Story by Ryan Labadens, Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport
GULFPORT, Miss. – The line between hobby and passion is sometimes an indistinguishable blur; other times, it’s simply nonexistent. For Ty Carter, a U.S. Navy equipment operator 3rd class at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Mississippi, the passion he feels for his interest in drawing and painting was one that grew over time, and one that he continues to nurture.
Carter grew up in San Angelo, Texas, a small “dirt and oil town” deep in the heart of the state, he said. He loved growing up there, since the area lent itself to all sorts of outdoor activities, like sports, skateboarding and motocross – all of which Carter’s father did when he was young, and all of which suited Carter’s own active childhood.
As far as the Navy goes, Carter’s interest in enlisting stemmed from his high school years when he joined the swim team with a buddy of his, initially just as something to do. He wound up loving it.
“It just clicked. Swimming was second nature to me, and I ended up being pretty serious into that, and so the last year of high school I decided to join the Navy,” said Carter, who initially enlisted as a rescue swimmer in 2012 before cross training to the equipment operator rate due to overmanning in his original career field.
Just like Carter’s interest in different athletic activities can be traced back to his father, so can his love of painting.
“My father’s an artist, so back in high school teachers would ask him, ‘Hey, do you want to paint this 50-foot mural on the gymnasium wall?’, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And it was all hand painted, using oil-based paints and images that he designed on paper and then painted on the wall,” said Carter.
So in addition to sports, Carter also fed his artist side in high school, taking various art classes to try and find his own style as he progressed.
He likens his own artist style to something he calls “Island Jerry” – a cross between island/beach themes and “Sailor Jerry,” a tattoo artist and former U.S. Navy Sailor named Norman Keith Collins who was famous for tattooing Sailors in Hawaii during the 1930s and ‘40s.
“Bright colors – the depth, and the vivid old-school styles – I just love it,” said Carter, when describing the old-style tattoos he cites as some of the inspiration for his artwork.
In his spare time, he would work away at his art, fine tuning his technique and drawing the occasional design as gifts when requested by family and friends.
Carter also has used his artistic talent for altruistic projects as well. During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston in his home state of Texas in 2017, Carter worked through his father to help design artwork for T-shirts that were sold to raise donations to help Hurricane Harvey victims.
“I couldn’t actually be there to help, but I just thought this would be a good idea to try to contribute in some way, so it worked out awesome,” said Carter.
Most recently, Carter worked in his off hours on a mural at a local gym he goes to in Gulfport, painting the design of a pirate ship sailing into sunset in a giant bottle, with the bottle surrounded by hibiscus flowers. He started working on it in early April of this year and finished in late July.
This is the first mural he actually painted for anyone.
“I was struggling with different ideas for a while, and I finally came up with that one and showed it to the manager, and he loved it,” said Carter.
That’s one of the things he loves about drawing and painting for others – seeing their reaction and hearing their appreciation for the time and energy he put into the art he created for them.
“The art pieces that matter the most – the ones that you’re doing for others – you’re pouring your soul into them,” said Carter. “You’re putting your heart and soul and all of this emotion into it, and then when you see that look of excitement on their faces when you finally give it to them… that’s the feeling I chase right there.”