Life at sea a fine art for Navy personnel

Rockingham artist Andy Quilty and Military Arts Program founder Leza Howie with some of the art packs that will be sent to HMAS Arunta.
HMAS Sirius sailors with art packs they received as part of the Military Arts Program.
Rockingham artist Andy Quilty and Military Arts Program founder Leza Howie with some of the art packs that will be sent to HMAS Arunta. HMAS Sirius sailors with art packs they received as part of the Military Arts Program.

NAVY personnel deployed on ships from HMAS Stirling are being encouraged to try their hand at drawing to help them relax and de-stress while away for extended periods.

The fleet tanker HMAS Sirius was the first warship to take part in the Military Arts Program when it received 20 Art in the Field drawing packs last November.

The packs have been developed by Leza Howie, the founder of the program and wife of a special forces soldier, to help defence personnel deal with the pressures of military life.

They contain enough materials and information to have a go and try the arts experience in pastel pencil, graphite pencil, acrylic or water colour painting for several weeks or months.

A consignment of 30 packs are due to be sent to the frigate HMAS Arunta, currently on a nine-month deployment to the Middle East, next week.

Ms Howie said they had been developed to encourage personnel to try art.

“Art has this capability of settling and calming people,” she said.

“We’ve had the first group of navy guys sending stuff back to us and the work is amazing.

“The biggest surprise so far from the program is the talent of some of these people.”

Ms Howie said there were lots of opportunities for defence personnel to engage in physical exercises, but there were not many choices for mental health activities.

“For many people it has helped them focus their minds, find ways to communicate and connect, or uncover an area of interest, a hidden talent they want to further explore and develop.”

Rockingham artist Andy Quilty is a patron of the MAP and has held several workshops with defence personnel.

He said there was also a good sense of achievement of creating artworks and was a skill that lasted a lifetime.

“Just being able to switch off for an hour is really important, it’s a form of meditation,” he said.

“Art is one of those things that no matter how old you are you can do it.”

Ms Howie said there had been a solid demand for the packs from navy personnel.

“They want this, they’ve got physical activities but not a lot of mental activities and this is something that they’ve never had before,” she said.

“One of the focuses of the program is not just to help people at the end of their career but try and show people that are still in or at the start of their career that if you undertake an activity like this it might help you during your career.”

HMAS Sirius commanding officer Mike Obom said it was exciting to see the “very different” initiative being used as another method to help navy personnel be resilient.

“Drawing or painting something other than a ship’s side certainly can help our people get in touch with a range of emotions experienced while away from home,” Cmdr Obom said.

“But it’s not a pastime usually undertaken on a navy warship.”

Ms Howie is constantly fundraising for the packs and received support from Global Construction Services who provided funding for 500 packs and she was aiming to have 1000 by Anzac Day.

She said there should be art rooms on every defence establishment in Australia and said the Department of Defence should take over the running of the program as part of its mental health services.

For further details visit Military Art Program on Facebook.