Art After Combat

Drive On Podcast With Scott DeLuzio
Drive On Podcast
Art After Combat

Brian Holt is an Army veteran who is spreading the message of healing through artwork and is on a mission to help veterans use art to express themselves.

Brian is looking to support other veterans by teaching them how to use artwork in their own healing.

Links & Resources


Scott DeLuzio:    00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcast. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio and now let's get on with the show. Hi everyone, today my guest is Brian Holt. Brian is an Army Veteran who has been expressing his artistic side after getting out of the Army.  He's on a mission to support Veterans and their mental health through art, which we're going to get to in just a minute, but before I give it all away, welcome to the show, Brian. And why don't you, go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. 

Brian Holt:    00:01:06 Sure. I grew up in a small town, Galleon Ohio. In 2005, I joined the Army. I was in the Infantry for about nine and some change. I deployed four times. I deployed three times to Iraq, one time to Afghanistan and basically right around the time that my son was born, my wife and I both decided we'll switch roles. I kinda helped her out while she was in nursing school.  Once she graduated, she kind of took over the heavy roles. And she is supporting me while I'm in school right now at UTEP, which is the university of Texas at El Paso. I'm in the art department over there. I'm currently going to school to be an art educator. 

Brian Holt:    00:02:00 But beyond that, I am working in two different galleries. Basically my mission so far is not just to be an art educator for kids, but I really am trying to get out there. A  lot of my art speaks to mental health. I'm really trying to share that message with people.  I'd really like to get something going here in El Paso. We have Fort Bliss here. I really like to work with Veterans as well, because art's just really helped me through a lot of difficult times. And I feel like that might be an option for folks who are struggling, whether they're in or whether they're out. A lot of times when we redeploy, they have these two week long deals where they're trying to decompress and I make jokes because I say, yeah, a lot of those events that they had us doing, there were the team things, but they still were like high intensity, like paintball, climbing mountains.  I just did that in Afghanistan and I’m trying to forget all that stuff. 

Brian Holt:    00:03:12 So I don't know, I'd really like to get something going here in El Paso, but obviously I kind of started making way with that but COVID hit and that kind of just shut everything down. So right now I'm just really sharing that message from these two galleries I'm in, which is great because the news radio stations have been coming out there and slowly sharing my story. And I'm really hoping that maybe somebody on Bliss hears me and says, Hey, we would like to have you come on over here. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:03:44 Yeah. That would be great because, like you said, the high intensity things, paintball and mountain climbing and all that kind of stuff might be good for certain people, but there's other people who might be looking for something else to decompress and unwind and adjust back to a more normal routine and not be that high intensity level type of thing. And artwork, I think is a great way to do that. I've had several artists on the podcast before and they all talk about how much benefit there is. And honestly, after I talked to the first person, I was a little skeptical about the benefits of healing through artwork and everything. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:04:34 And prior to being an elementary school and an art class or whatever, I never really was into art all that much.  I decided to give it a try myself and I picked up a sketchbook and I just started sketching. And I found out that I was actually somewhat decent at it for what the end result is, and I'm not gonna have stuff in famous galleries or anything like that. I'm not a professional by any stretch of the imagination. But what I found for me is that when I was doing the artwork, I found myself very focused on that. And it kind of blocked out all the other issues that were going on, all the other problems that I was having. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:05:17 And it actually made my mood that much better by not worrying about things and not focusing on the stresses and all this other stuff, I was just focusing on having fun and enjoying the drawing and the artwork that I was creating. And it actually did elevate my mood. So it was really amazing that it actually worked. And even though I was somewhat skeptical at first, it really did help. So tell me a little bit about what you're doing and what your vision is to help with Veterans with their mental health through artwork. 

