Arts & Sciences

Alumnus uses art and psychology to serve his fellow veterans

Wes Davis
Wes Davis earned his master's degree in psychology at Brandman's JBLM campuses. He uses what he learned to help other veterans.                   

If Wes Davis had a hat for every role he fills, he would be wearing a lot of them. He’s an artist, a therapist, a veteran, a stay-at-home dad, the founder of a nonprofit and enthusiastic proponent for getting more education, no matter what stopped you initially.

He’s creative and earnest and cares deeply about his fellow veterans. He inspires a former instructor and his classmates, who in turn inspire him.

Veteran-oriented nonprofit

Davis is the founder of Bedlam Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to providing creative outlets for veterans, mainly focusing on visual arts.

Davis combines what he knows about art and psychology to help veterans express their creativity through an underpainting style that dates back to the Renaissance.

“I needed to do something a little more elevated than a paint party,” explained Davis, who graduated with a Master of Arts in Psychology from Brandman University’s JBLM campus. “I’ve always enjoyed doing art. I wanted to wrap an affective process (a way to deal with emotions) within it.”

Each painting begins as a white outline on black and builds with layers of color. Because it’s possible to transfer an image from a photograph, it’s a technique that is accessible to everyone, even if their knowledge of painting is limited.

“I have them send me a photo of something they want to paint. I blow it up in black and white. We use chalk on the back of the blown-up photo to transfer it to the board and trace it with pen. The chalk creates a slight ghost picture that shows them where to paint in white, which eventually reflects through all the other layers.

Once they get done with that (painting in white), they begin to add color, pushing and pulling different tone variations.”

The process
What starts as a white on black drawing transforms through the process of layering on color.  More examples can be found on the Bedlam Arts gallery page.                  

[See the process here.]

“When you’re taking the painting process in small steps, you’re thinking about process. Each process creates a small change in the painting,” Davis said.

Creating art in the company of fellow veterans also helps them deal with the heightened sense of awareness honed by the military, particularly in war zones. Art helps them channel that energy into something positive while opening up other areas of the brain. “It’s not just going from point A to point B,” he said.

The social setting also gives them a chance to commiserate while gaining perspective, he said. 

Art as therapy

Davis, whose own artwork can be seen here, first starting combining art and psychology when working at the Veterans Center in Tacoma as a mental health therapist. Although he left full-time work to care for his four young daughters, he continues to volunteer at the center through Bedlam Arts and is working to find additional locations. 

Among those who are more than happy to help his nonprofit are his former classmates, including Elizabeth Johnson, who suggested he would make a good subject for a Brandman story.

On Nov. 26, also known as “Giving Tuesday,” she encouraged support for Bedlam Arts and Davis, writing, “He brings his creativity, compassion, and understanding of the military culture, and the unique challenges veteran's face providing creative outlets for veterans, while uniting veteran artists for social events and shows.”

It’s that kind of support that Davis said made his time at Brandman special. “I felt embraced,” Davis said, adding appreciation for the variety of people he met in classes from colonels to privates to civilians.

Support also came from adjunct faculty member Debra Bretey, who first offered him the job at the Veterans Center. Her 20 years of experience in the Air Force followed by teaching and working as a mental health professional helped him think about what he could do after 13 years in the Army. 

“He is an amazing man with a very big heart,” said Bretey, who teaches a variety of psychology classes, mainly at the Bremerton campus. “Using his artistic talent and knowledge, paired with his degree, allowed him to show trauma survivors how to channel some of their painful memories and feelings through art.”

Overcoming challenges

Davis has a few painful memories of his own. He joined the military when he was 19 after a high school career that involved a lot of moving around. 

“The only constant for me was art,” he said. Even that was lost temporarily when he returned from Iraq. “I was an angry person. My family life was taking a toll. I was drinking a lot.”

A college degree was the answer for both greater self-knowledge and meeting the qualifications for promotion. “I decided psychology might be a good fit. It might help me figure out what’s wrong with myself. I loved it. I devoured it.”

Group art
Working in a group allows for conversation.                    

He finished his bachelor’s at Chaminade University in two years thanks to strong results on CLEP tests. After transferring to JBLM, he decided to pursue a master’s and landed at Brandman. 

He sees himself as a wounded healer, able to help others from what he’s learned about himself through psychology classes. 

Art, he said, has taught him to be more patient with himself and with others. “I had an art teacher who told me something that stuck with me. No matter how deep you are into a project, if you mess up, you can still do something to turn it into something else. And you will mess up. That’s how my art has progressed,” Davis said. 

It’s also given him a way to think about the low points in his life. “We’re coming back from war, and we feel like we’re less, but we’re really just different. So, you have to learn to be patient enough with yourself to find those good qualities again.”

Donations through the Bedlam Arts website go toward program supplies and can be made here.

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