- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Staff sergeant and art instructor Lividia Buggs is about to begin teaching 14 soldiers — some without any artistic experience — to draw charcoal still lifes and pastel self-portraits. And she’s confident all will succeed.

“Saying I ‘can’t’ do it is a dirty word here,” Staff Sgt. Buggs says. “If you stick to basic principles of proportion, form and contour, you can draw anything.”

OK, but what role does artistic endeavor play in the military, anyway? The military trains its own to be photographers, reporters, public affairs personnel, artists and graphic designers. The instruction takes place at DINFOS, the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md.

Each year, the school at the Army facility provides this professional training for about 2,200 men and women, most of whom are troops from the ranks of different branches of the military. The largest department in the school is the public affairs department.

“This is where the military trains people like me to assist and deal with the media,” says Lt. Col. Mike Milord, DINFOS spokesman.

Other soldiers use their communication and writing skills to produce the newspapers each military post or installation publishes. Photography students may go on to document combat as military photographers.

Some of the soldiers apply for the courses, others are assigned, but no one pays extra to attend. The courses are part of their basic training, Lt. Col. Milord says.

Each course is divided into three blocks. And each of these blocks is 22 workdays long, which means the entire course takes about 66 days, or three months.

Staff Sgt. Buggs’ basic art class is the first, most basic block in the multimedia illustrator course.

“We’ve been told that one of these courses is the equivalent of an associate’s degree, which would take two years to complete,” says Army Spc. Adam Halstead, 23, who is taking the course. “This is very intense. We work eight hours a day.”

The idea behind teaching art, photography, writing and broadcast journalism is to give young soldiers an edge when they reach their units, enabling them to offer their commander something extra, says John Thomas, who recently retired as the academic director for the multimedia department.

“Not everyone will become a portrait artist, but some might end up doing Web sites or posters or training manuals … or becoming instructors,” Mr. Thomas says.

• • •

The halls of DINFOS are lined with charcoal still lifes, portraits and magazine cover sketches. But there is one very big difference between these pieces of art and those of other art academies. Every picture depicts soldiers, military gear and weapons: big shiny boots, hand grenades, charging infantry.

“If you work for Ford, you draw a Ford; when you work for the military, you draw military items,” Mr. Thomas says.

And the drawing is very realistic. There is no shade of impressionism or expressionism within these walls, except for the reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and “The Cafe” that adorn the walls of Staff Sgt. Buggs’ classroom.

“Draw what you see, not what you think you see,” she keeps telling her students.

She says people have a tendency to draw symbols of things — for example, we draw curvy lips because they are a generic set of lips, but not all lips are curvy — than really creating an accurate image of a person or thing.

To break the students of that habit, one of the first exercises in her class is to draw a face using a grid system. Students get a close-up photograph of a soldier and they have to reproduce that picture using a pencil and white paper.

But instead of doing a free-hand drawing, they use a grid to help them perfectly place the details of the face.

“It’s an exercise to learn the four basic principles,” Spc. Halstead says — proportion, form, contour and shading.

Staff Sgt. Buggs walks around the classroom, emphasizing the importance of reproducing reality and not one’s idea of reality.

“Her eyelashes are not all over the place like that,” she tells one of the students. To another, she says, “You should barely see the contour of the face. Work with shading.”

Spc. Halstead, who studied animation and graphic design at college, says drawing on paper is more challenging than using computer graphics.

“You can be clumsy when you’re using the computer and get away with it. But you can’t get away with it in freehand,” he says. “This is good exercise for me.”

Some of the students come armed with college degrees in art or graphic design — like Spc. Halstead — but a majority of students have not drawn since they were children, Mr. Thomas says.

Later, Spc. Halstead and the others will complete magazine covers using pastels, still lifes using charcoal and, the most challenging, a self-portrait.

They will also go into the woods to draw soldiers doing physical and combat training.

“It’s a more realistic situation than sitting in the classroom,” Mr. Thomas says. “It’s cold, wet and uncomfortable.”

In the second and last blocks of the course, the students learn how to use computer graphics software, including Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Pagemaker, as well as how to make Web sites.

Airman 1st Class Tiffany Lowe, 22, is working on a PowerPoint presentation of the M1 Abrams Tank. She pulls up and places details about the tank on the different digital slides, such as its length — 32.3 feet with the gun barrel.

“They give us all the information; it’s just a matter of putting it together,” she says.

Her favorite part of the course is Web design and she says she would love to come back to the school as an instructor.

But while the school wants to prepare the soldiers for a productive life in the Army, its instructors also hope the skills might be used later in civilian life.

“We want to teach them skills for life. Skills they can use in the military and beyond,” Mr. Thomas says.

Spc. Halstead has his eyes set on a very specific goal.

“I’d like to go to Hollywood and do animation work,” he says. But that may be a few years off. In the meantime, he says, “I’m a soldier first and an artist second.”

For more information, see www.dinfos.osd.mil

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