Brian Holt:    00:05:55 Sure. So, well, currently I'm at a gallery here. It is called the mission trail, here in Socorro. Basically it's a group of artists out there, but I've been speaking with all these other artists who are not Veterans, and they're all on board. They said, Hey, if we can get in touch with somebody from Fort Bliss,  we could bring some of these folks out here to this gallery space, outback, and, we could basically give them lessons. And I kind of feel like I could speak from experience, I was in the infantry, but throughout my time in the Army it's kinda funny. I ended up being with a bunch of different MOSs my 15 month tour in Iraq, I was with tankers, and then when I got here to Bliss there was an MP company 12th MP company who needed people to go to Iraq with them. 

Brian Holt:    00:06:57   I volunteered to do that. So I deployed with MPs and then when I redeployed, they pushed me over to a cab scout unit. So I ended up being in a cab scout unit. And then after the cab scout unit, they're like, okay, now we no longer need you. They pushed me into an engineer, a battalion who had an anti-tank company, but basically, I've seen all different MOSs, so I have that experience, and deploying, and I know I have a pretty good idea because I've struggled myself throughout the years, I have a pretty good grasp on what we go through, whether it's deployment, whether it's life at home, life after being in the service and deploying. So I have a pretty good grasp on what folks are going through, but I also feel like now I'm on this art platform, or I feel like I can stand in front of these people and say, Hey, look, I've been in your shoes. 

Brian Holt:    00:07:59 Here's this thing that I found and that's really working for me, commands my attention. When you're doing any sort of artwork, whether it's working with clay or painting or drawing, it does command your attention because you're focused on one thing. You're thinking about what you're going to put into this work, and by that you're not thinking about all that outside stuff that's going on all this chaos that might be going on in the background; it gives you a breather for a minute. I think it's just as therapeutic as working out. That's really my goal. I'm really hoping that eventually we can get that going. 

Brian Holt:    00:08:48 It's just really difficult with the COVID times right now. And just trying to link up with the people. I've been reaching out. And I always just run into these dead ends where they tell me that somebody had something going on at Fort Bliss, but now they're gone, it's just finding out who the right connections are and who I can talk with. And I think eventually those things will happen, slowly but surely great things are happening here. And I think it'll end up getting there.

Scott DeLuzio:    00:09:20 Right. Yeah. And I think through our outreach, through the media, like you said, the local news and the radio stations, hopefully this podcast will raise awareness of what you're trying to do. And eventually the right people can hear your message and hear that you're trying to make these connections and everything, and we can help you out with that and get you in touch with the right people. So if anyone is listening to this episode and knows who the right people are, feel free to reach out and we'll get you in touch with Brian or reach out directly to Brian. We'll have all his information in the show notes and everything so that you could reach out to them, and we can make that connection happen. Let's turn it back to you for a second. So how did you discover that you had this artistic side? Was it something that you just started doing all along, or was it something that you started doing after getting out of the military? What was it that prompted you to get in touch with this artistic side? 

Brian Holt:    00:10:23 I've always been involved in art since I was a kid. Even before I joined the service, I was doing smaller shows and right before I went to basic training, I had gone downtown to this little festival that was going on in Columbus, Ohio. And I basically sold all my paintings for dirt cheap, because I was like, “Hey, I'm not going to be able to carry these with me.” I was trying to lighten my load. When I joined the Army,  obviously there wasn't a lot of time for that. I mean, while I was deployed and whatnot, I would sketch and draw here and there the random, “Hey, can you draw me my tattoo? “Hey, can you design the company shirt or the coin? “

Brian Holt:    00:11:08 I did still do a little bit of work while I was in, but I tell people this short little story and I won't romanticize it or anything, but basically there was a room inspection one day in Iraq, and I remember they were doing a room inspection, the door gets kicked in. And I remember I was just sketching in my sketchbook. And one of the higher ups had just taken his chewing tobacco and threw it at my drawing and was like, “Hey, instead of drawing, you should be cleaning your weapon”, which my weapons were always clean. They don't get it and they don't understand it. So they destroyed it. So I put it away. Online, I go by this thing,  where I call it the Ember flow, which was this idea that it wasn't a fake idea that I had made up where I'm going to put that away for now while I'm in the service. 

