ALBANY, Ga. -- Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., Albany plastic surgeon Jefferson Davis stretched linen canvases on frames in exchange for three hours of professional art lessons per week.
"Edith Saunders taught me about color, tone, texture and value," Davis said. "She taught me about washes and how oil is the reverse of watercolor in that with oil you work from dark to light. You have to think out watercolor more than oil and work from light to dark.
"But my mother (Clarice Tyson David) was the one who provided me with the encouragement and all the art supplies I needed. She told me I had unusual artistic ability, and she made me believe it. That's where it comes from."
So Davis stretched canvases, learned and painted for more than seven years until it was time for college. Then he faced a dilemma. Should he paint a swath as an artist or, like his father before him, pursue a career in medicine?
Torn, he chose both.
Davis wove his love for oils, watercolors and medicine into a career as a plastic surgeon whose patients are his canvases; his artwork, happy, transformed people.
"There are many parallels between art and plastic surgery," Davis said. "Watercolors don't lend themselves to mistakes. Once you commit with a brush, you can't take it back. Once an incision is made, you can't take that back either."
Davis' art career took a serious turn at Wake Forest University, where several of his professors noticed his drawings of specimens were exceptional.
"Dr. Charles Allen, a professor of biology and also my advisor, provided the spark," Davis said. "He gave me a set of Crow Quill pens and ink and paper, along with the book 'Anatomy for Artists.'
"And he told me to 'go at it'."
So Davis drew and painted while spending nearly two decades in formal medical education and training.
He graduated with a B.S. from Wake Forest before earning his D.D.S. at the University of North Carolina and his M.D. from Duke University.
Then he spent six years as an assistant professor at UNC, teaching plastic, cosmetic, oculoplastic surgery and dentistry before going into practice in Albany in 1994.
"My family and I chose Albany because my grandfather's roots are in Adel," Davis recalled. "We were attracted to the area because of the beauty, the wildlife and the people. These are our kind of folks."
Davis still paints, earning occasional commissions for his crow quill and classic watercolors, utilizing skills that serve him well in the operating room.
"I think an artist's eye sees the difference in subtleties of line, shape, shade and contour," Davis said. "My work, like art, is refined and meticulously detailed."
But Davis' love of art extends deeper than that.
"I find joy in being creative both on canvas and in the operating room," he said. "All I have been doing is developing a God-given gift I did not deserve. I used the 3D ability to reason tone, texture and shape and pass it on to my patients.
"The manual dexterity involved in a procedure has an impact on the outcome. The planning of a procedure, and considering that each patient's body and tissue has its own characteristics, is rooted deeply in my art training."
Aside from his practice, has Davis gotten anything else from his artwork?
"It's given me an intense appreciation for other artists, especially fantastic local artists like David Lanier," he said.
"When I paint, and when I work, I get the same feeling as a musician (Davis also plays the piano) when playing alone. It's a very relaxing, sensuous feeling. I love it."
And so do his patients.