Pro Artist Spotlight: Eddie Conway on Art as a Therapy During War

July 22, 2018 0 Comments

Pro Artist Spotlight: Eddie Conway on Art as a Therapy During War

We first discovered Eddie when he posted a mindblowing picture of himself painting on the Art Satchel in Ireland.

After chatting a bit with him and hearing more about his background as a former Royal Marines Commando, we were really curious to understand the kind of role that art played in his life.

...unsurprisingly, the story we got from him was nothing short of amazing:

How can art be a form of therapy? What are 'combat art kits'? What would make a former Commando switch to a full-time art career? And have you heard of extreme art making? 

Let's hear it from Eddie!

- Ânia, Etchr Community Influencer

Hi! My name is Eddie Conway and I’m an Environment Artist from Ireland and a former Royal Marines Commando.

I served five years in the Corps and was deployed to conflict zones across the globe ranging from anti-piracy off the coast of Somalia to a frontline tour in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

Throughout my time, I recorded my experiences in a sketchbook, a diary and with a camera.

Art has been used as a form of therapy since the First World War.

It's safe to say that Art Therapy changed - and in some cases even saved - the lives of many Marines suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). 

During our six month tour in Afghanistan in 2012, we received combat art kits that contained high-quality art materials. Those kits were designed so they could fit into our map pocket. 

The idea was for us to document what we were going through in the theatre of war. This opened up avenues of communication in a way that didn't make Royal Marines vocalize any traumatic experiences due to the fact that logic and language is on one side of the brain and creativity is on the other.

A common way for a Marine to honour and commemorate a fallen comrade is a remembrance tattoo. This usually involves a poppy, dog tags, and a corps epitaph:

"When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today."

I drew dozens of these tattoos for friends and saw first hand the role this form of art plays in grieving.

On my return from Afghanistan in 2013, other Royal Marine Commandos and I were featured in an exhibition that toured the UK. It was amazing to see how well it was received. I have loved art since I can remember, but the success of this tour inspired me to pursue it as a full-time career. 

Having already traveled the world behind fully automatic weaponry, I decided it was time to go and see it from a different point of view.

...that’s when I swapped the barrel of a 50 caliber machine gun for the 50mm Canon lens.

Photo by @ciandr1

Plein air painting is a cornerstone of my artistic process.

Even though I take my camera with me to shoot references, painting from nature allows me to see limitless colour variation as well as colour in shadow that cannot be captured with just photography.

“Viewers will see the subject, but feel colour and light.”

- James Gurney

Outdoor conditions force you to adapt to the changing light and paint rapidly. Due to this, you cannot focus on detail and must try to capture that exact moment in time; the sounds, the smells and how it felt to be there.

When you paint from life, you will only be judged by your interpretation. If you need to move a mountain for the sake of your compositions then do so!

We need to get out more often.

A lot of us artists spend our days crouched over a Cintiq or drawing board indoors. It's easy to forget how beneficial it is to get outdoors and get some exercise.

About once a week, I try to get out into the wilderness with my friend Cian (@ciandr1) who is a photographer. We collaborate and share ideas about the landscapes we visit.

This process often leads to us both producing a separate piece of work with our own unique interpretation of the same place through our preferred medium. Sometimes this leads to interesting conversations that help to bolster and enhance our own distinct creative processes.

As a plein air enthusiast, I’m delighted to be part of the Etchr Lab community and a Pro Ambassador for their products, and I’m excited to keep using their tools to help me in my creative endeavors.

The materials used in their bags are the same as the ones we had in the Marines - and if it's good enough to go on military operations in the most extreme environments around the globe, then it's good enough to venture into: the jungle, up mountains or even into the Arctic! 

I plan to animate a short film about my tour in Afghanistan at Vancouver Film School, where I will be on the Concept Art Program this year. My dream job would be to work on the new Star Wars movies at ILM as a concept artist.

Follow me on Instagram! I'm looking forward to sharing my art and experiences with you all. Let's get covered in mud, soaked by the rain and have our watercolour paintings destroyed by the elements!

- Eddie Conway

Instagram / Facebook / ArtStation

PS: Check out the recently published "Art Therapy With Military Veterans", by Janice Lobban. I have been incorporated into the book, where I share some more of my art and perspectives.

Photo by @ciandr1

In what ways has art helped you out?

As creative people, we often rely on art to express and process our feelings and emotions. Is this true for you as well?

We'd love to read your thoughts in the comment section below!