Brian Holt:    00:12:01 I took a long break from it. I didn't even know if those skills were going to be recoverable, but I'd always imagined that there was a small Ember inside that maybe when I got out, I could reignite that and that's what's really been happening here in El Paso. I got out of the service, I worked for a little bit before going back to school, I just told my wife. I said, “Hey, I really want to chase this down. I think I still have it.” When I started taking these first couple of courses, I remember my professor saying, “Hey man, you got it. You know, you're on fire.” And so I was like, Oh, that's kind of where that came from. I don't know. I keep on trying to push the limits. 

Brian Holt:    00:12:42 I think that's something that I did bring back with me from the service; always trying to improve your position. Always trying to push your limits, be the best you can be. And that is something I feel that carried over with me. I had gone to a Pittsburgh gardens Institute when I was a kid and I was just goofing off. I was 19 years old. I wasn't ready for school, but here I am, I'm sitting here with a 3.8 GPA at UTEP. That's happening because I was in the service, you know? So I think those are also the benefits that maybe come from the service too for people is that it does force you to grow up and it does teach you those skills, being on time and the 15 minutes early deal. I don't know, those are definitely skills that I carried over from the military. So to answer your question. Yeah. I've always been involved in art and I just chased it back down after I got out. 

Scott DeLuziot:    00:13:48 Yeah. That is unfortunate that that situation occurred with you with the higher ups with their tobacco and the art. It's an unfortunate thing that happened, but, I think all of these things lead you into a path that eventually is where you're meant to be. It sounds like you're on that path right now, and you're going to be doing the things that you're meant to be doing. Like they said, that fire has been reignited and that Ember didn't actually die out in you. So that's a good thing. The other thing that you were saying too, is step outside of your comfort zone and try new things and challenge yourself. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:14:36 I think that's something that a lot of times Veterans have trouble with because they just get so stuck in their ways of this is who I am, and this is what I do, but they get out of the service and they lose that identity.  You're no longer an infantry man or a police or whatever it is, you're no longer that anymore. And you have to reinvent yourself and discover something about yourself? So, I think things like art, whether it's drawing or painting or even something more musical or other types of art forms, helps you to express yourself and let a little piece of you out there, maybe even discover something about yourself that can maybe even help you figure out who it is that you're supposed to be after losing that identity. So, it's good. 

Brian Holt:    00:15:29 Yeah, I was going to say too, by no means do I have it all figured out or not? I was diagnosed with PTSD, I still suffer from anxiety and depression, whatnot, but I always clinged onto that resiliency, you've got to figure a way to be resilient. If you have issues, don't focus so much on your issues, try and focus on how you can get above that, and I look at it and I've had moments where it's like, “Oh man, I'm down. And I don't even feel like coming out of this hole, but I found a way, especially through art. I don't know what it is, but I've really found a way, and I found that resiliency through that. 

Brian Holt:    00:16:15 And so, that's why I stated, maybe this might work for others and it might not for other people too. I always imagined getting out in front o, the soldiers, I was a soldier. I know sometimes it can be pretty grimy. So you're always going to have that guy in the background or a gal in the background. It's like art, what am I doing here? I'm not worried about them.  I'm more focused on who is interested in checking this out and maybe using this as a tool. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:16:48 Yeah, for sure. And that is really what it is. It's a tool, it's another tool in your toolbox that you can use for the purpose of improving your mental health or relieving stress or whatever the issue is that you're dealing with. It can possibly help you. If you're not open to it, like you said, there's going to be those people who are not open to it, then it's not for them. That's fine. I'm sure there's something else out there for them. Maybe they're more inclined to be the paintball or mountain climbing type people that you're talking about before. There's nothing wrong with any of those types of things. Some of those activities resonate more with some people than others. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:17:34 It's definitely good that we have a wide range of tools available to us and these alternative forms of therapy, if you want to call it that, can definitely be beneficial to people who don't really resonate with the traditional forms of talk therapy or things like that. Maybe it's not working out for them. Maybe some of these alternative type things can work out for them. So, it's definitely worth a try if that's something that you are maybe struggling with and you want to give it a shot. I'd definitely say, artwork is one way to do it. And it's a fairly low barrier to entry. You can pick up any kind of notepad and pencil and you can just start sketching and it's not really that hard to start doing it. And we're not talking about drawing perfect pictures, you just draw anything and even doodles or something, it's something that you're focusing on. 

