In the world of special operations, Navy SEALs are known for their elite training, unwavering dedication, and unyielding commitment to protecting their nation. But what happens when one of these warriors transitions from the battlefield to the realm of art and creativity? The answer lies in the remarkable story of Justin Hughes, a former Navy SEAL whose post-military life has taken an unexpected and inspiring turn into the world of art.
Justin Hughes is a Navy SEAL who spent time fighting ISIS on the front lines in Mosul, Iraq. His journey from the intense training and operations of the Navy SEALs to the world of art may seem unconventional, but it is a testament to the multifaceted talents and passions that often lie beneath the surface of these elite soldiers. Hughes is an accomplished painter, and through it a storyteller. By sharing his story and using his art to connect with others, he inspires individuals to embrace their own creative potential as a means of healing and self-expression.
Hughes’s art is a powerful medium through which he continues to express himself and connect with people in a profound way. His paintings often depict scenes from his military experiences and convey the intensity, camaraderie, and sacrifice that are part and parcel of a Navy SEAL’s life. Through his work, he invites us to glimpse into the world of the silent professionals and appreciate their dedication and sacrifices.
One of the remarkable aspects of Hughes’s art is how it blends his military background with his creative spirit. His paintings evoke strong emotions and often tell the untold stories of his fellow SEALs, offering a unique perspective on the brotherhood forged in the crucible of war. His artwork allows us to see the human side of these elite warriors, acknowledging their vulnerabilities, fears, and triumphs.
Justin Hughes’s journey from the battlefield to the canvas exemplifies the idea that there is more to a person than meets the eye. Through his creative endeavors, he continues to serve his country, not with a rifle but with a paintbrush, and a story that touches the hearts of many.
In a world where the Navy SEALs are often seen as the epitome of strength and resilience, Justin Hughes’s artistic journey reminds us that even the toughest warriors can be gentle souls with a deep passion for creativity. His art allows us to see beyond the uniform, to understand the sacrifices made, and to appreciate the beauty and power of artistic expression. Justin Hughes is a living example of how art can be a bridge between worlds, a path to healing, and a source of inspiration for all.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Alabama but spent my childhood moving around. When I was a kid my father was a Huey Pilot in the army, After he experienced a catastrophic engine failure that resulted in a hard landing he was medically separated and my family moved overseas to serve as missionaries. I was 8 years old when that happened and lived in southeast Asia till, I came back to the states for college.
How did you come about your art, were you always drawing?
Drawing is something that always seemed to click for me. A lot of my childhood and youth was spent in areas where there was a huge language barrier. I used art to communicate and make friends. I remember not being able to speak a lick of the language but had kids in the local school lined up at my desk to get a drawing of the ninja turtles or sonic the hedgehog. I enjoyed being able to draw and share pictures with others, so I started practicing from a young age.
Okay, so how do you continually tap into creativity?
I’ve found a lot of the creative ideas I have come from either reading a story, researching history, or viewing other artist’s work. It feels like most of the creativity comes with conceptualizing the painting way before I ever put paint on canvas. I don’t really have to do much to get excited about a project. Once I start painting it feels more like work, but I get obsessed with projects till they are completed. typically, by the time the painting is finished I’m already prepping for the next piece. I still have to pay the bills and some commissions don’t really require that much creativity, so I try not to view tapping into creativity as a necessity for my work.
Clearly you are inspired by those who serve. How do you choose your subject matter?
I believe art is a way of storytelling and the best stories feel grounded in some reality. I’m grateful to have served in the SEAL teams and able draw upon elements of service, sacrifice, and bravery. For my original work I like to focus on specific themes under the umbrella of “service” and experiment with visual story telling.
What three words best describe your body of work?
Sincere, purposeful, and passionate.
What motivates you?
No one else can paint my pictures for me, I also I have a wife and three hungry kids. I don’t have any option but to show up every day and put in the work.
What’s your biggest weakness?
The biggest thing I’m working on now is learning to say no. I’ve gotten to the point with my work where I’m starting to get a lot of different opportunities. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a people pleaser, or what but it’s hard to say yes to every commission. I need to make sure I’m primarily taking on work that keep my art on a trajectory that I’m comfortable with.
Talk a little bit about your creative process – from getting the idea to the finished “product”?
First step is inspiration/ research: a lot of my original work are inspired by aspects of service with a deeper ancient biblical theme. Once I have the inspiration, I try to research stories or historical elements that might influence the composition, the research could contribute to the whole composition or just small elements like poses of characters or patches characters might be wearing. From there I start doing thumbnail sketches to try to dial in a composition for the painting. After composition is chosen, I collect reference photography and then start the painting process. I don’t paint from any single photograph but use various photos to build out my own ideal picture. Once the painting is finished ill usually put it away for a few weeks and get fresh eyes on it to see if I want to make any final touches before varnishing.
How do you challenge yourself in your work?
There are a couple ways I push myself artistically with each painting. I enjoy looking at other master works and trying to replicate or use techniques in my own work. Painting portraits comes with its own challenges, but I’ve found painting larger pieces has really pushed me as well.
Best compliment you ever got?
Seeing you paint these stories makes me want to know Jesus.
If you had the chance to say anything to the world, what would it be?
Focus on what really matters, Love God Love people.
What’s your advice to other creative folks?
Have patience, be ok with looking a bad piece of work longer than looking at a good one.
What’s one professional or creative thing on your bucket list?
I’d love to paint a presidential portrait at some point.
What do you feel are the recurring themes in your images?
The recurring themes in my work include faith, sacrifice, storytelling, and the connection between the past and present. My art aims to transform and enlighten viewers, challenging presuppositions and encouraging creativity. I often explore the intersection of faith and courage, drawing inspiration from biblical narratives and military experience.
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About Justin: Justin Hughes is a former Navy SEAL and is now a self taught representational artist who specializes in oil painting. Based out of Charleston South Carolina, Justin seeks to connect aspects of his experience in the SEAL Teams and what he knows of the warrior archetype to the fine art medium.