’t drawn since he was a child. Colleagues praised his quick pencil sketch, both for the likeness and for capturing her cheerful nature.

Since that time, portraiture has become something of a second job for Ferrer. He has drawn portraits of nearly all of the staff of the cardiothoracic ICU, as well as dozens of patients who have passed through his care in the last couple of years.

When drawing his patients, Ferrer illustrates them as they are before him in the ICU — wearing hospital gowns, tubes attached to arms and sometimes noses — but the most important thing to Ferrer is to capture something of their personality that shines through in spite of the circumstances.

“I want them to realize that I see them for who they are and not just room numbers,” said Ferrer.

Ferrer said working the night shift affords him the unique opportunity to get to know his patients a little better. By the time he shows up for duty at 7 in the evening, most of his patients are settling in for some rest.

“It’s less chaotic at night,” he said. “We sometimes get the chance to really talk to our patients.” And to draw their portraits.

In the portrait of Lavinia Brooks tacked on the wall of her room, she is smiling wryly. “Ben is a wonderful person,” she said, adding that the portrait is a reminder of her mantra to keep smiling in the middle of the storm.

— Hope Hamashige