Brian Holt:    00:18:38 We'd find, sometimes me and my buddies, all my art friends, we get together and we start working on stuff and sometimes the drawing looks really wonky or whatever. We just laugh. That's the cool thing about it too, while you're working, you're talking, you're having conversations, you're sharing stories. It's communal, and so you still get that Wolf pack mentality, like you're a part of something and you have your small group, like a platoon or even a fire team, I always enjoy that being around with people and talking about things, even like I was telling you that a lot of my work deals with mental health, I'm able to bring about awareness with folks who may not even talk about that stuff. 

Brian Holt:    00:19:28 And they don't even necessarily need to be Veterans. They could be a civilian or whatnot. And I like opening up those conversations because a lot of times people may not talk, I'm losing friends like every year. I think we had delayed this conversation that we're having now, because I had had a friend who had passed away from suicide, and I just went to a funeral last year for my friend who passed away. So I'm always reaching out and saying, Hey, if you need to talk, I'm here, just swing through or give me a call or I really want people to resonate on that as well, like call each other often, check on each other, you know? Those are the messages that I really tried to share through my work. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:20:24 Yeah. And that's really the reason why I started this podcast; you hear about so many people who have passed away because of suicide and they are struggling with other issues, whether it's homelessness or drug or alcohol abuse or PTSD, depression, all these different things that they're struggling with. And the last thing that I want people to do is think that they're all alone in this; that “Oh, I must be the only one who's feeling this way or whatever” Because you're not, a lot of us have felt a lot of the same things that you're feeling and are going through. There's a whole community of people out there. And like you said, reach out and talk to people. If you're struggling with something, pick up the phone and call a friend and meet up for a coffee or whatever and get together, talk about it. You know, if you're both into art or something, you can get together a group of people and you can just sit around and chat or whatever, while you're drawing or painting or whatever it is. It's a perfect way to get that comradery back that you might have lost by leaving the service. And I think that's something that a lot of people feel like they're missing out on is that comradery too. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:21:49 Specifically for you, what turned you on to art as a form of therapy, as opposed to, because I know you said you struggled with PTSD and the depression and things like that, but was it just something that you fell into because you've always been drawing and you just noticed it was working for you, or was that something that someone turned you on to specifically as a therapy option? 

Brian Holt:    00:22:17 Well, actually, when I started off at community college here, and I had met a couple of Veterans there that were doing artwork, but when I got to Utah, I had met a handful of really well-respected artists. We're all Veterans here and we all kind of sat down and started talking. I said, man, this has really been working wonders for me. I don't know about you. And there were five of us, and I remember I locked down a gallery space called the glass gallery at the university. And it was just supposed to be my solo show, but I don't want it to be about just me. I think there's a bigger message here. So, I was able to get these other Veteran artists, my friends to get on board and we did a Veteran show, and it's funny because in the art world, they're like, well, how is it cohesive? 

Brian Holt:    00:23:11   Like, how are all these works in here? Are they like, are they the same? Are they fluid? And I'm like, well, they're fluid because we're all Veterans, you know, we all had different works and we're all doing different things, but there was definitely a message that we were all sharing. That artwork was doing something great for all of us and all in all, I'm like, man, this is great that we get to share our story and what's going on. Because I think folks don't see that, or they also make assumptions too, like, Oh, Veterans are in the way, but when you're in that area, that room, it takes all that away. And they're like, man, these people are normal. 

