Opinion: Kingston veteran finds artistic outlet after military medical release

A diorama of a WWII scene around a Panzerkampfwagen VII ‘King Tiger’ tank during its final stand at Halbe, Germany, near the Polish border. The diorama was created by Kingston resident and former RCAF pilot, Jarrett Cranston, as part of his artistic work with online military and first responder artists’ platform, The Steel Spirit. Submitted photo.

Editorial note: The following is an article submitted by The Steel Spirit, a platform for veteran and first responder artists, on a Kingston-based veteran’s experiences in combatting PTSD with art projects. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

I needed something to fill that void. I needed something to do.”

Jarrett Cranston, Retired RCAF pilot

When Jarrett Cranston was medically released from the military in 2020 due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he initially looked forward to focusing on improving his health by going to the gym, spending time with others in a supportive network, and moving forward in taking care of his mental health. Then the pandemic happened.

“Everything that was giving me meaning in post-release was gone,” he expressed.

Cranston had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 2005 during the post 9/11 recruitment blitz to fight the ‘war on terror,’ and served as a pilot. He flew domestic search and rescue missions on the east coast and in the arctic, and later became a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) at NATO Flight Training in Canada (NFTC) in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. As an instructor, Cranston worked with both students in the early stages of flight training, as well as those selected for fast jet training.

“I loved the one-on-one nature of instructing, especially [the process of] explaining things to students in a way that they would understand, because every student was so different in their learning styles,” he shared.

Cranston loved the challenge of teaching and would find creative ways to help students learn. He mentioned that one student had difficulty with low-level navigation and would often drop the nose of the plane down whenever he looked down. Knowing the student was an avid Star Wars fan, Cranston told the student to re-watch the trilogy over the weekend and to give him specific examples in the movies of what heights various aircraft were flying at over land. It worked.

Cranston loved many aspects about his work in the RCAF, but the increasing stress of the job led to his medical release. Since the pandemic reduced his options towards recovery, he decided he needed a project to put his focus and mind into, so he decided to return to an unfinished chapter from his youth and started small scale model building again.

“I didn’t have too many friends when I was young, so I enjoyed model building to entertain myself and find meaning. However, I would build them but wouldn’t paint them,” Cranston explained.

“[I had this] drive to be perfect and I didn’t want to get it wrong. Therefore, I didn’t want to try because I felt like I might fail, so I didn’t try.”

As he returned to the world of model building, he decided, this time, he would start trying to paint the models he would build. Also, in an effort to thwart any personal discouragement, he decided to set up his son Nolan’s own model building station right next to his.

“I have to be very careful about the words I’m using because I’ve got my biggest critic and biggest supporter right here watching. I’m very conscious that he is watching all of the time and he is a sponge and picks up on everything that I do,” said Cranston, noting that, since he sits beside his son during projects, he can’t set impossibly high standards or openly use a lot of swear words because he needed to be a good example.

“If something doesn’t go quite right [while painting], I incorporate that error into the final build. I like the models I paint to look like they come from a living world… I want the scars, environmental wear, and the battle damage to help tell their story.”

Earlier this year in April, Cranston connected with Barbara Brown from The Steel Spirit, an online platform for military and first responder artists. Upon speaking with Cranston about potential involvement with The Steel Spirit, Brown asked if he could add more of his own personal creativity to one of his projects, so that his work would align more with other creative submissions. She asked him if he could make a diorama.

“Being the egotistical arrogant pilot that I am, I said, ‘Oh sure, I can do that,’” Cranston recalled. “Meanwhile in my head, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I just agreed to? I have no idea how to do any of that stuff!’”

Fast forward to October 2022, and Cranston completed a full diorama of a WWII scene around a Panzerkampfwagen VII ‘King Tiger’ tank. The Tiger, serial number 555, saw combat with the 502 Heavy Panzer Battalion along the eastern front. The diorama is set around its final stand in Halbe, near the Polish border. For inspiration, Cranston referred to a scene in the series Band of Brothers to base his diorama on.

“It was very cathartic and good therapy for me. I loved it,” Cranston expressed. “It’s the first full-scale diorama I’ve ever done. I was really happy with the results.”

In October, Cranston joined other Steel Spirit artists and presented his work in one of their online gallery presentations.

“Jarrett’s creative talent is far beyond what he thought he could do. I had no idea he had never tried a diorama before,” said Brown.

“Not only did the detail of his scene showcase his incredible talent, he also hit upon a much more inspirational chord: the strong, positive bond he continues to build alongside his son.”

Jarrett Cranston and his son, Nolan, work on their scale models side by side at their work stations, at home in Kingston. Submitted photo.

About Jarrett Cranston

A former pilot with the RCAF, Jarrett Cranston’s connections to the Kingston area run far deeper than just his military connection to the Limestone City. Cranston currently lives in Kingston, however, from 2013 to 2021, he lived in Amherstview, just west of Kingston in Loyalist Township.

“My wife and I fell in love with the area when we moved here in 2013 – I was posted to Trenton, but we chose to live here so that she had more quality work opportunities,” he shared.

“When I was medically released from the CAF, the easiest decision to make was staying in the region, so we bought the forever home in Kingston.”

About The Steel Spiritti

The Steel Spirit is a platform for artwork submissions by military, first responder, and hospital practitioners. The collective is always looking for new and emerging artists, with and without experience, from every background and every age. For more information or if you would like to be involved, visit: www.thesteelspirit.ca.

Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

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