‘Either I shoot guns or I draw’

Charcoal drawing helps Marine veteran cope with ghosts of war

By Kevin Spradlin

* In his words: Brandon on video
* Charcoal Inspirations Facebook page

MARSTON — With a nearly imperceptible shrug of the shoulders and an unconscious redirect of the eyes, Brandon Parrish almost glosses over his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in casual conversation.

But he knows it’s a very real enemy. Even today, some seven years after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, the 31-year-old Richmond County native recognizes it’s a disease that never goes away. It’s managed, not treated. And away from doctors, Parrish has found his own way to cope and maintain a regular job at Lowe’s — he’s the outdoor lawn and garden manager — and a regular life, with a wife and two young children.

John Searcy portrait by Brandon Parrish

John Searcy portrait by Brandon Parrish

But as a young man, from ages 20 to 24, Parrish saw things no one ever should have to see (but far too many have). Today, to get by — the feelings of pain and guilt — Parrish goes to his two favorite places. Either to a makeshift shooting range or to his sunroom, where he sits before a blank canvas on a wooden easel. In the latter, life is full of possibilities. Of hope.

“If I get ill or get thinking about certain things, I’ll just come in my little room and start drawing,” said Parrish, who spent more than 16 months in a combat theater of operations as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Either I shoot guns or I draw. It clears my mind.”

His primary medium is charcoal. With a range of hard and soft charcoal pencils, Parrish occupies the sunroom in the corner of his Marston home that features a view that, on a sunny day, seemingly never ends. Parrish likes natural light. So with that appreciation of light, and the countering dark, Parrish sits and draws.

And his creations are … well, for anyone but himself. In recent years, Parrish has gained a reputation for choosing subjects — people — that will never see his work. That’s because in many instances, his subjects have passed away. His creations, mostly on a 24-inch by 18-inch canvas, his work is for the survivors. Just like him.

Parrish figures he’s completed about 80 portraits. In February, he completed a portrait of John Neal Cadieu III. Cadieu, a former Lowes co-worker, died at the age of 53 while spending time with family members during a snowstorm. Only last month, Parrish complete a portrait of John Searcy, who died of a sudden heart attack on Oct. 2.

John Cadieu III portrait by Brandon Parrish

John Cadieu III portrait by Brandon Parrish

In both cases, Parrish said, family members were overwhelmed and grateful for the time in which Parrish so accurately captured the spirit of the individual. For Cadieu, it was his ever-present smile. For Searcy, it was his soul-piercing eyes.

Each one, Parrish said, is an individual work of art — and there’s only one of each. He works from a photo for each drawing — his specialty is in detail, not in creativity.

“What I see is what I draw,” Parrish said. “You can’t make it up, because it’s going to look false.”

And he only does it once.

“I never do the same picture twice,” he said.

Once the first is done, “that’s it.”

With the exception of his four-year stint in the Marines, Parrish said he’s been drawing for most of his life. Parrish said he regrets stopping while in the service. While some images he simply can’t forget, there are others he would give anything to hold onto.

Growing up, Parrish said his grandmother always encouraged him in the arts. While other boys received video games or toy guns as presents, his grandmother gifted him colored pencils and other art supplies. When she died only a couple of years after returned to Richmond County for post-military life, he realized he was letting her down by having given up a natural escape.

So he once again picked up his pencils and went to the easel. Parrish was mostly self-taught until he took a course taught by Eric Ton at Sandhills Community College in Moore County.

“He was very supportive,” said Parrish, the only non-art major in the class.

Portrait by Brandon Parrish

Portrait by Brandon Parrish

After weeks of support, “suddenly, he started trashing me.”

But the approach worked, Parrish said. He worked harder.

Ton, he said, “pushed me to a different level.”

Parrish also was inspired by Dru Blair, a world-renowned airbrush specialist in South Carolina.

“He’s a genius,” Parrish said.

While the intensive 12-hour days were on the itinerary, Parrish said Blair was a night owl. Here was an opportunity, Parrish said, to learn from the best in the world. So the pair stayed up until 2, 3 a.m. working, talking, working some more.

Parrish continues to believe in hard work and attention to detail. It’s what helped him get through his time in Iraq in relative safety. In fact, he doesn’t believe he has a gift. It’s a homegrown love of drawing that, at least for him, rarely has gotten away.

“Some people think it’s a talent,” he said. “Everybody draws until a certain age. I think anybody can do it.”

Parrish sells his work beginning at $150. That includes a 24-inch by 18-inch creation, matted and framed for protection. It’s a gift, he said, and he wants it to last.

“It’s different when you see somebody’s face” as they look upon the portrait for the first time, Parrish said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Brandon Parrish has a penchant for all things eagle, a hint of his patriotic side.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Brandon Parrish has a penchant for all things eagle, a hint of his patriotic side.

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