Brian Holt:    00:23:57 And they have emotions too, I think there's this thing while you're in the service, there's that stigma of don't share your emotions, be stoic, suck it up and be a man and get the highest PT score, lift weights, and it's like don't show any weakness. And you know, now that I'm out, it's like, I've learned to just really cast that to the side and not worry too much about that and really approach things that you're not supposed to talk about. And I think that's what my friends and I were able to do in that space as well. So I think that first show kind of really ignited that idea. We started talking like, Hey, we need to get something going here in El Paso for Veterans and like I said, I think once this thing settles down, if it ever does, or even if it doesn't, I don't know. I'll be honest with you. Things kind of happen organically a lot of times, and I think it'll come when it needs to come, you know? 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:24:59 Right. Yeah, exactly. You'll be in the right place at the right time when it's time for that. The community, the group of people getting together is an important aspect of it to help with the expression. One of the other artists that I spoke to on this podcast said that when they're creating their artwork, sometimes it was just like an extension of themselves and their thoughts and things like that. And it's not anything that they necessarily would have opened up and talked about, but they were putting it into their artwork. And when they came back to the gallery where their art was being displayed, people would ask some questions about it. And then all of a sudden they opened up and they started talking about stuff that they never would have talked about before. It's a great way to express yourself and open up and heal through those conversations. What advice would you have for Veterans out there who are struggling with PTSD or depression, or any other issues that they might be dealing with? And maybe not even just Veterans, but anyone who's struggling with these types of issues, and who might be considering taking up art as a form of therapy. 

Brian Holt:    00:26:25 To be honest with you, when I first got out, I was going to a counselor. I think that counselor fell through, they had to move somewhere. So then I had to go to another counselor and basically I ended up having to rehash all my stories like four or five times, and it was super painful to just unveil all that stuff over and over and over. But right now I'm not talking with a counselor or anything, I feel like I've been able to handle things on my own in my own space. And it's like you said, these extensions of yourself, putting it into your work. I think those things have been gratifying enough for me that I feel more positives than negatives, you know? 

Brian Holt: 00:27:12 But certainly counseling is a great tool, definitely talking to somebody, surrounding yourself with really good people I think is super important. My wife is such a great supporter of everything I'm doing right now. So I have that great support system there, surrounding myself with great friends. Just trying to find ways to get over all the bad stuff. I think a lot of times what I would do back in the day is I would focus on all the bad stuff, and then I was finding myself in that depression, in that whole medications, I think I was doing some medications at first and they really weren't for me, I think medications might be for other people, but for me, I was like, yeah, I don't like it. 

Brian Holt:    00:28:06 You know, it makes me feel like I'm not even here, you know? So, I definitely feel like some folks need that, you know? I'm certainly not downing medication counseling, but for me, just getting out of my garage and working out every once in a while, or just going on a run or just being creative and just keeping my mind busy. I feel like I'm just nonstop running around now.  I always have something going on, as soon as this podcast is over, I'm going to go paint a mural right now. I think that's a big part of it too, keep your mind busy. The same thing for school, I was not going to go back to school. 

Brian Holt:    00:28:55 I was like, man, I am not a smart person. I didn't have great grades in high school, but I was a young kid. And what I really found out when I went to college is, Hey, all of that stuff that I learned in the military carried over and now I work really hard for those grades, you know? And you respect it too, because Hey, that GI bill, you earned it so use it. I stick to that really hard. I tell kids all the time at school, Hey, you're slacking off right now. And I just want you to know, I had to go do four tours just to get this. So you gotta respect this process that's going on here. That's really all the advice I really have for anybody. 

Brian Holt:    00:29:41 And if you're still in and you're thinking about getting out, don't be afraid to make that jump, certainly try and have a plan. But even if that plan falls through something else is going to happen, you just have to keep on trying to find a way to work through it. You know what I mean? And it's not always going to be gold right off the bat, definitely I've worked my way up to where I'm at now, but when I first got out, I remember just being terrified. I'd got out of the service. I was supposed to have a job with the railroad here in El Paso. And then I had done interviews and they said, you're a shoe-in. I said, that's great. And then a week later they said, we just furloughed everybody. 

