How one GP made the shift to full-time artist

Ben Falkenmire


Ben Falkenmire


Ben Falkenmire

Dr Christine Read used her GP skills to realise her lifelong painting dream…

The sub-tropical region of the Northern Rivers is more often than not a feature in Dr Christine Read’s paintings. Wind swept beaches with charging lines of foam, pastoral scenes so tranquil you can almost hear the small birds peeping, or small town streets void of cars and people but full of life.

Her husband instigated the move from Sydney over a decade ago, drawn by the world-renowned surf at Lennox Head, but you can sense Christine, a former GP and practitioner for 41 years, is inspired by her surrounds.

During the week, 73-year-old Christine is busy painting, selling her paintings, and teaching art classes at the Lennox Arts Collective, a gallery on the main street of Lennox Head. Before the pandemic she also led art tours trips to France. Long gone are the days of patient consults and paperwork.

“Medicine is all encompassing, and it takes over your life. I really enjoyed the interactions with my patients and it taught me a lot, but I don’t regret retiring from it. I have a really nice life now. It’s like being on holiday all the time,” Christine says.

Early promise as a creative

Art was part of family life when Christine was growing up. Her mother painted and both of her parents maintained an enthusiastic interest in the arts and attending galleries.

It seemed only natural Christine was drawn to art at high school, where she won prizes for her efforts and sold screen-printed textiles to other students, before the more secure pathway of becoming a doctor took hold.

“Art was the centre of my life as a child and adolescent, and I always had a dream that I could become a full-time artist,” she says.

“I had a bit of a split personality in that I did art and science and loved both. Throughout my life I have always drawn and then I would have times where I didn’t do a lot. When I was thinking of moving out of general practice, I started to think about the things I’ve always wanted to do.”

The move away from GP life

After working as a GP for 23 years in and around Manly, it was not a straightforward jump back into painting. Life is rarely that simple.

It started with Christine, who was approaching 50 at the time, reconnecting with drawing through some art classes, spending more of her clinical time focusing on women’s and reproductive health, which she particularly enjoyed.

“I felt that the practice was broadening so much that I couldn’t keep up. I thought, I really like women’s health and reproductive and sexual health and I’d like to work more in that area,” she says.

“With my network, I ended up getting a few different jobs and putting them together, including some teaching with Family Planning NSW, which I wanted to try.”

Other work included one day a week at the Royal Hospital for Women, doing clinical research at UNSW, and managing a clinic in Dubbo for Family Planning NSW. The Dubbo assignment led to her being offered the role of Medical Director.

It was a job offer she could not refuse, Christine explains. Drawing classes fell by the wayside, but even in her new, exciting role, the idea of the artist life could not be tamed.

An even bigger jump to Lennox

The big change happened when Christine was approaching another milestone age, 60 years, and her husband wanted to move north to craft surfboards, having restored Edwardian and Victorian fireplaces for most of his life.

The problem was Christine loved her role with Family Planning. To test the waters, she started clearing out her desk without anyone noticing, to see what leaving felt like. Nine months later, she was ready to pick up the artist dream where she had left it.

“When I moved up to the north coast, where a lot of artists and creatives are, I just went right: this is my chance. I’m going to really go for it,” says Christine.

“We bought a house on a split level block and there was a space under the house. I said to my husband, I could put a studio in there. So we built a studio.”

She eventually found the Lennox Art Collective gallery and paid rent for space, complementing her home studio. She then decided she would offer art classes, which are attended by people from across the region.

“I had never taught art before, but I had done lots of teaching of doctors, and I have always been fascinated by art history and know a lot about it, so I just did it,” Christine says.

Time to leave medicine behind

Painting sales and class income were supplemented by consulting work for Family Planning NSW and pharmacy companies in women’s reproductive health. Christine describes this three-year period as a trial, to test if she was really ready to leave medicine behind.

“Although I had superannuation, I knew that it wasn’t fantastic. So I thought, if I can pay my way in the collective and make a little bit of money, then I can give up the other jobs and go back to them if I needed to— but I didn’t need to,” she says.

“My life of medicine has really led me to teaching art and leading art retreats. I use the communication skills I learned at the bedside and the education skills I learned as a medical educator.”

Since 2016, Christine has lived and worked as an artist. But it’s not all about painting oil on canvases. She also manages the gallery’s books with another woman, making sure every artist gets paid on a weekly basis, and then there are all of her class participants to look out for.

“There’s a therapeutic element to teaching people. You get people who are widowed or lonely, and I had a teacher who was very stressed. I am not afraid of intervening, but I try and do it in a gentle way,” says Christine.

“I have a sense of leading people on a holistic creative journey that improves their approach to their lives.”

Thinking of non-clinical work? Christine shares some tips

1. For inspiration, look to your late school years and what you enjoyed then. Often, people were good at something creative, like writing or music.

2. It’s OK to ease in. “You don’t have to necessarily give up everything. A lot of doctors have a balanced lifestyle. GPs are always in great demand, and there are a lot of positions where you can work part time,” Christine says.

3. Just give it a shot. “You just need to be brave enough. You have to be able to take a risk and put another hat on and give it a try. Once you’re doing it, it’s kind of fun.”

Check out Christine Read’s art at

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Ben Falkenmire


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