How Creating Military Art Helps This Army Vet Find Peace
Meet Nathan Krekula, a 12-year Army veteran and Saint Leo University alumnus who has found peace through creating unique digital military art.
Nathan Krekula admits he only sleeps a few hours each night. To help him even achieve this small amount of shut-eye, the Army vet and Saint Leo University alumnus has turned to art.
He talks about why he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1992.
"I was in college and kind of bored," he admits. "I decided to go into the Army during my second year of college."
It was an Army 'Top-Up' program he enrolled in, allowing him to use the G.I. Bill to supplement the cost of tuition and other education-related expenses not covered by the military's tuition assistance program.
Krekula did several rotations as a medic in South America working on a number of drug cartel cases. He was involved in several events in which service members were severely injured. He later worked in a hospital setting and then taught as an instructor in the Army nursing program.
"I saw a lot of things normal people don't ever see in their lives," he says.
He served in the Army for a dozen years until 2004.
Toward the end of his Army service, he learned about Saint Leo University and spoke with a recruiter.
"I seemed to connect well with the recruiter at Saint Leo," he says. "I knew I wanted to get my bachelor's degree, and this seemed like a great fit for me."
Because he was still an active-duty military member, his days were long and demanding. He says everyone at Saint Leo was extremely supportive in helping him be successful.
"All of my professors were very kind and understanding of my schedule."
He started in Saint Leo's online criminology program in 2002. A class on criminal law had a major positive impression on him in the program.
"I remember it was a very challenging course, but I learned so much in it," he says. "The professor would e-mail me back after submitting an essay and say that she thought I could be more articulate and concise in my writing. She really pushed me to be a better student."
From his experience, the online format of his criminal justice degree program was a tremendous help considering his hectic lifestyle.
"I definitely couldn't have done this program if it weren't online. Sometimes I'd have 12-hour days that turned into 15 or 20 hours at certain times. Sleep was obviously hard to come by as well."
He completed his bachelor's degree in 2005. With further educational goals in mind, he would later earn a master's in healthcare administration and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).
Before Saint Leo, he attended Bethany Lutheran College in Minnesota where he earned an associate degree in biology. It was there where his interest in art was ignited. He explains why digital art was more appealing to him.
"I think it's much easier to handle because it's more forgiving and there's no mess," he says. "Plus, I can do it anywhere. I do a lot with black-and-white contrast but mainly focus on brighter colors."
To craft his works of art, he mainly uses an app called I Can't Sleep At Night and ibisPaint, a free graphic design software
According to Krekula, military art has historically had a reputation of depicting violence like planes being shot down and gruesome scenes from the battlefield.
"Mine is more positive, brighter and tries to reflect some of the great moments in history," he explains.
His original focus was on the human eye.
"I got into drawing pretty intensely and started thinking of all these ideas about what I could draw. I started drawing pictures of people's eyes, but I wanted to take this a step further."
That's when a friend of his suggested he should draw military-related images based on his own observations from his Army days.
"I know I'm trying to get away from these images in my mind, but at the same time, I want to reconnect with the military. This is why a lot of what I experienced is sometimes reflected in my art."
The connections he's made with active-duty members and veterans through his work have been quite valuable to him.
"I miss the camaraderie and brotherhood of the military. I have found several Facebook groups for military members, and I've posted some of my work in them. I've gotten some great feedback and made lots of connections by doing this."
One of his works is called 'The Wave.' Originally photographed by Army specialist Beverly Roche in 2019, Krekula added his own artistic touch to the image.
"This painting to me is special as I was an Army medic," he says. "The volcano in the back far right of the picture shows that even in good times, there are issues our soldiers face daily."
Another work, one he calls 'The Watch,' is intended to honor all service members who are watching over Americans.
"I did this one to show we have soldiers all over the world keeping us safe every day," he says.
Based on all of his life experiences thus far, Krekula has some words of advice.
"Set your goals and keep them. Try to define what you want 5 to 10 years from now, and work hard to reach them. But at the same time, I'd say any chance you can rest or have fun, do it."
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Nathan Krekula and are used with permission.