Brian Holt:    00:30:25 So I ended up working for Frito-Lay for a year. And I was like, yeah, this isn't for me. I needed to go chase that down. And I needed to use that GI bill. So that's my advice, really just keep on going after whatever you feel super passionate about, whatever it is, if you want to be a gym instructor, you go do that. If you're super passionate about working out all the time, that's probably a good fit for you, you know? 

Scott DeLuziot:    00:30:55 You're right. Exactly. If you're not enjoying what you're doing, it's going to be a lot harder to get out of bed every morning and make your way into that job. It's going to end up being one of those jobs that you just hate. So, life's too short to hate what you do. You spend a lot of time working, I don't care what job you have. A lot of your life is spent while you're working and you might as well enjoy it while you're doing it. So if you can follow something that you're passionate about, more power to you, obviously, bills need to be paid. So, there might be times when you have to take that crappy job that you don't really want because bills have to be paid, but, work towards something like you said, use your GI bill and try to take classes at night or whenever you can to further your education and get into the career that you were meant for really. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:31:55 Life gets better when you are doing something that you're actually passionate about. So, any other information that you want to let people know about, about your mission and things that you are working on here before we wrap this up? 

Brian Holt:    00:32:17 I dunno. I could talk all day now, but if you're still in, if you're still in the service, I think you had mentioned in some of your questions online there, I had seen one that was like, did you have any regrets? I think my biggest regret was that I didn't push myself harder while I was in the service, going to more boards and this and that. And I think what happens is a lot of times you just fall into that hole, always try and just push those limits. I feel like I could have done it. I probably feel like I could've done more, but I really got wrapped around these ideas. Those negative ideas in the Army, but now that I'm out, I guess it's just, now that I'm out, I look back on that and I say, man, I wish I would've done that differently. 

Brian Holt:    00:33:08 But whether it's pushing those PT scores or boards or whatever it is, there's a lot of stuff that happens in the military where people are like, you don't understand, man, this stuff is getting out of control and I'm like, I totally do. I think that was my major issue in the military was that I just got wrapped up in all the politics and all that stuff. And the thing happened in the service, it's like, I wish I would've just ignored that and stayed on my own path and tried to continue to keep on pushing those limits. But, I guess that's my only advice for past Brian, you know? And for anybody who may still be in or a younger kid push those limits while you're there, and even after you get out, that's what you should be doing. Try to continuously improve that position, you know? 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:34:04 Continuous learning and improving yourself. Yeah. 

Brian Holt:    00:34:07 I've always clung on to that, always improving your position, and I think if you keep on pushing that and you do it, you're going to find good things happen. You know, like I said, or organically things, just great things happen when you start to try and do those. 

Scott DeLuziot:    00:34:23 Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. That's great advice. Well, Brian, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on and speaking with you today.  Where can people go to get in touch with you and find out more about your art and everything else that you have going on? 

Brian Holt:    00:34:38 Sure.  Currently I'm on Instagram at emberflow_art and. So that's Instagram, Facebook, if you just look up Brian Holt, it'll pop up under there. I usually just share content and what's going on there. Also, I'm at Casa Ortiz, which you can look that up on either Facebook or Instagram. I share my artwork in both of those spaces. So, that's really where I share my message. And, hopefully if anybody has any questions or anybody is even like what we talked about before, if you're struggling or anything I stated, reach out to me, I'll talk to you, I'll talk to anybody. I talk to people all the time, and I love that when somebody reaches out and says, Hey, man, what you said, or what I saw in your artwork, it speaks to me and I'm like, great, 

Brian Holt:    00:35:38 Let's talk about that. You know? And hopefully, I'm able to help some folks out and I don't know, maybe shed some light. 

Scott DeLuzio:  Well, I will have links to all of the profiles that you talked about in the show notes for this episode. So anyone who's listening to this, if you want to check out some of Brian's art, or get in touch with him, the links will be in the show notes there, you can get in touch with him there. Brian, thank you again, really. It's been a pleasure.

Brian Holt: I appreciate it. Y'all take care. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:36:15 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveOnPodcast.

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