Nate Ostrow paints with shimmery watercolor pastels to capture the motion and might of the American military's helicopters, ships, cutters, planes and armed forces personnel at work. The draftsperson-turned-artist moved from Ocean Township, N.J. to Bel Air during the BRAC relocation process and works as a visual information specialist for the Department of Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The prolific artist also displays his works for civilians at local galleries and exhibits. We talked with Ostrow about his inspiration, influences and most memorable assignments.
You seem to be an artist by day and night. Tell us about your work.
As a Department of Defense illustrator, I get requests from America's command groups — U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force — who ask for concept drawings. For example, when they design a new component for a helicopter, I show what the finished product will look like when it is on the helicopter.
Also, many commanders ask for paintings to give as VIP gifts. At Fort Monmouth, a general who was in charge of special operations visited for a few days. They wanted to give him a special gift, rather than just a plaque for his wall. I did a 24-inch by 32-inch painting of an MH-60M Black Hawk, one of the special ops Army helicopters.
And in your "off" hours?
When word got out about my work, many military people asked me to paint the ships, planes, helicopters and submarines that have been a part of their military career for their own personal collections or for gifts. These paintings have wound up on more than 40 ships, submarines and Coast Guard cutters as well as in the Pentagon and the Naval Submarine League in Annandale, Va.
What is your most memorable assignment?
I am a volunteer member of the Coast Guard Art Program, which uses art to educate the public about the mission of the U.S. Coast Guard. A few weeks after 9/11, an admiral asked me to accompany the U.S. Coast Guard's Atlantic Strike Team into the restricted zone to photograph and sketch the destruction and the Coast Guard's response. You could still eat the dust in the air. We went up in the buildings that were still standing and were able to look down. That was worse than being on the ground, and I could capture the impact of it all. It was a memorable, vivid and scary assignment, and I would never have traded the chance to be there.
How did you arrive at this career?
I have painted in watercolors since I was a child and later took classes at the American Academy of Art and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. I worked in construction but didn't see myself doing sheetrock work for the rest of my life. I eventually got a job with the federal government as a draftsperson. In those days, drafting was still done by hand using ink, pencil, plastic film and paper. If you messed up, you could ruin weeks of work. It was tough, and I learned to be exacting with every detail. When drafting became computerized, I got a job with the Department of Defense. I combine my drafting skills with my artistic training.