Assimilating back into civilian society is a challenge for any returning heroic Veteran. “Evan,” a former Navy SEAL Team Leader started making street art style Abrasive Art as way to express his graphic memories of war and combat.

CommuteMultilayerStencilArtAlthough he looks unscathed, Evan has suffered from numerous injuries including a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) back in 2010 from his tour in Afghanistan. Yet, without really knowing how, Evan has quickly built a successful art business, with a large following, in a unique niche.
This is his story…

Former Navy SEAL Launches Abrasive Art Business

Thirty Seconds Out is when the adrenaline kicks in. Jumping out of a plane at night. Flying into combat with your legs hanging out of the helicopter. Approaching a target by vehicle or foot. When the 30-seconds-out signal is given, you know you’re committed and what happens next isn’t entirely in your control.
I’m trying to convey this feeling and the side effects of combat, through art.
I’m barely an artist, and I know nothing of the art world. I just started to make art because I enjoy doing it. After 20 years in the SEAL Teams, I wanted to do something new. You know, feeling like a clumsy beginner in a new space, I like that feeling.
Becoming nobody, again.

Painting Stellen
Concealing his true identity, Evan always wears a hood in photographs.

I had the opportunity to work (I was basically an intern) at Violent Little Machine Shop for about 6 months. There, I learned a ton of business related best-practices that have changed my life.
One thing that has always served me well is listening, and then executing on the best parts of what great people teach and suggest to you. Yan, at Violent Little, helped me tremendously in the challenging transition from gunslinger, to businessman.
We’re often told, “Do what you know!” It is good, but not great advice. “Build off what you know!” is better. If I simply stuck with what I know, in its purest form, I would be bored. What I know is my 20 years experience gained as a Navy SEAL. I would be teaching others how to handle weapons, operate as an effective Team, and outsmart your enemy in a gunfight.
The experience of starting over would be lost and we don’t want that. We want a hybrid version, carrying the “what we know” with us into the unknown. It’s a tool we can use while we cast off of life’s safe shores, nothing more.

“We’re often told, “Do what you know!” It is good, but not great advice. “Build off what you know!” is better.” ~Evan

There’s a reason, in my opinion, why “what you know” isn’t quite as important as it used to be. The reason is information availability. Have a question about painting? You can probably find an answer here at New to Adobe illustrator and Photoshop? YouTube it. Forums, podcasts, blogs and webinars are free information platforms. As I left the military, I didn’t have an excuse to not know something. If it’s a priority, we’ll figure it out.
I noticed the marketing in the Action Sports industry was incredible. It’s all imagery based, Lifestyle branding. People all over the globe are doing the seemingly impossible with surfboards, skis, dirt bikes and skateboards etc. I love this stuff.
I knew that the incredible was accomplished fairly regularly by our troops, both in combat and training. So, I started exploring the idea of combining my personal experience in the military (what I know) with styles found in successful image styles and brands (what I don’t know…yet.).
The challenge I faced after leaving the military, in April 2014, was deciding what I was going to do next, in a sea of possibilities. I just needed a kicker – something that grabs our attention and inspires us to action. We also need to avoid letting paralysis by analysis into the equation. It’s a destroyer of taking important action. Ultimately, action is greater than talk.

“We also need to avoid letting paralysis by analysis into the equation. It’s a destroyer of taking important action.” ~Evan

Starting was the key…
This past winter, I decided to paint an image I had been working on for a few months in my head. I bought a canvas, tube of oil paint and a brush. I think the brush was for watercolors, but it was on sale. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
Inspired by a stencil piece that Banksy did in the UK, I finished the piece, and very nervously, posted to Instagram. A few minutes later, someone asked what the starting bid was! I started cracking up. 15 minutes later I replied, ”$97.” A completely random number pulled out of my arse! A tiny bidding war ensued and I stopped it at $225 to sell it to the gentlemen that first asked what the starting bid was, he deserved it.HeavyDays3CanvasSplit
I created a product page on my website and have put this image on shirts, hats and decals. This gives my customers options when they like an image we’ve created.
Since then, I’ve done several acrylic paintings that have sold. I’ve began doing street art style images using multi-layered stencils created in Adobe Illustrator, cut on a laser and painted in my studio (that’s fancy speak for my garage).

Lori McNee pictured with the artist, “Evan” in Lori’s studio.

Also, selling stencils so others can create their own art has been very successful. I love the process of creating an Abrasive Art image from an experience or just a feeling I have from my time in combat.
Here are the business tools that changed my life this past year:

  • Shopify – Register a domain name, make a website and take over the world in a few minutes. Shopify handles inventory control, worldwide shipping, credit card and Paypal processing for you as well as a lot of other repetitive tasks that would normally take up your time. Already, have a website on Word press, but it’s not ideal for ecommerce? Add a Shopify button to your existing Word press site.
  • ShipStation – Automatically pulls order info from your website and prepares a packing slip and shipping label for each order. Customs forms are automatically created. You can easily ship worldwide.
  • Thermal Printers – Print all your shipping labels, without ink because it saves money. These cost between $125 and $500. I use a Mac Book Pro, which works very well with Dymo label printers. The printers and label rolls can be purchased on Uline. Zebra printers work great with PC’s, not Macs. I tried to use the Zebra with my Mac and it was problematic, even after downloading drivers and workarounds.
  • SumoMe – Capture emails, grow your website traffic and increase sales. Software made simple and it is effective. Really effective.
  • Mailchimp – Send your customers quality emails they will take action on. Drag and drop images, call-to-action buttons and social share/like icons. They also have email capture widgets for your website that work well. I’ve tried 2 other mail list management systems and they just aren’t as good.
  • Uline – Shipping supplies. Free shipping is available if you spend over $300, and enter a code. Go to RetailMeNot and type Uline into their search bar to check for a shipping code.

Guest Artist/Author: Evan can be reached at Follow his adventures on Instagram @thirtysecondsout, Facebook Thirty Seconds Out, Twitter @30SecondsOut, Check out Evan’s website
*Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with us Evan! I am so honored to have you on my blog, and as my friend. I will enjoy watching you continue to rise as artist, and wish you continued success. Thank you for selfless service to the USA. I am happy to help you in anyway.  ~Lori
Want to help our wounded Veterans? Check out this wonderful charity that both Evan and I support – Higher Ground – Achieving New Heights Through Adaptive Sports.